Longevity Lifestyle #4 - Sleep Optimization

Longevity Lifestyle Series








Reference Lab

Mar 10, 2022



The Longevity Lifestyle Series will be a series of informative posts featuring simple and affordable science-backed practices that have been proven to extend longevity. You can incorporate each practice into your daily life to feel more energetic, to slow the rate of your aging, and to improve your healthspan (the number of years you live healthy and disease-free). 

Each post will include science-based explanations for why each practice improves healthspan and tips on how to best incorporate them, based on personal experience and research from the author. 

Original posts can be found at livelongerworld.substack.com, a newsletter dedicated to delivering actionable tips and science-backed protocols to optimize health and extend longevity.

Topics to be featured in the series:

  1. Cold showers / cold exposure
  2. Fasting (intermittent fasting + longer fasts)
  3. Exercise and mitochondrial health
  4. Sleep (the science behind sleep’s impact and sleep tips)
  5. Sauna
  6. Longevity foods and gut health (+ what not to eat)
  7. Supplements for longevity (vitamins and minerals)


Meet the author
: Aastha Jain is a longevity enthusiast who commits herself to performing in-depth research on health optimization techniques, often self-experimenting, to deliver actionable and impactful recommendations to effectively extend your healthspan through her newsletter, livelongerworld.substack.com. She takes the time to do the research and test each health optimization practice so you don’t have to!

Besides her writing, she is also the host of the Live Longer World Podcast through which she interviews researchers, entrepreneurs, and advocates who are transforming the field of longevity science. You can find her podcast, Live Longer World, on all platforms including YouTube, Apple podcasts, and Spotify.

Newsletter | YouTube | Podcast | Twitter: @livelongerworld | Instagram: @longevityfuture

A trusted resource:

“Aastha is an inspiring longevity enthusiast who does an incredible job in curating, simplifying, and summarizing science-based content, offering a valuable resource to guide us on our journey to a healthier, longer life.”

— Carolina Oliveira Reis, PhD, OneSkin CEO & Co-Founder

Longevity Lifestyle #4 -
Sleep Optimization

This post is a compilation of all the most effective science-backed sleep tips. It can serve as your go-to resource for actionable tips on improving sleep quality & sleep optimization! 😴

Preview of Post / Topics Covered:

  • Sleep Duration & Timing
  • Morning Routine for Better Sleep
  • Bedroom Settings for Optimal Sleep
  • Food & Food Timing
  • Other Levers - Exercise, Sex, Hot showers, Naps
  • Technology & Lighting before Bed
  • How to Drift into Sleep
  • Supplements for Better Sleep
  • Sleep Trackers
  • Commonly Asked Questions
  • Summary and Sleep Checklist
  • My Personal Story with Sleep

Note on how to read this post:

  • If you just want to be told what to do: Read the bold parts
  • If you want to learn a bit on why you should be performing the particular action: Read the entire post :)
  • If you want to skip to certain areas you most need help with / apply to you, feel free to jump sections! Each section can be read standalone.

01Basics on Sleep Science, Sleep Stages, Sleep Benefits: 😎

In this post, I didn’t want to dive too much into the science behind why sleep is good - there are some great resources out there such as Matt Walker’s (famous sleep scientist) book Why We Sleep, which in fact has served as a resource to me in writing this post.

But to give some context, sleep is a huge regulator of our health. Sleep plays a critical role in our ability to learn, memorize, make logical decisions, deal with emotional stress, prevent infections and other types of sickness etc. The list is endless.

Sleep is a master regulator of our health. So it’s worth the effort to improve and optimize it.

Before I dive into sleep tips, I want to give a short note / simplified version on the sleep stages and their benefits:

  • Deep Sleep / Non-REM Sleep: Helps with memory consolidation, learning, immune system support etc.
    • Typically occurs in the earlier parts of the night
  • REM Sleep: Dream stage. Helps with emotional resetting and creativity.
    • Typically occurs in the later parts of the night / early parts of the morning

02Sleep Duration & Timing: ⌚

How long to sleep for? Try for 8-9 hours in bed.

  • 9 hours in bed doesn’t necessarily correspond to 9 hours of sleep since we have brief periods of wakefulness after every sleep cycle, which is typically 90 minutes.
  • A healthy sleep efficiency is 85% +
    Time spent asleep / Time in bed = Sleep efficiency
  • Studies show that individuals who routinely sleep for 6-7 hours a night demolish their immune system, increase their risk of getting cancer, and age faster.

