Strategies to maximize sleep health and duration
The OURA Ring
I’ve been looking for something to help monitor my sleep better for a while. I originally didn’t use the OURA as it seemed a bit pricier and doesn’t keep constant heart rate, etc. or complete physical exercise data as the Fitbit, which also monitors sleep. That said, the OURA is focused on sleep and the Fitbit more so on activity. After giving the OURA ring a try based on numerous recommendations, it quite quickly grew on me. Besides, Fitbit (and the Apple watch) have bands which cause rashes and agitation within 3 weeks, the big reason I stopped wearing both.
As Matthew Walker notes, the OURA isn’t perfect and certainly isn’t as accurate as his actual sleep lab, but is relatively accurate for each person once norms are established. They are accurate for total rest, but the data on various sleep stages are only relatively accurate. For each person that accuracy will carry through day-to-day, so it is quite accurate in monitoring changes in sleep quality, making it a very good guide for personal care.
As the OURA started picking up on my sleep habits, it started sending me suggestions, such as when my optimal sleep time is, when I should start winding down, etc. I’ve found the “readiness” number, the data’s perceived level of how I feel, to be relatively accurate day-to-day, which helped me be more cognizant of what I should strive for.
The first week I tested the OURA, I averaged below 5 hours a night, with a wide range from 2 to 7 hours. Since then, in the last 17 days where I have been making a conscious effort to track my sleep and go back to bed when I see I haven’t gotten nearly enough, my average has risen to 6hr 25 minutes; meaning when removing week 1, I am getting a hair over 7 hours per night, which I believe is my optimal level. Perhaps I have the advantage of not having a set time where I “need” to wake up, making the OURA ring more useful to me than others. I can easily go back to sleep, and make a habit of it. I suspect it may be more challenging to go to bed earlier, but I am a night owl. For early birds, becoming aware of sleep habits and planning to go to bed earlier may come quite easily.
The OURA ring isn’t perfect, but so far, I am finding it to be a very useful tool. We’ve added it to our Elite Biohacking section, as an affiliate for OURA. I’m personally going to continue using it, and monitor my compliance. I look forward to hearing feedback from any of you that decide to incorporate it into your arsenal.
Strategies for Aiding Sleep
Do not use the recommendations below to replace CBT-I if you have chronic insomnia. Everyone’s insomnia is different.
Strategies I Use and Have Tried
For myself, depending on what I am reading, I find it either an incredible sleep aid or a disaster. And this is in no means related to how interesting I find the subject. In fact, some of the writing I find most interesting, puts me to sleep the quickest. Particularly philosophy. I’ve mused it may increase strain on my mind, which is already running on fumes by the end of the day. Easy to follow “pop science” or even journal articles in subjects I am well acquainted and enthralling literature whether it be fiction or non-fiction, will keep me up turning the page all night.
Reading scientific publications on a subject I am struggling to understand, or reading and re-reading pages of philosophy that I need to think deeply on will put me to sleep quite quickly. In my own “intellectual enlightenment” which I will discuss in the “hydrogen tablet origins” series slated to start next, I would routinely read two different books simultaneously. I would read one book during the day that would have me turning the pages, and another at night that caused deep reflection, but would have me fall asleep quite quickly.
As I have again began focusing on my sleep hygiene, I have been racking my brain for habits that I formerly had that improved my sleep. I recalled my reading habits from years ago and quickly adjusted. When I first started wearing my OURA ring, I was falling to sleep between 1-2 am, with my latency close to 30 minutes (the time it takes to fall asleep after resting).
I was also reading books (back to back) that while interesting, were quite “easy reads” for me (Michael Gazzaniga: The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind followed by Patricia Churchland’s new book hot off the press: Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition). In the last week, I have switched to something a bit more challenge, a piece from Michael Polanyi called “Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post Critical Philosophy” and my daily “page count” has plummeted, my average time to fall asleep has become around ~11:30 pm, with my latency now around ~5 minutes. Again, this has nothing to do with how “interesting” each book is. In this example, I already have several pages of copied notes with my own thoughts and reflections on the first 80 pages I’ve read of Polanyi. It is great stuff, it just seems to help me sleep.
Knowledge is its own reward and reading is something I would encourage for everyone. We train our bodies and it should be a personal obligation to train our minds. I have an upcoming piece on the subject. I’d recommend finding a subject you want to learn, one that you have a hard time following late at night and giving it a try. It may improve your sleep while helping pursue new thought and knowledge. Keep the page turners for earlier in the day.
Guided Hypnotherapy Recordings
This is another subject in which I have an upcoming piece on, as implications of guided hypnotherapy go well beyond aiding in sleep. Unfortunately, many proponents of hypnotherapy have injected much quackery, reducing the public image on effectiveness. Hypnotherapy is an often go to of mine, utilizing it any time I lay in bed for more than 45 minutes without falling asleep. It does not always work, but it does often. When it does, I fall asleep quite quickly and tend to sleep through the night. I highly recommend the Liberation in Mind website, the free recordings of Dr. Paul Ogilvie, a medical doctor from the UK.
It’s widely reported that sleeping in a cold room helps you fall asleep quicker and sleep better, with sleep scientists recommending you sleep in a slightly cooled room. Personally, I run my A/C all spring, summer, and fall. In the winter, I turn off my heat and crack my window open to allow cool air to come in. That said, I live in the Greater Vancouver area of Canada, and as such it rarely gets as cold as others would identify as “cold”.
