Biohacking is all about optimizing the performance of your mind and body. Getting enough healthy, restful sleep is essential to effective biohacking, because it provides a solid foundation of health and wellbeing on which you can build and enhance your capabilities. If you’ve read our post The Consequences of Poor or Inadequate Sleep, you know that poor sleep leads can lead to outcomes much more serious than simple tiredness. If you’ve decided that good sleep is a priority, the first step towards achieving it is identifying the reasons why you aren’t getting good sleep. This post aims to identify many of the most common causes of unhealthy sleep, so you can see which might apply to you.
Before diving into what might be causing poor sleep quality, it’s important to assess if you are dedicating enough time to sleep. On average, adults require between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. Getting less than 7, particularly if you do it chronically, is a big problem. So if you are regularly only spending 5 or 6 hours in bed, it’s time to fix that. Of course setting aside more time for sleep is easier said than done, particularly if you have children or work a lot of hours. Take a hard look at your schedule and your time management skills, and see if there are some improvements you can make. And remember, depriving yourself of adequate sleep for the sake of productivity won’t work out in the long run. That extra hour or two of work might seem essential in the immediate term, but if it’s consistently cutting into your sleeping hours, you’ll eventually end up losing even more productivity due to fatigue during the day and health problems.
Light can play a major role in disrupting or delaying healthy sleep, because light and darkness govern circadian rhythms. If you have bright street lights or other light sources in your neighborhood, your bedroom might have too much light that’s disrupting your sleep. Daytime sunlight exposes you to blue light, signaling your body to stay alert and not produce melatonin. The sun’s light at sunset shifts more to red, which tells your body to begin producing melatonin and begin winding down for the day. If you regularly spend your evenings looking at televisions, computer screens, tablets, or mobile phones, you are disrupting this cycle because all modern LED lit screens emit a lot of blue light.
If you live in a noisy area, or are particularly sensitive to noise, it may be causing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Noises register in the brain while we are sleeping, even when they aren’t enough to fully wake us up. So frequent noises can prevent the progression into deeper stages of sleep, leading to sleep that isn’t as restful or restorative as it should be. If your partner snores, this can be quite disruptive to your sleep – though you might not be aware of it, because often we don’t remember being woken up during the night.
Stress can be both the cause of and a symptom of poor sleep, leading to a vicious cycle. Worry and anxiety may be following you to bed, making it harder to fall asleep, or harder to fall back asleep if you are woken up. Cortisol, the stress hormone, plays a major role in the sleep wake cycle. In a healthy cycle, cortisol is highest just after waking in the morning, and slowly declines over the course of the day. In this way, cortisol is helpful, giving your body and mind a boost to tackle the day. But if cortisol levels remain high through the day, due to stress, it makes falling asleep at night much harder.
As the day winds down and your body prepares for sleep, you digestive system slows down to conserve energy. If you eat shortly before going to bed, energy is diverted back into your digestive system to process the food, rather than being used for restoration and recuperation. In the opposite scenario, where you go to bed very hungry, your body will try to regulate your blood sugar by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones will energize you and make it harder to sleep.
You probably know that drinking caffeine too late in the day will cause problems with sleep, but did you know drinking alcohol before bed can also disrupt your sleep? While alcohol is a depressant, and therefore tends to make you drowsy, it also prevents you from reaching the vitally important REM sleep stage. So while you may think alcohol helps you relax at night, it may actually be a cause of poor sleep. Alcohol also tends to dehydrate the body, which can further lead to sleep disruption. The liver works throughout the night, and can’t function efficiently without enough water. While proper hydration is a good thing, drinking too much water before bed can lead to sleep disruptions, as you may find yourself waking up to use the bathroom.
Any difficulty with breathing will tend to seriously damage sleep quality. Sleep apnea, where your airways close completely and you stop breathing for a time, is a cause of major sleep problems. Congestion or inflammation in the sinuses can also cause difficulty sleeping, as your airways may be more prone to blockage as your muscles relax while sleeping. Poor air quality, from mold, allergens, or overly high humidity, can exacerbate existing breathing problems, or cause new ones.
Identifying the causes behind your poor sleep quality is vital to improving it. Hopefully this post shed some light on the issues that might be giving you trouble. In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss various strategies for improving sleep quality, and addressing these problems.