When to go to bed? Follow your own Circadian Rhythm

  • Our bodies have their own internal 24 hour clock referred to as the circadian rhythm.(1) For example, ~40% of the population are morning types (bed by 9pm, awake by 5am), ~30% are evening types (wake up 10am or later), and the remaining 30% are somewhere in the middle. It’s best to figure out where you lie in this rhythm and sleep according to that pattern. Yes, sometimes external circumstances such as child duties make it harder to do so, but try the best you can!
  • It’s also interesting to point out that our circadian rhythms change with age. Teenagers tend to go to bed later not only because they might be engaged in video games, but also because a shift in hormones has caused their internal clock to be tilted later. And when we are older - say married and out of school, our clocks can shift again to be tilted towards the morning types.

Sleep Timing: Be consistent with it

  • As much as possible, it’s best to be consistent with your bedtime and wake up time everyday. (Confession: I struggle with this! But when I do have weeks of sleep time consistency, I have improved sleep quality, focus & energy levels)
  • Note that deep sleep occurs in the earlier parts of the night, so if you are regularly going to bed late, you are missing out on deep sleep which is crucial for memory & cognitive functioning. Conversely, REM sleep occurs in the later parts of the night / early hours of the morning and if you are often waking up without getting your 7-8 hours of sleep, you are missing out on REM sleep which is one of the most important regulators of your emotional stability and creativity.
    • (I have a thesis that the invention of fire and REM sleep is responsible for a lot of the progress made by humans. See footnote if you’re curious to hear my wild musings 🤓)(2)

03Morning Routine for Better Sleep: 🌞

You might think that getting a good night’s sleep involves only night-time and bedtime routines. Surprise surprise - a lot of your actions throughout the day could affect sleep and certain activities in the morning can greatly enhance sleep quality!

Sunlight Viewing: Get Sunlight exposure by being outside within 30-60 minutes of waking

  • This alerts your body that you are awake and regulates your circadian rhythm. As I said earlier, our bodies have their own internal 24 hour clock referred to as the circadian rhythm.
  • Studies have shown that simply viewing more sunlight in the morning increases people’s sleep quantity and quality.

Best way to view sunlight? By being outside and not through the window.

How long does it take to view sunlight?

  • Sunny days - 10 minutes is good
  • Cloudy days - 20 minutes or so
  • Overcast days - 30 minutes+

If for some reason, you are unable to go outside to view sunlight, then try to sit by the window in the mornings.

  • Even if it’s a cloudy day, the amount of sunlight you get by being outside or by a window is far greater than indoor light exposure.

And avoid sunglasses when outside, since it’s the light exposure to the eyes (doesn’t have to be direct!) that matters.

Coffee Intake and Timing: Avoid coffee 10-12 hours before bed

I’ve written on the benefits of coffee intake before - it can help with reduced DNA damage, fat loss, and cleaning out damaged cells. So I’m not in the camp asking you to eliminate it. After all, I love my coffee!

However, dosage and timing of coffee are critical especially when it comes to sleep.

  • Safe dosage is typically up to 400mg of caffeine for healthy adults - this is about 1.5 12oz cups of Starbucks coffee. Of course, different people may react differently to coffee and some people are faster metabolizers of coffee than others, so you should try to experiment with your own dosage. However, for the most part, you’re fine drinking 1-2 cups of coffee in the mornings. Higher doses than this and you may start experiencing sleep disruption and jitteriness.
  • Timing of caffeine intake is perhaps even more critical - Aim to drink your last cup of coffee 10-12 hours before bed. The half life of coffee is 5-7 hours. What does that mean? For example - it’s 12pm and you start to feel the afternoon slumber, so you decide to grab a cup of coffee. About 6 hours later, at 6pm, there will still be 50% of coffee circulating in your brain. And the remaining 50% will only be cleared around midnight. So if you try to go to bed by 10pm, there could be coffee in your brain blocking sleep receptors and making it difficult for you to sleep.

Now, this raises an obvious and commonly asked question: “What if I can fall asleep just fine even after drinking a cup of coffee in the evening?”

It’s possible you could fall asleep but you are most likely compromising on sleep quality. Circulating coffee in your brain at the time of sleep can disrupt your deep sleep, which as I mentioned earlier is responsible for memory, learning, and cognitive functioning.

This is something easily measurable by using sleep trackers - I’ve written about them below.

04Bedroom settings: 🛏️

Keep a Cooler Bedroom Temperature: ~65 degrees F or 18.3 degrees Celsius + And / Or Use a Cooling Mattress

  • Ideal bedroom temperature for good sleep is on the cooler side - 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit is good.
  • Cooling Mattress: I recently got an Eight Sleep cooling mattress and it’s quite effective in keeping the bed cool! I’ve also tried the cooling blanket from Chilisleep but didn’t like it much - it doesn’t keep me as cool at night. Eight Sleep and other cooling mattresses can be quite expensive so if you don’t want to shed money on them, simply turn down the air-conditioning to 65 degree F or leave the windows open if the weather outside is relatively cool.

Avoid Light in the Room: Use Curtains / Black out shades / Eye Shades

  • Try to avoid light in the bedroom when going to sleep. As I said earlier, light signals your body to wake up. So use curtains or black out shades to prevent light in your bedroom. Another way to achieve this is by using sleep masks / eye shades.

Avoid Noise Disruption: Use Ear Plugs

  • Noise can disrupt your sleep, except for white noise which sometimes helps people sleep better! If you live close to a noisy street, you could try using ear plugs. I could certainly use these when I’m at my house in India - it’s on a road with so much honking & traffic that makes it impossible to sleep!

05Food and Food Timing: 🍚

Meal Composition: Eat Starchy Carbohydrates for dinner

  • Eating starchy carbohydrates at night helps you fall asleep easier. Starchy carbohydrates release tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin induces a feeling of calmness and makes it easier for you transition into sleep. Be careful about supplementing (outside of food) with serotonin or tryptophan, however, as some people report that even though it could knock them out, it wakes them up in the middle of the night and makes it harder to fall asleep.

Starchy carbs do not include refined sugars (they are bad for you at ALL times!) or processed food. Starchy carbohydrates are foods like potatoes, white rice or pasta.

Btw, note how popular media, especially that directed towards fat loss, will tell you to eat carbs in the morning and avoid it at night, even though there is no grounded science for it!

Timing of your macros can impact how you feel throughout the day. If you wish to optimize sleep, focus, and muscle gain, here is the protocol to follow:

  • More Protein in the mornings: Protein in the mornings is better absorbed by your muscles. See my post on Instagram for more.
  • Low-carb in the afternoon (to avoid the slumber)
  • More starchy carbs at night to fall asleep easier

(If you are on a low-carb protocol, I am not saying you should change it up. I personally do a ketogenic / low-carb diet and I fall asleep just fine. But if I do end up eating carbs on some days, I try to usually keep it to dinners. I’ve also noticed that for me, eating carbs at night makes me hungrier the next morning (likely due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels) making it harder for me to fast. But that’s just my personal anecdote and each person is different! However, if you do have trouble falling asleep on low-carb / keto beyond the initial transition phase, you could try to experiment with introducing some more carbs at night. For those curious, I’ll write another piece soon on the science behind ketogenic diets and why I follow one. It’s in fact, partially responsible for why I started this newsletter! ✍️)

Meal Timing: Finish dinner 3-4 hours before bed

  • Late night meals and heavy dinner interferes with digestion, making it harder for you to get a restful night’s sleep! Aim to eat dinner 3-4 hours before bed.
  • Late meals can also disrupt your circadian rhythm.

Avoid Alcohol at Dinner (Sorry!)

  • It is a misconception to think that alcohol helps you fall asleep more easily. Alcohol not only fragments your sleep, but it is also one of the most powerful blockers of REM sleep. REM sleep can help with memory formation and emotional stability.
  • Alcohol will interfere with your learning and lack of REM sleep has the ability to cause you to slide into depression. Believe it or not, but some of the ketamine protocols for treating depression are actually performing a similar action to what REM sleep helps with.

06Other Levers: 🏃‍♀️

Exercise: It improves sleep quality. Best to finish exercise 2-3 hours before bed

  • Exercise can induce more deep sleep and also help you fall asleep faster.
  • I can’t stop talking about the several benefits of exercise beyond physical health - improved cognition and some studies also point to how it can reverse brain aging!

Sex + Orgasm / Masturbation: They are sleep aids! (Just stating the data so far)

  • Sex that results in orgasms can aid sleep and allow people to fall asleep easier. Masturbation is also used as a sleep tool for people.
  • Mutually consensual sex can in fact improve the quality of your relationships as well.
  • And the opposite also holds where poor night’s sleep can be responsible for conflicts in relationships and a reduced desire to have sex with your partner.

Hot showers: Hot showers before bed improve sleep quality

  • Hot showers before bed cool your body temperature making it easier for you to fall asleep. They also help relax you and set the tone for going to bed.
  • I’ve written on the benefits of cold showers before, but it’s best not to take one before bed as they can make you feel more awake.

Naps: 20-30 minute naps are fine but try not to nap 7-8 hours before bedtime. Avoid naps if you struggle to fall asleep at night

  • Naps can in fact be beneficial and improve learning and alertness.
  • However, naps can be dangerous for people who are struggling with sleep at night since it reduces the sleepiness pressure at night.
  • So if you are struggling to fall asleep at night, it might be best to avoid naps.

07Technology + Lighting before Bed: 💡

Dim the lights in your house at night / Use Red Light

  • Dim the lights in your house a few hours before bed to induce sleep more easily.
  • You could also try using red light instead of a brighter light.

Avoid screen time before bed (If you must, then use F.lux)

  • It’s best to avoid computers, television screens, phone screens before bed. The screen light can signal wakefulness to your brain, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
  • If you must use your laptop, try using F.lux or something similar to dim the screen light.

08How to drift into sleep: 💤

Have a wind-down or relaxation routine before bed to induce sleep

  • After a full day’s work and socializing, your brain can be stimulated at night, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Having a relaxation protocol before bed can make the process much easier. Some wind-down examples:
    • Read before bed: Best to use a physical book or Kindle and avoid reading on your phone. (Doug sent me some boring investment memo to read as a good sleep aid 😜)
    • Meditate for 10-15 minutes before bed
    • Use a foam roller to relax your muscles
    • Listen to some relaxing music before bed

09Supplements for Better Sleep: ☕

Magnesium Threonate: Aids better sleep for those who are deficient in Mg

  • I’ve written on this before and it seems like the data on it is unclear. Magnesium Threonate is known to improve focus & calmness and some think it helps with sleep too.
  • However, Matt Walker, in a recent podcast with Andrew Huberman, mentioned how everyone thinks magnesium helps with sleep, but the data points to the fact that it only helps those who are deficient in Magnesium.
  • So, perhaps it’s not necessary to spend money on supplementing with it, unless of course you are deficient in Magnesium, which nearly 50% of the U.S. population is, btw! You don’t want to be deficient in micronutrients.

L-Theanine: Promotes Relaxation but Avoid if you have wild / vivid dreams

  • L-Theanine helps with reduction in anxiety and has a relaxing effect, assisting in improved sleep quality. However, it’s noted that it’s best to avoid if you have vivid dreams at night (which I do!)

Melatonin: Data is unclear but can help when facing jet lag

  • Melatonin is a hormone that is released when darkness begins. However, melatonin does not actually participate in the generation of sleep itself.
  • Quoting Matt Walker on melatonin: “Many people think that it helps them fall asleep more quickly or stay asleep. That's actually not true if you look at the carefully controlled studies. Melatonin simply times when sleep is going to occur, not the generation of sleep itself. I would say, however, that for people who are using melatonin and feel it benefits them, then go ahead and keep using it because - not to be dismissive - but the placebo effect is the most reliable effect in all of pharmacology. So if you feel as though it's working for you, that's just fine.”
  • Melatonin can be useful if you're traveling between time zones. So if you're in a new time zone - let's say that I flew back home to India and now my body clock is 10+ hours behind. It's on Eastern time in the U.S. (where I live). When it’s 11pm or midnight in India, my body’s melatonin rise is not going to start happening for at least another 10 hours. In this case, I can take some melatonin and fool my brain and body into thinking that it's nighttime, and it's time to sleep. So melatonin can help reset your sleep times when traveling across time zones.

Chamomile Tea: Contains Apigenin which promotes Sleep

  • Great choice! Reduces stress, promotes sleep, and could even have anti-cancer properties.

10Sleep Trackers: 📈

I think it’s totally worth a little bit of money to track your sleep. This way you can know whether you are getting quality deep & REM sleep, your sleep efficiency, how different activities like late meal timing impact your sleep, etc.

It’s easier to make changes towards better sleep quality when you actually measure what you’re changing. Some products to consider:

  • Fitbit - I use a Fitbit Charge 4 and think it’s pretty good. I’ve compared it to Amazon’s Halo before and both were similar. It also tracks resting heart rates and activity levels, but no HRV. It’s also cost-effective.
  • Oura Ring - It started as the sleep tracking device. Doug uses it so I’ve interfaced with the tracking features and they are quite good & comprehensive in terms of tracking sleep, HRV, activity levels etc.
  • Eight Sleep - I don’t like the sleep tracking feature on the mattress, it tends to not be accurate for me.
  • Other sleep trackers like Apple watch - Tried it once for a month but don’t recall the sleep tracking (I’m sure it was fine!) so I’m not the best person to ask.

11Commonly Asked Questions: 🙋

Is it bad if you wake up in the middle of the night? Nope!

  • No, it’s okay and normal to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom as long as you are able to fall back asleep and don’t stay awake for long periods of time.
  • As mentioned earlier, a healthy sleep efficiency is 85% +

What happens if you stumble one day? (If you go out on a Friday night and end up sleeping later than usual or If you have poor sleep one night ): Do nothing out of the ordinary!

  • Do not try to compensate for the poor night’s sleep by napping, going to bed sooner, waking up later, drinking more caffeine than usual or doing anything out of your usual routine.
  • It’s best to resist the temptation to go to bed earlier or nap for long periods such that you can fall back into your natural cycle.

Is there any site that lists out products that help with sleep? Yes!

  • Yes, I’ve created a site, Longevity Store, that lists not just sleep products but other products that help with longevity too - broken out by categories such as wearables, sleep optimization, healthy food etc.

12My Personal Story with Sleep 👧

I slept A LOT in High School. So much so that my friends called me “Little Miss Sleepy” and even gave me a T-shirt with that title. Some people would wonder how I would run around doing several activities despite sleeping that much. My answer now is that it’s not that I managed to do well despite sleep, rather it’s because of sleep that I did well.

College was drastically different though. The bug of “sleep is for the weak” caught me and I barely slept. I noticed a drastic decrease in my mental clarity, energy, happiness and an increase in weight as well as a propensity to eat junk food. Even when I attempted to sleep more, I was under the impression that “6 hours is good enough.”

This “6 hours is good enough” saga continued post college. Working in Private Equity certainly didn’t help - I had some sleepless nights and frequent nights of 4-5 hours of sleep. I didn’t feel good. But I was in this cycle to keep doing more. It wasn’t good.

It wasn’t until COVID hit and I started working from home that I tried to prioritize my sleep. And even then, it took me reading Matt Walker’s book to understand the power of sleep and how I was so wrong about “sleep is for the weak.”

I immediately started feeling better. My energy levels were high & I was much much happier and sharper. Improving my sleep honestly was one of the biggest levers for me in terms of improving focus, energy, and happiness.

Now, I try my best to not skimp on sleep. On days I sleep more than usual, my joke is that “I’m still a recovering Private Equity Associate.” (I don’t work in Private Equity anymore.)

The reason I recounted my story was to give you a personal anecdote of the transformational power of sleep and how stupid I used to be. (I’d like to think I’m less stupid now hehe.)

Prioritize sleep and optimize sleep - trust me you will be happier for it. 😃

Aastha

References
  • [1] Circadian rhythms, the body’s 24-hour cycles of biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns, modulate a wide array of physiological processes, including the body’s production of hormones that regulate sleep, hunger, and metabolism, ultimately influencing body weight, performance, and susceptibility to disease. Circadian rhythmicity may have profound implications for human healthspan. Night-shift workers have their circadian rhythms disrupted and it sometimes leads to severe health consequences.
  • [2] Why fire & REM Sleep is responsible for humans dominating the world? Summarized version and my thinking: Fire allowed humans / apes to sleep longer as they didn’t have to sleep on trees. This meant we got more REM sleep which occurs in the early parts of the morning. REM sleep is responsible for emotional intelligence and creativity. It allowed us to form bonds and story-tell. If you’ve read Yuval Harrari’s Sapiens, he will say that humans are the most powerful animals because of our abilities to tell stories! If you wish to follow, I’ll do a better write-up on this hypothesis on my blog.