While sleeping in a cool room may come with sleep benefits, and potentially other health benefits, make sure not to be “too cold” for too long, otherwise it could come with negative health implications. For more information, here is my article on cold exposure as a form of hormesis.
Recommendations I Can Anecdotally Support
- Don’t eat within a few hours of sleeping. Again, I have seen this recommended everywhere from various sleep experts to researchers supporting time-restricted eating to support our circadian rhythm, such as Dr. Sachtin Panda, which I discussed in my article on intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating and hormesis here. While in the article I stated I remained skeptical on the science and tend to skip breakfast, I do find that when I eat too late at night, I sleep poorly and have a harder time falling asleep.
- Don’t work out too close to bed time. When we train hard, we get a rush of various endorphins. I know that when I work out too closely to bed, I am “wired” and cannot fall asleep. It’s advice I have seen posted by sleep experts and it seems prudent. Anecdotally, I know that working out too late in the day causes me poor sleep.
If you do not currently exercise, take up an exercise program. Expending energy may help your body relax and sleep better Becoming fit may help reduce some of the reasons resulting in sleep issues. Further, physical fitness is one of the most important arsenals in your health routine. Even if it doesn’t help you sleep, incorporating a moderate exercise plan is ideal.
Other Recommendations I Haven’t Found to Work, but Others May
(and have been discussed by sleep experts)
- Turn off half the lights a couple hours before bed. During bouts of poor sleep, I tried this years ago and personally, didn’t find any benefit. For others it may be worth a try.
- Get in the sunlight early in the morning. When I installed my Thai bag on my patio, I started the habit of waking up each morning to do a round outside in the sunlight. I then sit and work beside an open window getting direct sunlight (that I keep open for my cat). I didn’t find this practice, which I took up for other reasons, to have any bearing on my sleep. For others, it is easy and may be worth a try.
- Supplemental melatonin. Some studies have found it may help restore sleep timing and aid in falling asleep faster, although it doesn’t affect quantity or quality. However, other studies have found no benefit at alli. Melatonin is a “message” to tell your body the time of day, but doesn’t necessarily help you sleep. Increasing melatonin is only suggestive if you are “trained” to sleep at that time. As for experts, Matthew Walker thinks it “may” have a benefit. He suggests it for those jetlagged, people over the age of 50, or perhaps those employed in shift work. I’ve tried melatonin and found no benefit for myself earlier in life.
I do not want to discount it as not working and need to do a full review before dismissing or adding it as an “essential”. I am not “sold yet”, but open to learning more. Some questions I would need answered are whether it is habituating. Can melatonin supplementation shut down the body’s own production of melatonin? We need better, long term studies.
Matthew Walker hypothesized that because of blue light use/technology, the supplemental use may be more important now. This is another topic that would lead to interesting research, which I’m sure someone is planning.
Recommendations Others Have Spoken About That I Haven’t Tried
- White noise, according to Matthew Walker, is at least not harmful.
- Rhythmic sound has limited evidence.
- Electrical stimulation can be harmful or effective. Do not try at home, Matthew Walker does this in his lab.
- If you have issues with your partner, consider sleeping in different beds.
Hydrogen and Sleep
I previously discussed hydrogen and magnesium, relating to what our hydrogen tablets deliver, and potential benefits for sleep in one of my first blog articles here. While we haven’t gained any further knowledge to move past the single hydrogen inhalation study on sleep apnea, the mountain of testimonial evidence and conjecture, anecdotally, many find great benefits for sleep by consuming hydrogen water.
The hypothesis that hydrogen water can help isn’t unwarranted. While I cannot give more information, we have entered into a verbal agreement to donate funds for a fairly substantial and well-controlled mouse model of artificially-induced sleep apnea at a major North American university, set to begin in the fall. This is a subject that the department chose and came to me with, not something I suggested to them and is a lab that focuses on sleep apnea quite extensively.
While sleep apnea and other sleep issues are very different, more than 18 million adult Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and the efficacy from CPAP machines in controlled trials is mixed. I’m also aware of other studies currently “in press” showing no benefit. It is very possible that hydrogen water will also show no benefit, however if it does in mice, it could be a novel approach to explore in humans. It is certainly needed.
I understand the challenges with winding down and getting better sleep. Many of my contacts are overseas and e-mail late at night, and even those on the West Coast often e-mail me at 10-11 pm or even after midnight as they catch up on their e-mails. I hate leaving e-mails to the next day and am a rare type that tries to have my inbox at “0” every night when I go to bed. It drives me crazy when I am waiting on others and feel that I should never have others wait on me.
I’ve improved my sleep and haven’t heeded the advice to turn off my phone at night. That said, I have worked on ignoring e-mails in the middle of the night and in the early morning. Before, I would wake up multiple times in the middle of the night and early morning to respond to each e-mail. I would allow others to schedule early morning calls with those in Europe or on the East Coast. I’ve abandoned this and will ignore e-mails until I am ready to wake up. I also have become more insistent on later morning or afternoon calls.
I know myself and know that I will not be able to adhere to a plan on shutting down my phone every day. I modified my routine to make sure I get adequate sleep, and it’s a plan I am having no issues with maintain so far. Every single one of us will need a different plan, a different routine. Find what works for you, and remain focused on getting more sleep and better sleep.
Matthew Walker, PhD
Sachtin Panda’ book: