Using Neuroscience to Sleep Better 🧠
Trouble with your sleep? Try these Neuroscience backed sleep hacks! (12min read)
The Neuroscience of Sleep
Creating the Right Sleep Environment
Morning & Night Routines
Cody’s Morning & Night Routines
Exercise, Nutrition & Supplements for Better Sleep
Learning to Manage Stress
To Nap or Not To Nap?
Natural Ways to Improve Sleep Quality & Quantity
Sleep & the Brain
Sleep is one of my favorite topics to cover! Getting a good night's sleep is essential for both physical and mental health.
I’ve lost count of the number of clients who have come to me and said they’re struggling with their mental or emotional health, who have “tried everything” but can’t seem to figure it out.
Almost without fail, when I ask how they’re sleeping, it’s not good… Either they’re struggling to fall asleep, or they can’t stay asleep, or they can’t get enough restorative sleep.
This is why sleep is one of the first areas I work on with people, and you’re probably not surprised that when I help them fix their sleep, their mental health issues get markedly better, or resolve themselves altogether!
If you're one of the people I described above, fear not, today's Heroes Digest is for you!
There are a number of Neuroscience-based tips and tricks that can help you improve your sleep quality and get the rest you need.
Today we will cover some of the most effective strategies I use with my clients!
The Neuroscience of Sleep
Before we dive into the tips, let’s take a moment to understand what’s happening inside the brain while we sleep!
During sleep, the brain goes through a series of cycles & changes that allow it to rest and repair itself.
These changes can be seen in brain activity, neurotransmitter and hormone levels, and other physiological processes.
The most important of these are the sleep cycles which you’ve probably heard of before, however, sleep has been a huge research topic over the last few years, and the cycles you probably learned have changed a bit!
First of all, sleep is divided into two main categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Each night, a person typically goes through several sleep cycles that alternate between NREM and REM sleep.
NREM Sleep Stages
During a typical sleep cycle, a person progresses through four stages of NREM sleep, which are known as stages 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep and is characterized by a drowsy, semi-conscious state.
Stage 2 is a deeper stage of sleep, and is characterized by a reduction in brain activity and body movements.
Stage 3 is the deepest stage of NREM sleep, and is characterized by even slower brain waves and a complete lack of muscle tone.
Stage 4 is also a deep stage of sleep, and is characterized by even slower brain waves.
REM Sleep Stage
After a person has gone through the four stages of NREM sleep, they enter into the REM sleep stage.
REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and increased blood flow to the brain.
This stage is also associated with vivid dreams and temporary paralysis of the muscles, which helps prevent us from acting out our dreams (even though most of us would love to be able to fly).
The sleep cycle typically lasts about 90 minutes and repeats itself several times throughout the night.
The amount of time a person spends in each stage of sleep can vary, but in general, a person spends more time in the deeper stages of sleep earlier in the night and more time in REM sleep later in the night.
Brainwaves & Neurotransmitters
While cycling through these stages our brainwaves change as well, we start to produce more slow-wave brain activity, otherwise known as delta waves.
These waves are associated with deep sleep and are thought to be important for memory consolidation and physical repair.
There is also a chemical shift in our brain, the neurotransmitters serotonin & melatonin are at higher levels & things like cortisol & norepinephrine are at much lower levels.
Memory & Repair
While sleeping, the brain is also cleaning itself using the glymphatic system.
The glymphatic system is a network of channels and pumps in the brain that helps to clear waste products and toxins from the brain.
During sleep, the glymphatic system becomes more active, and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is able to flow more freely through the brain.
This increased flow of CSF helps to flush out waste products, including beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which are associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease.
As if dementia wasn’t bad enough, when these waste products aren’t cleared out, inflammation builds up and can cause anxiety, stress, depression, etc.
While this repair is happening, the brain is also consolidating your memories & learning from the day!
This is a very intricate process we won’t dive fully into here, but big picture, while you sleep your brain takes what you’ve put into your short-term memory during the day & stores/stabilizes it into your longer-term memory centers.
As you can see, sleep is massively important for our mind, brain & body health! So, let’s talk about how to get better sleep.
Neuroscience-Backed Tips for Better Sleep
Create a sleep-friendly environment
Your sleep environment can have a big impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. To create a sleep-friendly environment, try the following:
Keep your bedroom:
Cool (62-75 degrees Fahrenheit)
Dark (Pitch black is best)
Use a comfortable, supportive mattress and pillows.
Avoid screens (phone, TV, computer) for at least an hour before bed.
The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle.
Consider using white noise or relaxation sounds to help you fall asleep with a sleep timer
Establish a consistent sleep schedule
Our bodies have an internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
Each of us has a unique circadian rhythm that’s called out Chronotype!
You can test your Chronotype here: Chronotype Quiz
Understanding your Chronotype will help you establish a consistent sleep schedule which will help improve your sleep quality by helping to synchronize your body's clock.
Once you know your Chronotype, use it to set specific sleep/wake times at the same time every day. (Yes, even the weekend!)
Create a Morning & Night Routine You LOVE
To maximize sleep, you need to focus on the time periods right before & after it.
This is where morning/night routines come into play! The first rule I give everyone is to create routines you LOVE.
The more you look forward to them, the more likely you are to actually hit them.
Understanding your Chronotype can be very useful for establishing these routines, so be sure to take the quiz above!
After you’ve done that, write down what you currently do for each, even if it’s only 1 step right now.
Now, figure out how much time you’d like to spend on each & what you’d like to do, here are some ideas:
Morning Routine Ideas-
Get plenty of natural light: Exposing yourself to natural sunlight in the morning can help regulate your body's natural sleep-wake cycle and improve your mood and energy levels.
Exercise: Engaging in some form of physical activity in the morning can help improve your mood, boost your energy levels, and enhance cognitive function.
