Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success

Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success

by Shawn Stevenson

Sleep Smarter discusses why you need to sleep more and exercise less to achieve optimal fitness. It explains the underlying benefits of sleep in all areas and how poor sleep quality can harm the overall quality of your life. By taking the actions in this book, you’ll learn how to improve your sleep quality through the right exercises, clothes, supplements, and other proven ways to attain it. You’ll also discover the surprising impact that intimacy has on your sleep quality, relaxing your mind so that you can fall asleep faster, and much more.

Summary Notes

Know the Value of Sleep

“[Sleep is] a natural periodic state of rest for the mind and body. If you’re not doing it, then you’re being completely unnatural.”

Catabolism happens when food is digested, and the large molecules in your body are broken down into smaller, simple ones to be used as energy. This mostly happens when you are awake and in need of energy.

Anabolism is a process of growth and building, where small, simple molecules are built up into larger, more complex ones. This mostly happens when you are asleep and can direct your energy towards healing. This state, during sleeping, also heightens the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. Basically, sleep rebuilds you and keeps you youthful.

Sleep deprivation negatively affects areas of the brain we most need for thinking, distinguishing between ideas, social control, and the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.

You will perform better, make better decisions, and have a better body when you get the sleep you require. 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. The shortcut to success is not made by bypassing dreamland. You will factually work better, be more efficient, and get more stuff done when you’re properly rested.

Actions to take

Get More Sunlight During the Day

“When you get more sunlight exposure during the day, and less light exposure at night, you’re on your way to a magic sleep formula that really works.”

Your body’s sleep cycle, or “circadian timing system,” is a real, built-in, 24-hour clock, similar to the clock on your cell phone or wristwatch.

Light actually signals your hypothalamus—which the circadian timing system is partly regulated by—and all corresponding organs and glands to be alert and “wake up.” That light exposure, specifically sunlight exposure, triggers your body to produce optimal levels of daytime hormones and regulates your biological clock. Too little light exposure during the day and too much light exposure at night will negatively impact your ability to sleep well. 

Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in your brain that sends signals to create the best environment in your body for sleep. It isn’t particularly the “sleep hormone” but is considered the “get good sleep hormone.”

People with more light exposure tended to be more physically active, happier, and had an overall higher quality of life.

Actions to take

Avoid the Screens Before Bedtime

“Of course, we’ve got work to do, and the technology we have available to us today is amazing. We just need to have more awareness and more respect for our body’s natural processes.”

The artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones (like cortisol). This disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep.

Two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness is enough to suppress people’s normal nighttime release of melatonin. When your melatonin secretion is thrown off, your normal sleep cycle is disrupted. 

As human beings, we are literally not designed to stare into the type of light emitted by these devices. When it comes to nighttime usage, we want to be like the little girl in Poltergeist and “stay away from the light.”

Actions to take

Have a Caffeine Curfew

“The reality is, caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and it can be a wonderfully pleasant part of our life if we respect it as such.”

Not only is it not a good idea to have caffeine right before bedtime, but having a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea even as much as six hours before bed can cause sleep troubles.

Not getting enough deep sleep due to caffeine consumption inevitably makes us more tired. Being tired makes us want more caffeine. And, extra caffeine consumption will, in turn, worsen our sleep problems.

Caffeine doesn’t “give you energy,” as most people believe. It doesn’t let your receptors send signals to your body to enter rest mode. As a result, your brain and body are still trucking along, and you don’t realize that you’re actually sleepy. Your body literally has to change its normal functions, stress hormone levels increase, and your brain and organs get overworked because they aren’t getting the accurate cues to rest and recover.

Actions to take

Be Cool

“You absolutely must have a strategy to manage stress in our high-stressed world today, or you can sleep in an igloo and still not be cool enough.”

Our bodies' temperature has a very strong influence on our ability to sleep. Something called thermoregulation heavily influences our body’s sleep cycles. When it’s time for your body to rest, there is an automatic drop in your core body temperature to help initiate sleep. 

If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can be a bit of a physiological challenge for your body to get into the ideal state for restful sleep. The ideal room temperature for sleep is quite cool at around 60 to 68°F (15.5 to 20°C).

Actions to take

Go to Bed at The Right Time

“Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary says, “Timing your sleep is like timing an investment in the stock market—it doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.”

