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    Comprehensive Sleep Optimization Guide

    Sleep optimization guide

    Sleep is one of the topics that commonly gets overlooked when it comes to health. For some odd reason we like to focus on diet and exercise as the holy grails of health while neglecting arguably more important things like circadian rhythm, light exposure and sleep. Without proper sleep-wake cycles and restorative sleep, your cellular function declines and your health slowly (or quickly) deteriorates.

    Have you ever stopped to think about why humans spend ⅓ of their life sleeping and why nearly every animal experiences some form of sleep? It should be clear that sleep is an absolutely essential process to maintain life. The longest any human has reportedly gone without sleep is 11 days. Besides oxygen and water there is nothing else that is more imperative to our survival (yes most people can go much longer than 11 days without food)!

    Why is Sleep so Important?

    In simple terms, sleep is when the body gets a chance to rest, recover and repair mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Wakefulness is a very yang or catabolic (breaking down) state. Daytime activities and cellular functions are a type of stress on the body; exercise, digestion, psychological stress and cognitive demands are all physiologically taxing and often result in a catabolic effect breaking down muscle cells, depleting hormones, neurotransmitters and energy stores.

    If you are familiar with the concept of yin and yang, one cannot exist without the other, they are interconnected and interdependent of one another. This means that the yang/catabolic activities of the day must be balanced by the yin/restorative activity of sleep. I won’t bore you with a list of diseases and symptoms that are linked to poor sleep because at a foundational level, if you aren’t sleeping properly it will increase your chance of pretty much any negative health outcome. 

    How Does Sleep Work?

    There are 4 or 5 different stages (depending on how you classify it) of sleep in a single sleep cycle. Each cycle lasts approximately 1.5 hours therefore you should aim to get between 5-6 quality cycles per night equating to 7.5- 9 hours of sleep. Both quantity and quality are important. During each sleep cycle you pass through stages 1-4 followed by REM, then you repeat the cycle. Sleep architecture varies individually but most people spend about 15-20% of their sleep in stages 3 and 4 (Deep Sleep) and 20-25% in REM sleep (with the remainder in stages 1 and 2). Although all stages of sleep play a vital role in our health, Deep and REM sleep receive most of the attention. 

    Deep Sleep- Stages 3-4 are when your body undergoes physical repair. This is the anabolic (building) phase of sleep where you produce hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone. The majority of your deep sleep occurs earlier in the night based on your circadian rhythm, and decreases in the latter stages.

    REM Sleep- Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep is when your eyes move rapidly back and forth but your body is paralyzed and you begin to dream. The function of dreams (and sleep in general) is not very well understood but you can think of it as the cycle where psychological repair occurs. Opposite to Deep sleep, you experience the majority of REM in your later sleep stages. 

    Sleep Stages

    What Controls Sleep?

    The short and simplified answer is your hormones. What controls your hormones is a far more complex answer but we can also simplify it into Circadian Rhythms. Circadian Rhythms are 24-hour cycles that control physiological function in all living beings. They are commonly referred to as “sleep-wake cycles” but they control much more than that (in this post we will focus on the sleep-wake aspect). How do your cells know whether they should be performing  daytime (yang) or night time (yin) functions? Your Circadian Rhythm is the master regulator or “clock” that tells your cells (and even your microbes) what to do and when. The two main hormones that are most involved with sleep are Cortisol and Melatonin. 


    Cortisol often gets a bad wrap as a stress hormone but it is absolutely essential to perform "stressful" daytime activities. Cortisol is naturally secreted from the adrenal glands in the morning and peaks shortly after waking, then declines throughout the day- it’s main function is to get you out of bed and tackle the day (not to be confused with coffee). Cortisol is a yang/catabolic hormone that can cause issues if it is chronically elevated especially at night because it will inhibit melatonin. Another common pattern is low morning cortisol = no energy to get out of bed.  


    Melatonin is essentially the exact opposite of cortisol, it is the main sleep hormone therefore it peaks at night and declines as cortisol rises. Melatonin is a yin/rejuvenating hormone that has a profound impact on protecting and repairing our mitochondria as we sleep. Good mitochondria= good health. It is also a potent antioxidant and anti-cancer compound.

    In short if your circadian rhythms are intact, your hormones will be properly regulated and your cortisol will be high in the morning and low at night, while Melatonin is high at night and low during the day. 

    How to Optimize your Sleep

    1. Get Outside During Sunrise

    This is by far the most powerful signal to regulate your circadian rhythm for the day. AM sunlight boosts your cortisol levels and produces several other hormones and neurotransmitters including melatonin (produced but not released). Expose your eyes and as much of your skin as possible directly to the sunlight (no sunglasses or sunscreen). Even on a cloudy day there is enough light to provide significant benefit.

    2. Stop Consuming Caffeine by Noon

    Caffeine is a stimulant which means it does an excellent job of boosting your stress hormones- this can be beneficial in the morning when your cortisol should be high but it’s a recipe for sleep disaster when used later in the day. Individuals have different rates of caffeine metabolism but on average the half-life of caffeine is 5 hours (meaning 50% of it will be cleared from your body in 5 hours). This means that 10 hours after consumption you still have 25% of the caffeine in your body which is more than enough to disrupt sleep quantity and quality. Try drinking caffeinated beverages and foods earlier in the morning. Nicotine also has a stimulatory effect and should be avoided later in the day. 

    3. Exercise

    Engage in some sort of physical activity during the day. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster but also improve sleep quality. Morning exercise is a great way to regulate your circadian rhythm and boost your cortisol naturally. For this same reason, avoid exercise after dinner and late at night as it will inhibit sleep. 

    4. Eat When the Sun is Up

    Food is another input to your circadian rhythm signalling to your body that it’s day time. Eating late at night will disrupt sleep quality. Aside from circadian rhythm disruption, digestion is an energy intensive process that will divert energy and resources away from your repair and recovery processes during sleep. There is some seasonal variation in timing but the general rules are to eat only when the sun is up, stop consuming all calories 3-4 hours before bed, and maintain at least a 12-hour fasting period every day. If you find yourself peeing in the middle of the night, limit fluid intake after the sun sets.

    5. Avoid Artificial Light After the Sun Sets

    Until electric lighting was invented in the 1800’s, there was no such thing as artificial light on planet earth for our entire evolution. The only sources of light were sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and fire (and perhaps bioluminescent organisms!). We evolved to secrete melatonin during darkness, but now modern life is littered with artificial lighting. Blue light from LEDs, computers, phones, TV’s etc strongly suppress melatonin. This means both your sleep and mitochondria will suffer and disease will follow. Unless you're going to use candles and red bulbs as your only sources of light at night, wear NaturoBlocks Nighttime Glasses after the sun has set to eliminate your blue light exposure. Minimize screen use especially 1-2 hours before bed. If you must use screens, install a blue light filtering software such as Iris or F.lux for computers and manage your nightshift and colour filters on iPhones to reduce blue light- this will not eliminate it completely.

    6. RELAX

    In order for Melatonin to work its magic at night, cortisol and other stress hormones must be as low as possible. With constant stimulation from things like caffeine, sugar, electronics, LED lighting, and psychological stress, our cortisol levels are often elevated at night which leave our brains “wired but tired.” In addition to minimizing these stimulants, it's imperative that we spend time truly decompressing and winding down at night. Scrolling on instagram or watching the news doesn’t count... Spend time with loved ones, read a book, stretch or foam roll, journal, go for a walk, meditate, take a bath. Do whatever you need to do to truly relax and empty your mind and body of daily stressors.

    7. Be Asleep by 10-10:30pm 

    The majority of your deep sleep (think physical repair and recovery) occurs between 10- 2pm. It’s definitely okay to go to sleep before 10pm but any time after will sacrifice your deep sleep. If you follow the general eating guidelines this means that regardless of the time of year, you should be done your last meal no later than 7pm (3 hours before bedtime) to ensure maximum sleep quality. 

    8. Reserve your Bed for Sleep (and Sex) Only

    Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleep, do not do any other activities (besides sex) in your bedroom. You must train your brain to associate your bed with sleep. In other words no phone, no laptop and especially no watching the news when you’re in bed. This also means that if you’re wide awake in the middle of the night, it's a good idea to leave your bed and go do something non-stimulating in another room until you are ready to sleep again. The last thing you want to do is to associate your bed with a place where you toss and turn worrying about getting back to sleep!

    9. Eliminate Non-Native EMFs in the Bedroom

    Non-native electromagnetic fields from cell phones, WIFI, bluetooth, and even electrical outlets disrupt our biology in a number of different ways. There any many ways to reduce exposure but it is nearly impossible to avoid it entirely in modern city environments. Creating a sleep sanctuary free of EMFs is one of the best ways to ensure your body gets proper rest and healing in order to combat daily exposure to EMFs and other stressors. If your phone or smart devices are in the bedroom ensure they are completely turned off or on airplane mode. Switch off the breaker that supplies electricity to your room or unplug any electronics that are close to your bed, especially near your head! Lastly, make sure your WIFI is turned off at night. The easiest way to do this is to plug your WIFI into an outlet timer switch that will automatically turn your router off during the time period you set it to. 

    10. Make your Bedroom as Dark as Possible

    Melatonin release requires darkness and even small exposures of artificial light to both your eyes and skin can negatively impact your sleep. Do not have any devices in the bedroom that emit light including alarm clocks. Invest in black-out curtains to ensure that no artificial light is getting in through your windows. If you do not have control over your sleep environment consider getting a sleep mask.    

    11. Stay Cool

    Your body’s temperature naturally drops about 1 degree Celsius each night to support deep sleep cycles. You can augment this effect by sleeping in a cool environment somewhere between 15.5-20 degrees Celsius. Another way to lower your core body temperature is to take a hot bath, shower or sauna. This may sound counterintuitive but what happens is your body increases blood flow to the surface of your body dissipating heat thus lowering your core body temperature. Additionally heat has a relaxing effect on your nervous system.  

    There you have it! Before jumping to prescription sleep drugs and melatonin supplements, try these simple tips and I can (almost) guarantee you will sleep better! If there's only thing you can do - change your light environment. Get as much sun exposure as you can during the day and limit your exposure to artificial blue light at night. 

    Sweet Dreams!


    TLDR - Download our condensed FREE Sleep Optimization Guide Here


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