Plan your day: Taking a few minutes to plan your day can help you prioritize tasks and reduce stress and anxiety.
Practice mindfulness: Engaging in activities such as meditation or deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve focus and concentration.
Night Routine Ideas-
Reading: Engaging in a relaxing activity such as reading before bed can help wind down the mind and body and prepare for sleep.
Meditation: Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation can help relax the mind and body and promote a sense of calm.
Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help release stress and emotions and allow you to clear your mind before bed.
Yoga or stretching: Engaging in gentle stretching or yoga can help relax the muscles and promote a sense of calm.
Taking a warm bath: Soaking in a warm bath can help relax the muscles and promote a sense of calm.
Listening to soothing music: Listening to calming music can help relax the mind and body and promote a sense of calm.
Aromatherapy: Using essential oils or aromatherapy candles can help create a relaxing atmosphere and promote a sense of calm.
Again, picking activities that you will LOVE to do and look forward to are ideal, and everyone’s is different, here are mine!
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Cody’s Morning Routine
Wake up & out of bed no more than 5mins after alarm
Cold exposure of some kind (Cold shower, face splashes, etc)
10-20min Meditation/Mindfulness Practice
Start Morning Flow Block
Coffee 90mins After Wake Up
Cody’s Night Routine
End-of-Day Review Process
Relax & Wind Down (Journal, Stretch, Mindfulness, Personal Development Block)
Get into bed & read for 20-30mins
I’m spending a lot of time on these for a reason…
The start & end of your day have a disproportionate effect on your sleep!
Some people hate waking up so they do sorts of terrible things for their brain to procrastinate going to sleep like:
Social Media Doom Scrolling
Watching TV in the Bed Room
Drinking, Smoking, or Drugs
This happens because they don’t LOVE their morning routine, if they did, they’d wanna go to sleep so they could get up to do their routine!
When this happens, your night routine is disrupted as well, which is just as bad, maybe even worse!
When we do nothing to wind our brain down at night time, it’s like a train trying to brake right as they get to the train station…
Trains have to start braking miles before the station so slow down that much mass, your brain needs to hit the brakes well before bed too!
If you’re doing these high dopamine-type activities right before bed you’re hitting the accelerator not the brake, and then you’re surprised that you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep… 😑
Alright, I think you get it, let’s move on!
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants that can disrupt your sleep.
It's best to avoid these substances, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. If you do consume caffeine or alcohol, do so in moderation.
It’s best to stop ingesting caffeine after 12PM so it’s not in your system as you’re trying to sleep!
Drinking alcohol is one of the worst possible things you can do for your sleep… Alcohol prevents you from getting deep restorative sleep.
You may feel like you passed out, but your brain didn’t, and it also didn’t clean out the inflammation/garbage from the day because alcohol keeps your brain on.
In fact, a hangover is half dehydration and half what it feels like to have all of the garbage & debris from the previous day still in your brain… Yikes.
Get regular exercise
Exercise can help improve your sleep quality by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking or cycling, on most days of the week.
Just be sure to finish your workout a few hours before bed, as exercise can energize you and make it harder to fall asleep if it’s too close to bedtime.
I workout around 2-3PM in my energy trough for the day, this helps me re-energize myself, and doesn’t mess with my sleep!
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can help improve your sleep quality by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly.
In particular, try to include foods that are rich in nutrients such as magnesium, which can help promote relaxation and sleep.
Good sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Magnesium supplements can also be very beneficial, in fact, it’s one of the most lacking nutrients in Americans.
I suggest LifeForce supplements to my clients, and it’s what I take personally, here’s a link to their Magnesium supplement.
Use relaxation techniques to manage stress
Stress is one of the most common causes of sleep problems.
If you're feeling stressed or anxious, it can be helpful to try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization to help you unwind and relax.
If this is a constant struggle for you, I suggest you add a Stress/Anxiety Brain Dump Journal to your night routine!
This is an intentional practice done before bed where you get out a piece of paper, a journal, or a very dim computer, and dump out all of your stressors/fears.
Think of this as your “Worry Time” and use it to do all the worrying & stressing you need.
Get it all out, and if they’re legitimate concerns or priorities, create a plan that you can follow tomorrow so that your brain doesn’t have to worry about it while you sleep!
This is also great for people who wake up in the middle of the night & can’t fall back asleep!
Get up, keep the lights off, as much as possible, and dump down all the ideas, thoughts, fears, worries, etc you can think of, and then try to go back to sleep.
Avoid napping during the day
While napping can be a quick and easy way to boost your energy, it can also disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep at night if done at the wrong time or for too long.
If you're having trouble sleeping at night, try to avoid napping during the day, or limit your naps to 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon.
Naps can be incredibly useful tools for decreasing sleep debt on nights you don’t sleep well, but if you consistently don’t sleep well they can also get in your way!
Consider using natural remedies for sleep
If you're having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you might consider using natural remedies to help you sleep better.
Natural remedies such as valerian root or chamomile tea are known for their relaxing properties and may be able to help you fall asleep and stay asleep without the risk of side effects that can come with prescription sleep medications.
Both have been shown to be more effective than placebo in research studies done on them!
Just be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new natural remedy, as some supplements can interact with other medications you're taking.
Hopefully, by now you feel equipped with the brain tools you’ll need to sleep better!
Whether you're struggling with difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting restful sleep, there are strategies you can use to help you sleep better.
It may take some trial and error to find the strategies that work best for you, but with persistence and patience, you can improve your sleep quality and live a healthier, more balanced life.
If you found this useful, please share it with a friend or colleague!
If you didn’t find it useful, I’ll try again next week haha! Either way, until next time, Sleep Tight & Live Heroically 🧠