Sleep Hacks 101: The Essential Guide
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People always ask me, "Sushi, how do you have so much energy?, you're always so chirpy and enthusiastic, it's almost annoying, but did you fall into some coffee pot like asterix as a child or something?
One of the biggest problems in our fast-paced world today, is that people are either chronically sleep deprived, or suffer debilitating effects of low quality sleep, but you see, there isn’t one facet of your mental, emotional, or physical performance that’s not affected by the quality of your sleep.
So, In this post, I'm gonna go into why sleep is the secret sauce, and reveal some of my yogi secrets on how I'm always so energetic, and provide some and hacks to help you raise your sleep quality...but before we dive right into tips on how to prioritize sleep, just some simple reminders about how important it really is!
The first and perhaps most important factor in helping us to consistently get 7–9 hours of really terrific sleep, waking up feeling rested, waiting to attack the day without dips in energy or focus, is to remember the value of sleep.
As if you didn't already know, sleep is super important, and can be a game changer because it helps you perform better, make better decisions, AND sculpt a better body, and who doesn't want more of that?
Sometimes we don't value sleep, as we've seen ourselves able function on just a few hours of sleep, and this gives us a sense that, sleeping is not the most productive use of our time. In fact, it's quite the opposite, Sleep is not an obstacle we need to go around, it’s a natural state your body requires to boost your hormone function, heal your muscles, tissues and organs, and make your mind work at its optimal level. And of course, there's a big difference between ‘working’ and actually being effective. By sacrificing your sleep, you can definitely do more work but the quality and effectiveness of your work will be sacrificed.
A study published in The Lancet proved that sleep-deprived individuals took 14 percent longer to complete a task, and made 20 percent more errors than individuals who were well rested.
And facts don't lie, You will factually work better, be more efficient, and get more stuff done when you’re properly rested, but you've probably heard this before, and still can't seem to put it into action.
So back in 2016, when my sleep used to be absolutely terrible, I used to wake up at odd times and be tired all the time : I had no energy throughout the day, and used be extremely cranky and impatient around friends because even though I slept for like 7 hours, I just wasn't feeling rested.
When I woke up, the first thing I'd do is scroll through Instagram and WhatsApp, and that's really the worst thing you can do for your mental health. If you don't guard your mental space before you check your email, you're setting yourself up for a distracted, shallow and reactive day.
Perhaps the most game-changing thing I did was to start waking up at 4:30 am, after I lived in an ashram where the peer pressure and tight schedule just forced me to do it, and then it was much less effort to keep it up, because I would be able to nap in the afternoons.
Lately, I wake up later than that, but downloading the app focus-lock and just turning it on for 10 hours (which gives me 2 hours to fortify my mental space) has probably the most game-changing thing.
So every habit, needs a replacement behavior, and for me, it was to go up to my terrace and get some sunlight instead of checking my phone for a quick hit.
So, how to do it correctly?
Science suggests that the neurons that exist in our eyes are responsible for setting the Circadian Rhythm, so we must wake up as early as possible, India we call this 'brahma muhurtha' and the idea is just to see some light by getting outside as soon as possible.
Because the sun is at an angle that projects a lot of blue and yellow light for an hour after sunrise, it really helps to set our rhythms properly. This doesn't mean you stare at the sun directly, it just means you get showered by it, before you do anything else. If you miss this window, your cortisol pulse is not set properly, and you're going to wake up less refreshed.
In yogic terms, there are three Gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and when you wake up after sunrise, you're setting your day in motion when the quality of rajas is predominant, and this means you're going to be more reactive and less centered. In fact, there's plenty of studies that show the correlation between waking up at 9 or 10 am and depression.
Now, I know what you're thinking, so if I wake up and make coffee and sit down by my window, will I feel energized? The short answer is, no.
Don't make excuses.
Get out, because it’s 15 times less effective to see sunlight through a window!
I like to wake up, brush my teeth, and while my coffee is brewing, I go out to my balcony, and literally jump up and down, for about a minute or so and just allow my body to be bathed in the sunlight, trust me it works. In summer, like 30 seconds is enough, but if you don't see bright light, just make sure you're out for like 2-3 minutes. But it's super important to do this consistently.
So even if you wake up feeling refreshed, using this technique, there's still a chance you'll end up feeling sleepy and tired right after lunch. Now, this is normal- our alertness drops in the middle of the day, somewhere between 12 pm to 3 pm. So my trick is to go with the natural tendency of the body, and actually take a nap or introduce intentional deep relaxation.
At some point after kindergarten, all the adults just stopped organizing schedules around sleep, and this I think Could be the reason why we're so tired, grumpy and ineffective all the time. I've come to realize that sleeping productively is like a meta skills that no one ever really taught us, but it that can have an enormous impact on our life in basically everything that we do.
Somedays, I feel like my body just needs a nap, and I just allow myself to take the nap. When we wake up from the nap, the cortisol levels will rise which is great, because by the time it's 9 or 10pm it will decline again.
You see, this pattern of the cortisol rising and declining in the middle of the day will happen naturally even if you don't nap, so it’s best to nap and help the brain relax and have more focus for the rest of the day. This way, you feel like you have two days. Even if you mess up one, you have one more.
Alternatively, when I feel alert, but just need a boost in concentration, I do Yoga Nidra, or a concentrative practice.
Progressive muscle relaxation is such an important skill, and the way to do this is to lie down, and then you start off by, like, closing your eyes and really trying your best to relax every single muscle in your face as possible. Allow the eyes to sink and relax into their sockets, and then once the face is fully relaxed, at that point, we're then are gonna relax the legs.
And so I imagine my legs kind of sinking into the bed and, like, fully, fully, fully relaxing, and feeling like kind of lead weights. When I'm doing a guided yoga nidra, I usually don't exactly know what happens next, but I feel my whole body relaxing, and mentally just stop thinking so much, and be, you know? When I come out, I end up feeling so refreshed and relaxed, that I make much better decisions from that place. So I 100% recommend giving it a shot.
I understand that not everyone has the privilege of working from home, so there are many ways in which yoga provides strategies for intentional deep relaxation.. If you just have 10 minutes at the end of your lunch break, you could squeeze in a short meditation, even the act of closing your eyes and going within can be extremely helpful to reset the nervous system.
Another technique I used to use is to do hypnosis, now I highly recommend Marissa peer, and she's been a leading expert in this field for decades, and there are plenty of guided hypnosis videos you can find online, but essentially she takes you on a journey and helps you rewire and re-tag your subjective experience.
Wake up, see light, jump and do sun salutations
Yoga Nidra, which is not napping, is yoga asleep, you can do it yourself with a script, and calms you down.
Meditation, this is also another good thing to do in the middle of the day in the normal moment in the day when our alertness drops
Hypnosis, there are some forms of hypnosis that help you fall asleep.
I strongly believe that how you finish something is how you start the next thing, and this applies to our work, our relationship and even the way we structure our days. So the first tip is to create a caffeine curfew for yourself.
Now it's been on my to-do list to create a hard rule about my last coffee before 2pm but somedays I just believe that I'd die without a coffee, because I'm a bit of an idiot, but I'm going to write "last coffee at 2pm on a sticky note" straight after writing this post.
Anyway, I was listening to Dr. Andrew Huberman's podcast, hubermanlab, and if you haven't checked it out, I think it's one of the most crystal clear presentations of how we can use science-based tools for everyday life. Essentially, he says our bodies produce this funny chemical called Adenosine, a molecule that builds the more time we’re awake, creating a hunger for sleep, and resets when we sleep.
The easiest way to explain how Adenosine works is through Caffeine. Caffeine wakes you up because it blocks the “sleep” receptors, or in other words, the Adenosine receptors.
Now, Dr. Huberman explains that individual mutations make us react differently to caffeine.
Some people get jittery with one coffee cup, and others can drink caffeine until very late at night and have no trouble sleeping. That's not to say that you need to completely caffeine free, I can't live without caffiene, it's just to understand that drinking coffee doesn't actually give you energy, instead it simply blocks receptors that make you feel tired.
I know, I know it's hard to give up coffee, but it's important to ask yourself.
How does caffeine affect you? Screenshot
Next, is to ritualize the evening, and use sunset as your anchor to begin winding down. If I've been working on my laptop all day, I like to go up the terrace, go for a walk, or go into nature to reset my circadian rhythm, because Dr. Huberman explains that watching the sunset helps to anchor our Rhythm.
The Yoga Texts emphasize regulating the four important pillars of life to overcome the root cause of any dis-‘ease’.
The first, is food. So I eat around 7/7:30, to allow for a gap of 2-2.5 hours between dinner and sleep time, to allow for the primary digestion to take place. This way, the entire system gets a deep rest and reset without working overtime to digest any late night snacking.
Next is relaxation, and the best way to do this is to ritualize it. A ritual is kind of like a small sequence of step-by-step actions that you can do to put you in a certain mood, or frame of mind.
Your sleep ritual could look something like this
Turn down your AC so the room gets cooler
Do your deep meditation breaths
Spend your night reading or with someone you love
Now this type of relaxation programs the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
The cool thing about ritualizing your night is that not only is it going to help your brain know it's time to go to sleep but you can also link up a lot of other habits with it!
So this can mean getting some reading done, or planning your next day ahead of time, whatever it is, you can use you template down below to help you get started with your ritual.
Achar (Behavioral Pattern)
Next is Achar, or a behavioral pattern, and although this can be the most difficult, the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately is to remove and eliminate sleep suckers like Computers, iPads, televisions, smartphones, etc an hour before bedtime.
Some sciency article said and I quote
"The artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones (like cortisol) and disorient your body’s natural preparation for sleep."
Yeah, so I'm just going to repeat what mom said, but pretend that rephrasing it with scientific jargon will remind you to put those sleep suckers away.
Vichar (Thought Process)
Lastly, vichar is the thought process. I got this meta-tip from watching this monk's guide to getting better sleep, video on Sleep, and he basically says to "Sleep in a sea of merit". He narrates his story of how when he first came to monkhood, he used to reflect on all his problems to see how he could do better the next day. He would lie down for an hour or two, and work though his problems mentally to see how he could change, but when he finally confided in his teacher about being tired, his teacher just chuckled.
Reflecting on all your problems right before bed, gives your subconscious mind enough fuel to allow those thought patterns to continue, and while you might think, hey that's pretty cool, let's "sleep on it", but contrary to popular belief we want our minds to have positive seeds of thought patterns to continue. We often tend to measure the gap not the gain, but if we can take time to contemplate on all the stuff that's going well, all the things in that day that made you feel loved, and proud, then let that occupy the center of your attention.
Allow that energy to expand throughout your body, and take that pure, energy and let it be bright in the center of your chest. Then Imagine this entire concentrated force enveloping your entire body like a warm gravity blanket, and let your whole body be covered in a sea of merit.
Then you can say, let this heal me, let this brightness and goodness protect me and help me to wake up feeling energized and ready to tackle the next day with just as much enthusiasm!