Human beings get the most beneficial hormonal secretions and recovery by sleeping between 10 pm and 2 am. You get the most rejuvenating effects during this period, and any additional sleep you get is a bonus.

We are literally designed to sleep when it gets dark, so if you’ve made a habit of ignoring this innate law, it’s time to take action to readjust.

Some people sleep for eight hours or more yet don’t feel well-rested when they wake up. If your body is chronically deprived of regenerative sleep between 10 pm and 2 am, you may still feel fatigued when you wake up in the morning.

During normal sleep at night, your body follows a predictable pattern, moving back and forth between deep, restorative sleep (deep sleep) and more alert stages (non-REM) and dreaming (REM sleep). These REM and non-REM sleep stages combine to form a complete sleep cycle. Sleep cycles typically last for 90 minutes and repeat four to six times at night. So, six normal 90-minute sleep cycles would equal nine total hours of sleep.

Even if you get a full night’s sleep, you may still wake up feeling groggy if your alarm goes off in the middle of one of your sleep cycles.

Actions to take

Rub The “Anti-Stress” Mineral Into Your Skin Each Day

“Chances are, you’re not getting enough magnesium into your system, and getting your magnesium levels up can almost instantly reduce your body’s stress load and improve the quality of your sleep.”

Magnesium is a bonafide anti-stress mineral. It helps balance blood sugar, optimize circulation and blood pressure, relax tense muscles, reduce pain, and calm the nervous system. Yet, because it has so many functions, it depletes quickly from our bodies. 

Supplementation may not be the best method to get your magnesium levels up. The problem is that taking too much of a low-budget internal magnesium supplement can have you sprinting to the bathroom fast. Magnesium actually pulls more water to your bowels, causing unexpected bathroom breaks.

Quality is everything when it comes to magnesium sources. High-quality supplementation can be helpful in small amounts, as well as a diet high in magnesium-rich foods. But, the most effective method of safely and effectively boosting your magnesium levels is through topical application onto your skin.

Actions to take

Create a Sleep Sanctuary

“Stop making your bedroom the entertainment hub of your house. And, never bring work to bed with you.”

Humans are creatures of habit and habitat. If you create an environment where miscellaneous activities occur in your sleep area, you are not creating a neuro-association that it’s time to sleep when you go in there.

Bringing your office work into bed with you is one of the most offensive sleep crimes you can commit. Not only is it creating a negative association with sleep, but it may also potentially harm your love life if you’re not careful. Cut the cord, and don’t allow work to enter your sacred relaxation space.

Fresh air is very important. The ions in the air you breathe can become less energizing. The air you breathe carries more than just oxygen into your cells; it also carries other vital ionic elements for your health and well-being. As the air inside your home becomes stagnant, the ions in the air start to lose their (negative) charge. To fix this, you simply need to get the air moving again. Simply opening a window or turning on a fan can re-energize the air in your bedroom.

You can simulate some of those positive effects by utilizing an air ionizer. Negative ions—which the ionizer makes—impact our health in three significant ways:

  1. They make the air more energizing by providing free electrons.

  2. They oxidize odors, fungi, mold, parasites, and toxic chemical gases.

  3. They bind to dust, pollen, cigarette smoke, and pet dander to form larger particles (which make them much easier to remove from your home).

Air ionizers are not just good for your sleeping space; they are good for your home in general.

Actions to take

Have a Big “O”

“Be responsible, have fun, and enjoy the benefits that the big “O” can have in your life.”

Having an orgasm can be like a full-on sedative for most people. During orgasm, both women and men release a cocktail of chemicals, including norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, and the pituitary hormone prolactin.

Oxytocin, for example, triggers a cascade of bodily events, including the release of other feel-good hormones called endorphins. This release of endorphins and other relaxing hormones can help you get a great night’s sleep.

The brain is actually the largest sex organ because of its vital role in sexual arousal. Thus, cultivating your brain-body connection is critical to a fulfilling sex life and getting the best sleep ever.

Actions to take

Get It Blacked Out

“It’s a well-established fact that we sleep better in a dark environment; yet, so many people aren’t taking full advantage of this.”

Any light source in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep patterns – even using an eye mask will not be 100% effective for most people.

Sleeping in total darkness is so significant that nighttime light has been dubbed “light pollution.” Light pollution refers to any adverse effects of artificial light. Humans (and most other organisms) evolved to set their circadian clocks to predictable light and dark phases. Once artificial light became the societal norm, it effectively changed the length of our days. Today, the average person’s sleep has decreased from around nine hours to about seven, and it hasn’t been a pretty transition either.

One of the most devastating impacts of this light pollution is suppressing melatonin levels by more than 50% – which is not good. Melatonin has been proven to:

  • Improve immune system function.
  • Normalize blood pressure.
  • Reduce the proliferation of cancer cells and tumor growth (including leukemia).
  • Enhance DNA protection and free radical scavenging.
  • Decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Decrease the risk of plaques in the brain (like those seen with Alzheimer’s disease).
  • Alleviate migraines and other pain.
  • Improve thyroid function.
  • Improve insulin sensitivity and weight reduction.

Not getting enough sleep and not sleeping in darkness will age you faster and sap your vitality.

Actions to take

Train Hard, But Smart

“Exercise can be amazing for you. As a matter of fact, it’s essential to being the healthiest version of yourself.”

You don’t get in shape at the gym while exercising. You’re tearing down your body while working out, increasing inflammatory biomarkers and creating thousands of micro-tears in your muscle fibers. When you leave the gym, you’re actually in worse shape than when you came in.

The truth is that your body transforms from your workout while you’re asleep. This is when your body releases all of the beneficial hormones and elicits repair programs to build you up better than before.

Morning workouts are ideal if you want to get the best sleep at night. People who exercise at 7 am sleep longer and have a deeper sleep cycle.

One of the big issues with working out late at night is that it significantly raises your core body temperature, and it can take up to five to six hours to return to normal, which is needed to have a deeper sleep.

However, exercising in the late afternoon/early evening is a great idea for thermoregulation. If you work out at 4:30 pm, for example, it can set you up nicely to hit the hay at 10 pm.

We’ve been misled into thinking that long-period jogging as a cardio exercise is the best way to lose fat. In reality, running for long distances radically increases muscle loss through a process called gluconeogenesis. Muscle is your body’s fat-burning machinery, and if you lose it by running too much, you will depress your metabolism and quickly gain fat. 

To get the best hormonal response, you need to lift heavyweights. This will trigger your body to secrete more anabolic hormones that will enable you to feel better, look better, and sleep better.

Lifting weights enable you to express your true genetic potential. Your genes expect you to lift heavy things, and when you do that, your body changes accordingly. Your body fat will decrease, and most importantly, you will get the sleep you need.

Actions to take

Get Your “Friends” Out of Your Room

“Our attention is enormously valuable, and how you begin and end your day has a huge impact on the results in your life.”

Starting the day checking emails and messages on your phone immediately puts others' priorities ahead of yours. You start the day addressing other people’s needs instead of taking time to care for yourself physically and getting focused on your own goals for the day. You are, in essence, saying, “I know I have things that I want to accomplish, but I’d much rather try to take care of them last when I’m stressed out, out of time, and out of energy.”

Our appliances and electronic devices emit both electric and magnetic fields known as EMFs. Electric fields are easily blocked by walls and other objects, but magnetic fields can easily pass through walls, buildings, and the human body. EMFs have been found to disrupt communication between the cells in our bodies.

EMFs from our common electronic friends have been linked to leukemia, brain tumors, breast cancer, and several other serious issues. Cell phones are identified as a contributor to salivary gland tumors.

The best course of action is simply to leave all electronic devices out of our bedroom.

Actions to take

Lose Weight and Don’t Find It Again

“One of the most overlooked problems with getting great sleep is having too much body fat on your frame.”

Being overweight causes severe stress to your internal organs and nervous system and disrupts your endocrine system as few things can. Your endocrine system (aka your body’s hormonal system) produces sleep-regulating hormones like melatonin, serotonin, and cortisol.

One of the issues that being overweight can have on sleep quality is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or infrequent breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing (an apnea) can last from ten seconds to several minutes and can occur from five to thirty times or more an hour. 

Basically, you stop breathing, resulting in abnormal blood pressure, depressed brain function, and dozens of other problems.

By using those backward methods taught by most health gurus, most people lose weight and then gain it back. They work so hard to get the results they want, then eventually put the weight back on, and often a little bit more than they started with.

This is because people are thinking in terms of weight loss instead of body fat loss. They don’t want to lose weight but only fat. When it comes to this, it’s all about the hormones. You’ve got to stimulate your body to secrete hormones that use stored body fat for fuel. 

The first thing to understand is that you are either burning fat or storing fat–there is no in-between. If you're constantly activating fat-storing hormones, you're automatically out of the game, even if you're carefully counting your calories.

Insulin, the body's main fat-storing hormone, reacts to carbohydrates. This includes all starches like bread, pasta, and potatoes, refined sugar products like cakes, candy, and soda, and even healthier carbohydrates like fresh fruit. To your body, it doesn’t matter. These carbs come in, and insulin is turned on.

To get your body to burn more fat, you need to focus more on the other two macronutrient groups: protein and fat. It’s not necessarily about having a low-carb diet but a better ratio of all three macronutrient groups for you and your unique metabolism.

Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, phytonutrients, and enzymes that enable our body to function at its highest level. It is essential to achieve healthy hormone function, helping you lose fat. Eating micronutrient-rich foods can trigger your body to secrete more leptin (the satiety hormone) to keep you balanced, healthy, and in control. This contrasts with most diets that restrict calories and promote micronutrient-deficient diet products like instant shakes, bars, and reduced-calorie pre-packaged snacks.

So, where do you get all of these micronutrient-rich foods?

Easy: Just eat real food!

Here’s a simple list of things to help you know if it’s real food or not:

  • If you can’t tell where it comes from, chances are it’s not real food (i.e., a bagel doesn’t have any resemblance to a strand of wheat).
  • If it comes through a drive-through window, chances are it’s not real food.
  • If there are more than four or five ingredients, chances are it’s not real food.
  • If it even has to list the ingredients on it, chances are it’s not real food.
  • If it has a mascot or a special toy for buying, chances are it’s not real food.

Actions to take

Go Easy on The Bottle

“Every time you wake up from an alcohol-influenced sleep, it can be more difficult to fall back into the deep sleep stages you need to recover.”

One of the most valuable and overlooked aspects of sleep is memory processing, where short-term memories and experiences get converted into long-term memories.

Memory processing is predominantly affected by different stages of REM sleep. Drinking alcohol late in the evening makes you fall asleep faster. However, the presence of alcohol in your system dramatically disrupts REM sleep.

One of the more obvious sleep interruptions from drinking alcohol before bed is the uncanny need to urinate. Because you’re peeing, getting up to relieve your bladder interrupts your sleep pattern.

Actions to take

Play Your Position

“One of the most important facets of your sleeping position is maintaining the integrity of your spine.”

We tend to overlook our sleeping position since we’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become automatic. However, our sleeping position matters a lot as it affects the following: 

  • Blood flow to your brain.
  • Stability of your spine.
  • Hormone production.
  • Joint and ligament integrity.
  • Oxygen supply and efficient breathing.
  • Muscular function and healing.
  • Heart function and blood pressure.
  • Digestion and cellular metabolism.

Sleeping on your back is the ideal position for several reasons. First, your spine is in the best position here (as long as you don’t make some of the mistakes we’ll talk about in a moment). This position also reduces the risk of digestive distress like acid reflux. 

However, it also has its downsides, including the likelihood of snoring and sleep apnea. When we sleep on our backs, gravity can force the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway, obstructing normal breathing. Other reasons for this are general throat weakness exacerbated by lying on your back, causing the throat to close during sleep.

It is still a great pose to sleep, but you should watch out not to use a huge pillow or a worn-out mattress.

Lying on your stomach can help prevent snoring and sleep apnea symptoms. Sleeping facedown keeps your upper airways more open, so this could be okay for you if you follow a few simple rules, like lifting one knee up to open your hips; and losing the pillow, to prevent hyperextending your neck.

Side sleeping can be a quick fix for snoring and help to improve breathing, more so than lying on your back. Sleeping on your side (the left side in particular) has been reported to ease troublesome digestive problems like acid reflux and heartburn.

The downside, as most side-sleepers know, is the dreaded “dead arm” and finger numbness from this position. Sleeping on your arm for too long can cut blood flow and nerve function.

Sleeping in the bed with another live body can be an entertaining experience. Some people can get along in bed just fine while others prepare to go into battle each night. Some people hog the covers, snore, talk in their sleep, and even scream out loud. The relationship goes to a whole new level when you meet somebody’s sleep alter ego. For this to go well, communication is the key.

