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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Conrad

Sleep Smarter Recap

There were so many good tips from this book by Shawn Stevenson I wanted to recap and sum up what I learned or what was reinforced. Let's dive in...

First off, studies have shown that people with just one night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as a person with type 2 diabetes. On top of that 60% of Americans say they have difficulties sleeping. One more thing contributing to our obesity epidemic in the states.

Chapter 1: The Value of Sleep

We need sleep. While we sleep our body boosts our hormone function, heals our muscles, tissues and organs, protects us from diseases and helps your mind work at its optimal level. If you're not getting sleep, schedule it in. Make it a priority. See it as a treat instead of something that you have to fit in.

Chapter 2: More Sunlight During the Day

Your sleep cycle or circadian timing system is heavily impacted by the amount of sunlight you receive. Our eyes have special light receptors that help increase our serotonin levels. Aside from being known as bringing about happiness, serotonin is crucial to regulating your internal clock. Then comes melatonin, which sends signals to your cells to prepare you for sleep as it gets darker. So limit your light exposure as you get closer to bed time.

Cortisol is usually seen as a bad hormone, but it actually helps you get up, focus and be alert, the trick is finding its rhythm. Exposure to sunlight decreases cortisol at night, preparing you for a healthy influx of melatonin.

Tip: Wearing sun glasses that are merely for fashion block sunlight and may be hurting you more than helping. Your pupils naturally shrink if UV light is present. When artificial darkness is created they will widen your pupils, allowing more UV light in if the glasses do not protect against UV light. If you need temporary protection, make sure they are UV protective.

Chapter 3: Screens Before Bedtime

Light emitting electronic devices in the hours before bed adversely affects overall health, alertness and the circadian clock. Break the addiction to that dopamine boost from social media or the internet. Read a book, play a game, talk to someone. Try and turn off electronics 90 minutes before bed, adjust the setting on your phone to turn off at a certain time and if you truly need electronics, use blue light glasses.

Chapter 4: Caffeine Curfew

Caffeine comes from tea, coffee, chocolate etc. and it has a half life of 5-8 hours depending on your tolerance levels. That means that after a specific amount of time, half the substance is still active in your system. So lets say you have 400 mg of caffeine, 6 hours later 200 mg are still in your body, and 6 hours after than 100 mg, etc. Caffeine produces adrenaline and cortisol and after those spike, you usually crash and become a angry caffeine addict. In general, it's safer to stop taking caffeine by 2:00 pm. There are many benefits to caffeine; alterness, focus, improved liver function if used in the right way. If you have become addicted, try cycling in and out of caffeine.

Chapter 5: Temperature

Thermoregulation heavily influences your sleep cycle. Studies have shown that the ideal sleeping temperature is around 60-68 degrees - specifically important for insomniacs. If you are super stressed, your body temperature rises and that disrupts your sleep.

Tip: Take a warm bath 1.5-2 hours before bed. While your core temperature rises, it will fall accordingly in time for bed. Or use a cooling mattress.

Chapter 6: Sleep Time

Prime time to be asleep is from 10pm - 2 am where we get the most beneficial hormonal secretions. At 10 pm your body goes through a transformation following a natural rise in melatonin. This is meant to repair, strengthen and rejuvenate your body. But if you're up past 10pm, you might find yourself having a harder time falling asleep. And no, catching up on sleep over the weekend will throw off your sleep rhythm more than help it. If you have a graveyard shift you have a higher risk of breast cancer, diabetes, and injuries. Health care, firefighters, police all work overnight shifts.

Tip: If possible, graveyard shift workers can work 10 months on, and 2 months off. Not ideal, but an option.

Tip 2: Try and aim for 90 min cycles. It takes 90 min to go through a full cycle of sleep - deep, restorative (deep sleep), more alert (non-REM), and dreaming (REM sleep).

Chapter 7: Fix Your Gut

There is good and bad bacteria in your gut. You need both. To help with normal serotonin production, melatonin secretion and optimal hormone function you need to avoid foods that damage your microbiome. Harmful foods include artificial chemicals, processed foods, repeated antibiotic use, chemical additives and preservatives and chlorinated water to name a few. Some sleep good nutrients found in foods are selenium, vitamin C, tryptophan, potassium, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3s, melatonin, vitamin B6, probiotics and probiotics. The most mighty mineral is magnesium with its ability to balance blood sugar, optimize circulation and blood pressure, relax tense muscles, reduce pain, and calm the nervous system; great before bed (topical magnesium is best).

Chapter 8: Sleep Sanctuary

Your bedroom should be limited to sleep and sexy time; keep work out of the bedroom. The human brain is looking for patterns - we are creatures of habit. So when you walk into your room, your brain will recognize it as being a time to sleep. Fresh air is key in your bedroom as well. Find things that can freshen up your place; humidifiers, perennial snake plants, etc.

Chapter 9: Oxytocin

Having an orgasm can be a full on sedative for some people. Men and women release oxytocin, serotonin, norepinephrine, vasopressin, and prolactin. Oxytocin specifically counters cortisol, helps promote sleep, and releases endorphins. Serotonin acts as an anti-stress neurotransmitter. Norepinephrine regulates the body's arousal system, sleep states, synthesis of melatonin and balancing the overall stress response in the body. Vasopressin increases sleep quality and decreases levels of cortisol in relation to sleep. Prolactin is linked to sexual satisfaction, immune system function, improved sleep quality and improved quality of life. Sex and orgasm have benefits that go beyond sleep, from boosting immune system, fighting depression and helping you live a longer life. Communicate with your partner, put your back in to it and be safe!

Chapter 10: Black Out Your Room

Exposure to light of any kind throws the body's biological clock out of whack. Your skin even has light receptors! One of the most devastating impacts of artificial light is the suppression of melatonin production. Get some blackout curtains, no night lights, no bright alarm clocks, lower the brightness of your lights inside, light some candles, set the mood.

Chapter 11: Train Hard (But Smart)

Muscle is a reservoir for anti-aging hormones that protect your DNA from oxidation. You stay younger longer if you have more lean muscle. The secret is good rest. Morning is the best time to workout, early evening can provide some benefit and mid afternoon has little to no benefit as far as sleep benefits are concerned. Sleep deprivation is the number one trigger for accelerated loss of telomere length (our health life length). Exercise is a stressor, but in the right amounts it is very beneficial. For the best hormonal response, lift heavy weights at least 2 times a week. Smart exercise = better sleep and vice versa. Schedule it in. Do something you enjoy. Get an accountability buddy.

Chapter 12: Technology In The Bedroom

Cell phones, tv, iPads, Kindles, WiFi box, etc....out of the bedroom. Keep your bedroom for sleep and sexy time only. Cell phone radiation affects peoples ability to reach critical deep sleep which affects the body's ability to heal and perform the next day. Our electric devices emit magnetic fields known as EMFs that have been linked to leukemia, brain tumors, and breast cancer. Cell phone radiation has been classified by the WHO as a Group 2B carcinogen.

Chapter 13: Overweight

Having too much body fat on your frame causes severe stress on your internal organs and nervous system and disrupts your endocrine system. Overweight people secret more cortisol after a meal which can translate to higher blood sugar, lower insulin sensitivity, increased levels of inflammation, and lower quality sleep. Not eating late at night if you want to lose weight has merit in this regard. But it's not so much eating late is problematic in itself, it is when you are overweight.

One of the most obvious issue that being overweight can have on sleep quality is sleep apnea. You can treat the symptoms with a CPAP machine or shed the excess weight. It's all about hormones. Your body's major fat storing hormone is insulin - important for survival but can make you fat if you can't turn it off. Insulin reacts to carbs (bread, pasta, potatoes, cakes, candies, fruit, soda). Oranges are better than orange sherbet, but carbs all around. Focus on protein and fat. It's not about having a low carb diet, but majority of Americans have a high carb, so level it out. By eating a higher ratio of protein and healthy fats, you'll produce more glucagon instead of insulin which will trigger the breakdown of stored fatty acids for fuel.

P.S. Eating fat won't make you fat. That's like saying eating a blueberry will make you a blueberry.

When you're physically and mentally tired, levels of leptin - the satiety hormone - decrease, causing you to reach for the junk food. Give your body the sleep it needs so your hormones are working for you, not against you. Nutrient deficiency will lead to persistent overeating = poor sleep and health. We are a nation of overfed and under nourished people.

If you really need food at night stick with a high fat, low carb snack.Try to give your body 90 minutes before heading to bed after eating.

Chapter 14: Alcohol

Good news about drinking at night is that it puts you to sleep faster, but it significantly disrupts your REM sleep, which affects your memory and health. Women are specifically affected. Studies have shown that women who drink alcohol at night wake up more, stay awake longer and sleep less overall. Drinking alcohol is synonymous with belly fat. Wrap up the drinks 3 ours before bed time. Drink more water than alcohol; one 8 oz glass of water with every alcoholic drink you consume.

Chapter 15: Sleeping Positions

Sleep positions play a roll in blood flow to your brain, hormone production, stability of your spine, joint and ligament integrity, heart function, digestion, etc. Many experts say sleeping on your back is the best position; less digestive stress, less acid reflux and better for facial breathing, but more of a chance of snoring and sleep apnea. Just make sure you don't have a huge pillow cranking up your neck and your mattress isn't worn out. Sleeping on your belly should not be done with legs and arms straight down. Lift a knee, lose the pillow and put the pillow under your belly or hip instead to reduce stress on your lower back and neck. Sleeping on your left side may help with digestive issues like heartburn or acid reflux. Try to lean your shoulder forward so you don't put all your pressure right on it. Make sure your pillow isn't propping your head too high. Place a soft pillow between your knees if you have back issues. The later 2 can help with snoring and sleep apnea.

It is recommended to swap your mattress every 7 years and make sure it's a non toxic, non-off-gassing mattress.

Chapter 16: Inner Chatter

We all have inner chatter that can keep us up at night. It's a result of stress and untamed busyness of the day. This is where meditation comes into play. People who meditate have better control of their brain waves called alpha rhythms essentially making their focus, performance, productivity and memory better. It can also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Meditation is huge for those with insomnia. Start with breathing; in through the nose, out through the mouth. I'm sure there are plenty meditation practices just a click away.

If you still wake up often in the middle of the night you're most likely hormonally off. Focus back on your nutrition and exercise. Another issue might be sleep apnea, which links us back to losing weight. A third issue might be low blood sugar, gastrointestinal tract issues or physiological stress. This all takes you looking at what is stressing you out in your life and make small daily changes towards the life you want. Read, listen to podcasts, cultivate the life you want.

Chapter 17 : Smart Supplementation

You FIRST need to address lifestyle issues, then turn to supplements. If you turn to supplements first, then you'll treat a symptom and increase dependency. For some natural aids you can use chamomile, kava kava and valerian. 5-HTP, GABA and L-tryptophan are not ideal or natural but can be helpful. Melatonin is a common go to aid which can be effective for some people, but be wary it is a hormone and comes with side effects. One main issues is that is down-regulates your body's natural ability to utilize melatonin on its own. P.S. don't mix supplements with alcohol.

Chapter 18: Early to Rise

Going to sleep early and waking early syncs the body clock with the earth's natural circadian rhythms, which is more restorative than trying to sleep while the sun is up. Humans are designed to be up during the day time and sleeping at night - as seen with our lack of night vision. Not a "morning person"? Find something exciting to wake up to, jump out of bed - yes literally jump, or put your alarm clock across the room.

Make it a goal to go to bed within 30 minutes of the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day - even weekends.

Chapter 19: Massages

Massage is a secret key to unlocking your sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system and activating your parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. There are so many more benefits to massages; normalization of blood pressure, reduction of inflammatory cytokines, reduced pain, improved mobility, improved symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduction in migraines and headaches, improved digestion and elimination, reduction of stress hormones and improved immune system function. Rubbing therapy dates back 5,000 years, something must work.

Book yourself a massage this week. Try gut smashing (google it) to relax your vagus nerve. There are so many tools to use for self-massage; foam roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball and your own hands!

Chapter 20: Pajamas

You'll make it easier on your body to regulate its temperature if you wear fewer and looser clothes to bed. Wearing tight, restrictive clothing is a huge mistake and can literally cut off blood flow of your lymphatic system. This system is the cellular "waste management" system of the body that transports and circulates extracellular fluid throughout your body. If it doesn't, those toxins get stuck. Tight socks are a common culprit along with bra wearing. Keep it loose people!

Men: boxers, loose-fitting pajama bottoms, basketball shorts, basic t-shirt, or go naked.

Women: boy shorts, flowing lingerie, your significant other's XL shirt, yoga pants/tights that don't strangle your legs/hips, loose fitting pajama bottoms or go naked.

Chapter 21: Get Grounded

Humans are connected with the earth. But in todays day and age we walk around on shoes and never feel the earth. There is something called grounding or earthing that impacts stress by shifting the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic, improving heart rate variability and normalizing muscle tension. Grounding can reduce cortisol levels and help you sleep better. There is earthing technology you can bring into your home, or you can go outside barefoot for at least 10 minutes a day. Soil, grass, sand, water. Ground yourself. Getting grounded after a flight can also sync your body's circadian clock with your time zone.

Have fun. Experiment. Let me know what you find helpful!

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