Sleep is something that I frequently struggle with. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love sleeping, but so often my sleep feels all over the place.
It’s now clear from a plethora of scientific research that sleep affects everything from our metabolism, to hormone production, our mood, and cognitive functioning. And after learning more about the research on sleep and how important it truly is for pretty much every part of our lives, I decided my sleep really needed an upgrade!
So I spent one week trying out all sorts of sleep hacks to see if I could take my sleep to the next level.
My Sleep Hacking Experiment
For this experiment, I interviewed Dan Pardi, a sleep researcher at Stanford University, about the science of sleep. Then, I tried various sleep hacks based on Dan’s science-based recommendations.
“Over 50 percent of Americans are getting unsatisfactory sleep,” he said. “There are a lot of things that are going to influence our sleep. Probably the most important is light.”
Dan explained that light affects our circadian rhythm, which is our body’s natural 24-hour sleep/wake schedule. Depending on the type of light we are exposed to, our circadian rhythm can be thrown off, especially in a world where blue light from technology is so invasive.
Dan told me that according to research, blue light actually inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain that increases at night in order to help us sleep. So when we are on screens at night before bed, we are actually tricking our bodies into thinking it’s daytime, which will prevent melatonin production, disrupt our circadian rhythm, and prevent us from getting good quality sleep.
Hack #1: Controlling Light
According to Dan, the key to good sleep actually starts in the morning. He recommended I get direct sunlight upon waking up. Because I normally wake up before the sunrise, I purchased a special alarm clock that imitates the sun as it wakes you up. I usually use my phone as an alarm, so having an actual alarm clock allowed me to remove my phone from my room before bed.
In addition, I turned off technology an hour before bed to minimize the absorption of blue light. Upon Dan’s recommendation, I also wore blue-light blocking glasses throughout the day to mitigate the effects of staring at a screen for so many hours. I have never needed glasses, but I’ve always secretly wanted them because I think they are super cute, so this was a great excuse to wear these adorable glasses from Felix Gray!
Hack #2: A Nightly Routine with Essential Oils
Dan stressed the importance of developing a nightly routine to help the mind and body wind down and prepare for sleep.
I asked Dan if there was any science to prove the effectiveness of essential oils for sleep, and he explained that there is scientific research to show that smelling an essential oil does in fact affect the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which controls our parasympathetic nervous system, or our rest and relaxation response.
Another thing I love to do before bed is use my crystal face roller. I’ll put it in the freezer so it’s nice and cold and then apply some rosehip oil to roll out all the tension in my face. It feels amazing and is such a great way to wind down before bed.
Hack #3: Meditative Breathwork
The next sleep hack I tried was breathing exercises before bed. Dan suggested the box breathing method, where you inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold again for four seconds, repeating for about 2-5 minutes. This breathing method worked so well and completely put me out like a light!
Hack #4: Controlling Body Temperature
The next sleep hack that Dan recommended was controlling my body temperature. He told me to take a warm shower or bath in the evening before bed. He explained that this actually helps lower body temperature after getting out, which is optimal for sleeping. It has also been shown that sleeping in cooler temperatures promotes better quality sleep, so I opened the windows at night to let in the cool air. In the morning, I took a cold shower to wake myself up.
How does alcohol and cannabis affect sleep?
Because so many people use alcohol or cannabis to fall asleep, I was curious to know the effects of these substances on sleep quality.
“Both of those substances are problematic,” Dan said.
He explained that the consumption of alcohol affects the neurotransmission of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and cannabinoids interfere with the neural repair that happens during sleep as well as mitochondrial function, which is critical for energy.
Hack #5: Weighted Blanket
The last hack that I tried was not one that Dan recommended to me, but something that I had been wanting to try for a while. Sleeping with a weighted blanket is supposed to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality, so I got a COOLMAX weighted blanket from a company called Weighting Comforts, which is designed to keep the body cool and dry throughout the night.
Right off the bat, I noticed that the weight of the blanket made me feel safe and relaxed. I ended up sleeping fantastic with it and woke up feeling so well rested!
About halfway through the week, I noticed I was feeling more restful and less tired throughout the day, whereas normally I feel exhausted between 2:30-4:30 in the afternoon. By the end of the week, I was feeling so rejuvenated and was shocked by the results I saw in just five days.
Overall, this was a successful experiment with some pretty great results. I learned so much about sleep and felt my sleep improve in such a short amount of time.
If you are someone who struggles with sleep, I know how frustrating it can be. I hope that you can try some of these hacks and experiment with what might work for you!