Toby Yo, a personal trainer, entrepreneur, host of the Lifestyle Journey podcast and Australian biohacker, shares his story about struggling with sleep problems. He gives valuable recommendations on how to optimize a lifestyle for sleep and describes his routine to wake up well-rested and happy:
One of my loves and passions is biohacking this human body we've been given to optimise and improve all areas of life. Today we are going to be talking about sleep.
Every single human needs to sleep. But the question is, are you sleeping optimally? Or are you wasting a lot of time lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, waking up multiple times during the night and then waking up in the morning feeling groggy and feeling cloudy?
How do you fall asleep when you can't? For 22 years of my life I did not have an optimal night’s sleep. I was getting anxious because I knew, I'm going to be lying there for the next one or two hours not being able to fall asleep. I’m sure some of you can relate? And then once I did sleep, I'd be waking up in the middle of the night, at least five or six times, to have to go to the toilet, sweating, having nightmares and just not feeling good.
Imagine this: it’s the middle of the winter, the alarm clock is waking you up, when you know you’ve barely slept the night before. I would hit snooze a couple of times, or as many times as I could get away with, and then eventually just kind of slough out of bed. I would jump into a hot shower, eat some cheap breakfast, and then start my day. At this point, I’d already be on the back foot because I’ve had one of the worst starts to the day, including my sleep the night before was bad.
I don't know how I made it through life, not living the lifestyle, not prioritising sleep. That is why sleep has probably been my number one focus, as I got into biohacking. I was just so tired of not being able to sleep.
Let’s talk about sleep biohacks, supplements, I've been using, routines and things that have worked for me. If you try them out, they’re likely to work for you too, because we all share very similar human bodies and brain chemistry.
A good night's sleep requires a good start to the morning. When you wake up, don’t get out of bed and sit inside the house doing nothing or going on your phone. Instead, wake up, get out of bed, get outside, as soon as you can, get your bare feet on the earth and try to get your body in the sun. When you expose your body, especially in the early morning, to the sun, this signals to your body that it's daytime and it's time to start producing less melatonin and more serotonin. It will make you feel much better during the day.
Here is how I like to start my mornings. I wake up, do oil pulling, boil some water and go outside to my backyard to soak up those golden rays. You can also do a breathing meditation, yoga, have a coffee, whatever floats your boat.
Just get outside. As soon as your skin and your eyes sense the sunlight, that's when your cycle of the day starts. So the earlier you can get that in, the more likely you're going to have the feeling of being tired at night and being able to sleep well. During the day, you want to stay active. Try to stay outside as much as you can. The sun is very, very good for you.
Generally, I will also limit my caffeine intake. I'd only be having coffee at around 11AM or earlier. After that, I'm trying to stay away from caffeine, unless it’s a good old fashioned kombucha.
Now let's go into the evening routine. I like to go to sleep at around 10:30 to 11PM. It means that I'm going to be trying to limit my blue light exposure anytime after 7PM. I'm going to be trying to cut down on screens and watching TV. I also don’t want to be under fluorescent lights, so I'll start using my salt lamps in the house.
Image Source: https://medium.com/@jubishop/how-to-get-better-sleep-fcb74f4df0b5
Obviously, we do check our phones during the evening, because we have to sometimes. In order to avoid blue light, go to your phone settings and adjust the color tint to make your screen devoid of all blue light. This way you can continue using your phone and do not have to worry about the blue light.
If you want to watch a TV or if you are in someone's house where there's a lot of fluorescent lights, white light or blue light, I’d recommend putting on a pair of blue light blockers. It will protect and shield your eyes from that blue light.
I’ve never really realised how big an effect blue light had on my sleep until I actually cut it out and was able to fall asleep straight away. If your skin and especially your eyes are feeling it, your body will get a signal that it’s a daytime. And instead of producing melatonin and all those sleep hormones and chemicals to make you feel rested and tired, and then drift off into a nice sleep, your body is going to be producing hormones to keep you awake.
Another thing I like to do is to watch the sunset, especially if it is a nice one. I will try to get there at least 20 minutes before the sun goes down and I will stare directly at the sun for the last 20 minutes before it sets.
I do have a warning for this: be careful! Do your own research and try yourself by doing a bit of sun gazing. If you feel that it’s hurting, try to squint your eyes to make the sun fragment into beautiful different rays.
I find that this exercise sends a signal to my body that it's time to wind down. You can also do it with fire. Sitting around a fire at night, opposed to in front of a TV, singing, playing some music, having some tea is great to wind down before sleep.
It is not good to eat within two or three hours of sleeping. When you go to sleep, you want your body to be fully recovering, fully healing and be able to rest. But if you eat directly before bed, or very close before bed, especially if it's a big meal, instead of recovering and healing itself, your body is going to be sending all of its energy to the digestive system to help break down the food.
Even though we all love to sleep, we also don’t want to be having to lie in bed for 10 hours every single night just to feel normal. We want our sleep to be as efficient as possible, as smooth as possible, and want to be able to stay in it the whole time without waking up.
Something that I’ve been doing recently is I’ve been using pink noise while I sleep. I’ve downloaded it off Spotify on my phone and I plug it into a speaker at night to have a pink noise in the background. I used to use white noise, but, according to the research I’ve done, pink noise seems more effective. It is even played for babies when they sleep these days as well.
What the pink noise does is it makes the brain focus more on a steady, relaxing sound, as opposed to the cars in the street, dogs barking or neighbours walking around. It blows out all the other sounds and you just hone in on this very even, peaceful sound.
Pink noise has been a game changer for me. When I put on the pink noise, my Oura sleep score, which I'll talk about later, improves. For instance, I get 2 hours of REM sleep and 2 hours and 44 minutes of deep sleep, when I’m in bed for only eight hours. That is actually a great result.
