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Book:  Sleep Smarter

Author:  Shawn Stevenson

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Stevenson, S. (2016). Sleep smarter : 21 essential strategies to sleep your way to a better body, better health, and bigger success. New York, NY: Rodale Books.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Cutting out some screen time at night is likely the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately. Computers, smartphones, etc. kick out a sleep-sucking blue spectrum of light that can give you major sleep problems. The artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones and disorients your body's natural preparation for sleep. For example, nighttime iPad readers take longer to fall asleep at night, have shorter REM sleep, and report feeling more tired the following day as compared to others who read regular printed books. (pg. 19)

  2. Sleep cycles typically last for 90 minutes and repeat four to six times per night. So, six normal 90-minute sleep cycles would equal 9 total hours of sleep. Even if you get a full night's sleep, you can still wake up feeling groggy if your alarm goes off during the middle of one of your sleep cycles. To make your mornings better and more energetic, consider setting your alarm so that it goes off in accordance to sleep cycles. For example, you will likely feel more refreshed when you wake up after 7.5 hours of sleep as opposed to 8 hours of sleep. (pg. 49)​

  3. Go to bed within 30 minutes of the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Many people try to "catch up" on sleep and sleep in on the days that they don't have to get up for work. By throwing off your sleep schedule like this, you'll usually find you're more tired than you want to be on your off days, and really dreading getting out of bed once Monday rolls around. To stay within your body's desired sleep pattern, do your best to make it within 30 minutes of what your ideal sleep time is. (pg. 162)


Other Key Ideas:

Your sleep cycle is heavily impacted by the amount of sunlight you receive during the day. It may sound counterintuitive that getting more sunlight during the day can help you sleep better at night, but science has proven that this is precisely the case. Office workers who don't have access to direct sunlight sleep an average of 46 minutes less a night than those with direct access to sunlight. The office workers with more natural light exposure tend to be more physically active and happier, and they have an overall higher quality of life. (Stevenson, Sleep Smarter, pg. 9)

One of the most important things you can do to be more productive and get better sleep is to adjust the settings on your cell phone so that you don't receive automatic notifications. Automatic notifications are touted as wonderful cell phone features, but they are actually causing you to be like a rat in a cage. If you want to get the best sleep possible, and take back control of your brain, turn off as many visual and auditory cues as you can. (pg. 25)

Caffeine has a half-life of around 5 to 8 hours. So, using the 8-hour half-life as an example, if you consumed 200 milligrams of caffeine, after 8 hours, you'd have half of it (100 milligrams) active in your system. After another 8 hours, you'd have 50 milligrams. This is why having caffeine even 6 hours out from bedtime will still impact the quality of your sleep. (pg. 29)

Studies have found that the optimal room temperature for sleep is really quite cool - around 60 - 68 degrees. Anything too far above or below this range will likely cause some difficulty sleeping. (pg. 35)

It's been shown that human beings get the most beneficial sleep during the hours of 10pm and 2am. You get the most rejuvenating effects during this period. (pg. 41)

Diet soda may even be worse for you than regular soda - in terms of what it does to your metabolism. It can "break" your metabolism. Many people are just now realizing that because something has the word "diet" doesn't mean that it's good for you. (pg. 55)

Incorporate magnesium-rich foods into your diet - such as green leafy veggies - as these foods are associated with deeper, uninterrupted sleep. (pg. 61)

People who exercise at 7:00am sleep longer and have a deeper sleep cycle than people who exercise at 1:00pm or 7:00pm. One of the big issues with working out late in the evening is that it significantly raises your temperature, and it can take as long as 4 to 6 hours for your temperature to come down again. (pg. 82)

We've been misled to believe that "cardio" in the form of jogging for long periods is the ideal way to lose fat. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Running for long distances can radically increase muscle loss. Instead, to get the best response from you body, you will need to lift heavy weights. I recommend short "superset" training sessions that last no longer than 30 minutes. You can do this by pairing two exercises together for non competing muscle groups. Structuring your program like this is great for fat loss and optimizing your hormones for a better night's sleep. (pg. 88)

At least 50 percent of Americans sleep with their cell phones right by their sides. Many people will admit to checking message alerts in the middle of the night (and needlessly disrupting their sleep patterns). Plus, many more will admit that the first thing they do is reach for their cell phone as soon as they wake up each day. 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 other people's 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 you own goals for the day. You are, in essence, saying, "I know I have things that I want to accomplish, but I would much rather try to take care of them when stressed out, out of time, and out of energy." (pg. 94)

Get electronics out of your bedroom! If sleep is important to you, then you will do this. If being healthy and not having a chronic disease is important to you, then you'll do this. Numerous studies have confirmed that watching TV before bed disrupts your sleep cycle. It might seem mundane to sit back and watch TV in your bed, but parts of your brain are being set off like fireworks. Data show that children with televisions in their bedrooms score lower on school exams and are more likely to have sleep problems. And, to top it all off, having a TV in the bedroom is associated with a greater risk of obesity. (pg. 97)

When individuals are sleep deprived, they end up with significantly lowered levels of the hormone that plays an important role in regulating appetite. Chances are, when you are sleep deprived, this is the hardest time to resist junk food that you know you should be avoiding. When you're physically and mentally tired, your brain is looking for extra calories to keep everything functioning at a baseline level. (pg. 109)

If you really need to have something to eat closer to bedtime, have a high-fat, low-carb snack. Alternately, a high carb snack right before bed will increase your chances of waking up in the middle of the night. Give your body a solid 90 minutes (more is better) before heading off to bed after eating as the closer you eat before bed, the more likely you are to be pulled out of deeper stages of sleep. (pg. 112)

Have your first meal of the day be an epic one. Most people in our modern world have been programmed to start their day by having dessert (pancakes, bacon, cereal, etc.) for breakfast. You're starting off your day with a huge sugar rush and setting up yourself for a day of fat storage because of this. Instead, keep your sugar intake low through the first part of the day. The morning should be the ideal time to get in real food, superfoods. If you make a smoothie, focus on the greens. Load that blender up with a ridiculous amount of green, leafy vegetables like spinach, berries, protein powder, and unsweetened almond milk. The greens will help keep your response to any sugars to a minimum. (pg. 113)

Did you know that you get smarter while you sleep? One of the most valuable aspects of sleep is memory processing. This is where short-term memories get converted into long-term memories. Memory processing is affected by different stages of REM sleep. If your REM sleep is disrupted, your memory and your health can suffer. Studies have proven that drinking alcohol late in the evening can help you fall asleep faster. But the bad news is that REM sleep is disrupted by alcohol being in your system. You won't be able to fall into deeper, consistent levels of REM sleep, and your brain and body won't be able to fully rejuvenate. This is why people generally don't feel that great after waking up from alcohol-laced sleep. If you want to play at a high level and still hang out with your friends for drinks, then hook up with them for happy hour instead of an all-night bender. (pg. 115)

Being awake for 20 hours straight makes the average driver perform as poorly as someone with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent - the legal limit in all states. A recent poll found that 60 percent of drivers admitted they had driven while sleepy in the preceding year, and 37 percent confessed they had fallen asleep behind the wheel. If you have the symptoms of sleepiness coming on strong, just pull the car over for a 10 or 20 minute nap. Studies have shown that shorter naps result in greater alertness and better performance. Experts also recommend taking a break every two hours if you are driving on a long road trip. (pg. 119)

Research indicates that 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related pain. Instead of waking up refreshed, millions of people are waking up with aches and pains due to the mattress they are sleeping on. Consumer Reports states that you need to replace your mattress every seven years. Most mattresses sag 25% within the first two years, and they continue to degrade rapidly from there. This has been found to be the greatest contributor to sleep-related back pain. (pg. 128)

Experts estimate that we have upwards of 50,000 thoughts per day, most of them random, most of them short-lived. But, in our overinformed, overstressed, and hyper-sensitized world today, it can all be a bit much. We need to learn to turn the volume down when we want to. Meditation, or brain training, can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. You can turn everyday activities into great meditation by following a few basic principles. By closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, you can instantly put yourself into a relaxed space. There is an absurd amount of data mounting about the beneficial impact of meditation on performance, productivity, memory, and focus. Don't be the one who missed the boat because you didn't take advantage of this valuable resource. (Stevenson, Sleep Smarter, pg. 135)

Just a few rounds of focused breathing can instantly change your physiology. This is a really powerful and important practice because you're learning how to instantly guide how your body feels. You can flip on your nervous system at will, and even be able to be more in control of your thoughts. Where your breathing goes, your mind will tend to follow. Short, shallow breaths are connected to stress and anxiety. Deep, rhythmic breaths are connected to relaxation and control. This is why you need to learn how to put breathing into your hands. No matter what is going on around you, you have the ability to control how you respond. (pg. 143)

Most of the time our thoughts are scurrying off into the future thinking about all of the things that we can and need to do...or off in the past thinking about the way things went or how they could have gone differently. Very rarely are we in the present moment, in our bodies, and really taking in life. You can use mindfulness meditation to get back in your body, be more present, and not let time go by on things that don't even exist. As it's said, the past is a memory, the future is a dream, and the present is really the gift. Mindfulness is really about noticing and tuning in to things in the here and now. For example, while walking you can notice the feel of the ground under your feet, while eating you can notice the individual tastes you are experiencing, and while talking to a friend you can fully and completely listen to them as opposed to thinking about what you are going to say next. (pg. 144)

When you go body group to body group throughout your body and fully contracting your muscles for a period of 5 to 10 seconds and then release for 5 to 10 seconds, you will immediately feel a great sense of relaxation each time you let go. This practice is used to clinically help reduce stress and improve sleep. (pg. 171)

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