How To Hack Your Sleep to Work for You

How To Hack Your Sleep to Work for You

In last month’s blog, Everything You Need to Know About Sleep, we answered some of the sleep-related questions we get here in our Orlando chiropractic office. This month, we’ll get down to brass tacks and analyze some sleep hacks.

Sleep Supplements

Let’s talk about sleep supplements. Patients always ask me: What can I take to put me to sleep? What’s going to keep me asleep? They are looking for a shortcut. One thing people ask about is CBD versus marijuana. Based on the research, my take on this is that if CBD works for you, take it. It’s probably not affecting your REM sleep. Marijuana, on the other hand, does affect your REM sleep. If you’re taking it before bedtime, it will mess with your sleep long-term, which is very bad for you.

Melatonin and 5-HTP are all also supplements that we hear quite a bit about. Melatonin starts that process of getting to sleep, and it’s OK to use because it’s not going to mess with your long-term sleep. 5-HTP is a precursor to melatonin. So if you take 5-HTP, it is helping you to get extra melatonin to start that process. Long-term, it’s not going to help you, but it’s OK in the short term.

Next, let’s talk about prescription sleeping pills that your medical doctor would prescribe. These benzodiazepines like Lunesta and other sleep medications are terrible for you long term. If you must, you can use them as a crutch for a week or two while you’re trying to figure out what else you’re going to do. But long-term, these things are bad for you. Research shows that these types of pills increase your all-cause mortality between three and five times while you’re taking them. Even if you’re taking just a small dose, you significantly increase your chances of death.

Tips for Healthy Sleep

In this section, I’m drawing on research from the National Institutes of Health. The first tip is to stick to a sleep schedule. In fact, what Dr. Walker argues is that sticking to a sleep schedule is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re going to get healthy sleep and create good sleep habits.

You want to keep to a scheduled bedtime and wake time. Your awake time is already set for most people since at least five days a week. You have a set time that you have to wake up and go to work. So all you have to do is set your sleep time seven to eight hours before your regular wake time.

Your Body Temperature

Exercise is great for sleep. You want to get your exercise done early in the day because if it’s too late, your core body temperature goes up and stays up because you’re burning calories. That can result in you not being able to go to sleep because your body has to reduce your core body temperature by about one degree for the sleep cycle to take place.

So how do you get your body temperature to go down one degree? Paradoxically, it can help to take a hot bath right before bed. It’s because a hot bath increases blood supply to your skin and outer tissues so that when you get out of the tub, your core body temperature goes down that one degree. A hot shower or bath is going to help make sure that your body temperature goes down to help stimulate your sleep.

Things to Avoid

In order to get good rest, you have to avoid a few things—plan to drink any caffeine only in the morning. You’ll also want to skip nicotine, alcohol, food, beverages besides water, and any medicine that might interfere with your sleep. If you look at the side effects of a lot of medications that are in your cabinet right now, medications that you take every day, they have the potential to interfere with your sleep. Make sure that you’re not taking them near bedtime or work with your doctor to make sure that this is not going to be causing a side effect.

Are Naps OK?

If you’re going to take a nap if you’re going to be in that biphasic pattern of sleep, and that’s fine. But if you’re taking a nap after 3:00 PM, you’re going to start to step on the toes of the adenosine building up and your body to make you tired later, and you don’t want that to happen.

You have to relax before bed. A lot of people schedule their days so full. We’re all struggling to make sure that we have enough hours in the day, but you do need to make sure that there’s some time to relax before you have to go to sleep. If you get done doing all your house errands and dealing with the kids and doing last-minute work, and then just try and lay down in bed and fall asleep, it’s not going to work out for you. You have to be doing things that are going to help your body to start that process of using melatonin to get into the right stage for sleep. And it takes some relaxation before you do that.

Avoid Blue Lights

Relaxing before bed should be with a book, with some music maybe, but it can’t be with your phone, your laptop or your TV. Research shows that all of these things emit blue light. All of these things mess with your circadian rhythm that starts the melatonin so that you can get to sleep. Relaxation time should be dimly lit. Turn the lights down, make sure that it is not too bright, and just listen to music or read a book.

Daylight Exposure

The renowned sleep doctor, Dr. Matthew Walker, gives very specific instructions that you must get some exposure to daylight earlier in the day. If your daytime is very bright and your nighttime is very dark, it will help your circadian rhythm get stronger. That’s really important, so you need to make sure that you’re taking full advantage of this. And of course, you want to keep your room dark when you sleep at night. I hope these ideas will help you take action to improve your sleep right away. Wishing you a restful slumber!

About Dr. Merrill

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Dr. Andrew Merrill is a passionate active clinician and owner of Nightlight Chiropractic Orlando where him and his team treat hundreds of patients each month. With a strong background in exercise science from Stetson University, clinical skills from Palmer College of Chiropractic, and continued postdoctoral training in spinal disc injuries and clinical nutrition, Dr. Merrill is very well versed in the healthcare landscape. With topics ranging from "what to do for common ailments" to "why the medical system is failing you" Dr. Merrill and this blog in particular aim to keep readers up to date on what the research shows and how you can put it into practice NOW to keep yourself healthy for a lifetime.