The next thing I want to talk about is supplements. I’ve been experimenting a lot with supplements. A lot of them actually don’t work, but there are ones that I found to be very good, especially for sleep.
I found that taking a good quality ashwagandha before sleep helps your body to rest, get more deep sleep and stay in sleep better. L-theanine is also very good for winding down.
There are a few other things that I’ve been experimenting with, but haven't got conclusive evidence yet. I enjoy having raw honey, some chamomile tea with a bit of apple cider vinegar. The science and the explanation behind raw honey is that it provides our liver with glycogen, so it’s happy while we sleep. Raw honey is also very tasty, so it’s two in one.
Another thing that has been a game changer for my sleep is my Bulletproof Spiky Mat. It is a mat with spikes that simulates the bed of nails. Right before I go to sleep, I’ll set up the spiky mat and lie on my back on it. Usually within four or five minutes I can feel myself dozing off. At this point, I’ll sit up, take the spiky mat and throw it on the floor. And just like that, I’m in a dreamland, in a beautiful sleep.
The science behind this is that when your body touches the spikes, it sends a signal of danger. But after a few minutes or so, the body realizes that it’s a false alarm and there is no danger, so it overcompensates. This will get you into a very relaxed state. In addition, the spikes press on the acupressure points on the back without harming the skin.
The studies have shown that inclined sleeping helps the brain to detoxify and the body to stay asleep longer. So what I did was, I took my law textbooks and put them eight or nine inches underneath my bed. This way, I’m sleeping on an incline. I've been doing that for about four months and so far, so good.
Another simple tip is to wear socks when you sleep. Socks will make you feel nice and comfortable. Plus, it will help regulate your body temperature better, which is also a plus.
I do believe in nose breathing and I was doing mouth taping for a while on and off. But to be honest, mouth taping feels a bit like a chore to do after a while. You have to tape your mouth shut, which does not feel too good. And then in the morning, you have to worry about taking the tape off, which is the last thing you want to do when you wake up.
I like to wake up and shove a big tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth and do oil pulling, but instead I need to go get warm water, pour it over my mouth, so that I can take the tape off without ripping my lips. But you can try mouth taping if you want.
I wouldn't say that it’s directly a biohack. It is more of a spiritual kind of thing. Recently I've been trying to clear my conscience and just overall be a good human being. Do the right thing. Tell the truth. Look out for other people. Treat everyone as if they're yourself and just be in service to others.
What’s interesting is when I made the decision to be upfront, authentic and transparent, my sleep also improved. I think that's because I had nothing to hide anymore. I had no more skeletons in my closet. It drastically helped me sleep the whole night through and has been one of the most effective things. Take this in consideration.
While Oura Ring does not help you sleep better, it does help quantify your sleep. When you try new things, it’s hard to say whether something is working or not without the physical evidence. So the Oura Ring will measure your REM sleep, deep sleep, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, body temperature, etc. And it's very accurate as well.
For example, you want to try a new thing, such as magnesium. I actually use magnesium topically because it gets absorbed in the skin much better than orally. So you’ll use magnesium and then you would check your Oura Score the next day. Continue this for a while, like it’s your own science experiment to quantify if it works for you or not.
As for me, I used GABA before sleep and it made me feel very tired, but it didn’t improve the quality of my sleep. Same with alcohol, you might feel tired and sleepy, but the quality of your sleep will be terrible, as you won’t get much of deep sleep.
I like to experiment with things and enjoy using the Oura Ring to understand what’s good for me and what is not.
You can't always control what time you go to sleep at night. But what you can control most times is the time you wake up in the morning. Try to have a consistent wake up time. For instance, you wake up at 7AM five or six days a week. Then on Saturday or Sunday you can relax, do not set an alarm and wake up when you feel like it.
I’ve got a special alarm clock as well. It is a sunrise simulator: 30 minutes before my alarm is set to wake me up, it's going to start producing light that emulates the sun. And I usually wake up before my alarm goes off because my room is so bright. Since my room is located on the inside of the house, I don’t have very much natural light coming in in the mornings. So this alarm is a good hack for me.
Human Charger is another great device for those who don’t have much sun in the mornings. Human Charger is a photobiomodulation device that you put into your ears and it shines on white light into the photoreceptors inside the ear canals. This is a way to signal your body that it’s already morning.
This is a good biohack especially for those people who live in northern countries like Denmark, Sweden or Norway.
Originally, I got a red light panel to improve my skin health and collagen production. But what it also does is it gives your body quite a bit of energy as well. You can use it in the morning and sometimes in the evening to blast your body with red light.
If you are waking up constantly in the middle of the night, you might want to look at what foods you're eating. When you eat high carbs before bed, it could keep you more satiated and keep your liver glycogen happy. You might get a bit of a sleep when you eat your carbs at the end of the day, as opposed to the middle of the day. Or your body might be needing more fat, so you might want to have a bit of activated almond butter before bed.
I also like using essential oils before I go to sleep. Usually it is a blend of lavender, chamomile and valerian root. I put it on my temples, behind my ears and on my pulse points on my wrists. Using aromatherapy is great for signaling to your body that it’s time to relax, time to wind down, time to chill out.
You can also try adaptogens. I was using reishi mushrooms, lion's mane and some others. But to be honest, the effects were minimal and those mushrooms are quite expensive. But this is from my experience. Have a think about and if you want to try it, go for it.
My main message is that in order to improve your sleep, you have to be conscious of how you feel when you wake up in the morning, be conscious of what you're putting into your body and what you're exposing your body to.
Because at the end of the day, having a good sleep at night is a game changer. It sets you up to have an amazing day, to have more energy, to be more focused and more switched on.
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