Actions to take

Calm Your Inner Chatter

“There is a great quote that says, “My bed is a magical place where I suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do.”

We hop into bed and then think about the when, where, who, why, what, and hows of our life –  all while we’re supposed to be sleeping. It’s important to realize that there is nothing “wrong” with you just because you have a lot of thoughts. It’s part of being human. It’s actually a great gift to be able to process as much information as we do. We just need to learn to turn the volume down when we want to.

Now, more than ever, with the constant flow of information coming at you, it’s important to have the practice to help you buffer that stress. That important practice is meditation.

Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing, counting your steps as you walk around the park, or turning everyday activities like taking a shower or washing your clothes into a great meditation.

The best time for meditation is right after when you wake up or straight before you go to bed.

Actions to take

Use Smart Supplementation

“Do safe, smart, natural things first, then only bring the supplements into “supplement” the good things you’re already doing.”

Ideally, you need first to address the lifestyle issues that cause sleep problems. If you jump to taking drugs or supplements, you’ll just be treating a symptom and increase the likelihood of developing a dependency on something that can harm you long term.

Focus on the lifestyle stuff first, and if you want, you can respectfully add these things in too. Let’s get started with the most time-tested sleep aid of all.

  1. Chamomile can help calm the nervous system, relax muscles, and set you up for a better night’s sleep when you need it.

  2. Kava kava is well known to have sedative properties and is commonly used to treat sleeplessness and fatigue.

  3. Valerian is for individuals who have difficulty falling asleep and promotes uninterrupted sleep.

Actions to take

Be Early to Rise

“Waking up in the early part of the day [...] sets the template for a great night’s sleep.”

Going to sleep early and waking early syncs the body clock with the earth’s natural circadian rhythms, which is more restorative than trying to sleep while the sun’s up.

Humans, like other organisms, have evolved to adjust to predictable patterns of light and darkness. These patterns establish our internal clocks and hormonal cycles every day. Once artificial light stepped into the picture, it effectively varied the length of our days. As a result, the average person’s sleep has decreased from around nine consistent hours to just around seven, varying from one night to another.

Being a “night owl” is a new idea that’s only been possible in recent human history. This is a trained behavior that, like it or leave it, is influencing your health and results in your life.

By waking up early, you start helping your endocrine system link up with the diurnal patterns of the earth. Get up when the sun rises. It might be challenging at first, but after less than a couple of weeks, your body will adapt to that pattern, and you’ll feel much more rested and refreshed when you wake up.

Actions to take

Dress for the Occasion

“If you think that what you’re wearing to bed doesn’t matter, think again.”

Putting on your PJs can be like a mental trigger to relax and wind down for the day. You’re getting out of your outer world uniform and putting clothes on your body that make you feel safe, relaxed, and at home. Remember that you're not only wearing clothes that only your closest friends and family can see, but you're also wearing clothes that will affect the quality of your sleep.

The best clothing for the bed will be non-restricting and hypoallergenic (both the fabric itself and how it’s washed). Be comfortable, and get comfortable with your own body being freer.

Actions to take

Get Grounded

“We rarely touch the ground, rarely touch a tree, and rarely touch the source that creates every cell in our body.”

In today’s industrialized world, many people go days, weeks, or even longer without coming in contact with the earth's surface. We are cooped up in our homes or offices, spending more time indoors consuming technology and less time interacting with the source that all of our technology comes from.

We now understand that the human body is conductive. Every tissue in our body carries a charge, which allows many functions to happen. Every day you have cellular damage, simply by the nature of being alive. Damaged heart cells, liver cells, muscle cells, etc. – all set off an oxidative burst of free radicals to address them. This is basic chemistry, featuring a positively charged event that needs to be neutralized.

Antioxidants carry free electrons that neutralize free radicals and stop overly aggressive oxidation right in their tracks. Inflammation is reduced, and health is improved. It’s been discovered that the number one source of free electrons comes from the earth itself.

Actions to take

Ritualize Your Night

“Humans are creatures of habit and habitat.”

Your brain loves to fall into patterns so that it can free up space to do other things. The more unconscious competencies we have, the more apt we are to have greater success and productivity.

The path to success will not be made by bypassing dreamland. You require sleep to be the greatest version of yourself, and no pill, potion, or tactic can change that.

Actions to take

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