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I’m a brain expert and my 12-step toolkit will help you sleep better than ever

A BRAIN scientist has revealed his 12 steps to a perfect night’s sleep.

It may sound like a long list, but even achieving some of them is bound to improve your rest.

Dr Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford School of Medicine, says sleep is the best stress reliever, emotion stabiliser, immune booster and much more.

Dr Andrew Huberman

In a newsletter he published on Huberman Lab, he wrote: “Sleep is THE foundation of our mental and physical health and performance in all endeavours. 

“Yet no one is perfect about sleep. 

“The occasional night out or missing sunlight viewing here and there is not a big deal, so don’t obsess about that. 

“However, if any of us drift from these and the other behaviors for too long, we start to suffer. 

“So whatever your life and goals and schedule, master your sleep. You’ll be so happy you did!”

He broke the key messages into a list of 12, described below.

1. Seek sunlight

Dr Huberman said: “View sunlight by going outside within 30-60 minutes of waking. Do that again in the late afternoon, prior to sunset. 

“If you wake up before the sun is out and you want to be awake, turn on artificial lights and then go outside once the sun rises.

“On bright cloudless days: view morning and afternoon sun for 10 min; cloudy days: 20 min; very overcast days 30-60 min. 

“If you live someplace with very minimal light, consider an artificial daytime simulator source.”

Exposure to sunlight helps keep the circadian clock working properly.

The 24-hour body clock helps initiate sleep and wake us up and is dependent on signals from the sun. 

Dr Huberman said it’s best to avoid sunglasses if you can, but you will still get the benefit with.

2. Set wake-up time

Dr Huberman said you must wake up at the same time each day, including the weekend.

Experts explain this helps the body to stay in a pattern – which it loves.

Going to bed at the same time every night is not as important.

It is advised you don’t go to bed before you are tired, this can induce anxiety as you toss and turn.

Dr Huberman said: “Go to sleep when you first start to feel sleepy. 

“Pushing through the sleepy late evening feeling and going to sleep too late (for you) is one reason people wake at 3 am and can’t fall back asleep.”

3. Caffeine cut

Dr Huberman said: “Avoid caffeine within 8-10 hours of bedtime. 

“Dr Matt Walker (sleep expert from UC Berkeley) might even say 12-14 hours.”

Caffeine – found in coffee, energy drinks, some fizzy drinks and tea – has a long half-life.

Half-life is the amount of time it takes for a quantity of a substance to be reduced to half the original amount, and coffee’s is around five hours, but it varies from person to person based on genetics.

4. Try hypnosis

Dr Huberman suggested that, if you have severe sleep issues, try self-hypnosis.

“If you have sleep disturbances, insomnia, or anxiety about sleep, try the research-supported protocols on the Reveri app (for iPhone),” he said.

“Do the Reveri sleep self-hypnosis 3x a week at any time of day. 

“It’s only 10-15 min long and will help you rewire your nervous system to be able to relax faster.”

5. Dim the lights

From 10pm at least, you should avoid bright lighting, Dr Huberman advises.

This comes back to the circadian rhythms; when it’s evening, your brain needs signals that it’s near bedtime, including the sun going down.

Dr Huberman said: “Here is a simple rule: only use as much artificial lighting as is necessary for you to remain and move about safely at night.

“Viewing bright lights of all colors are a problem for your circadian system. 

“Candlelight and moonlight are fine.”

He said shift workers should see the Huberman Lab Podcast on jetlag for offsetting shift work negative effects. 

6. Limit naps to less than 30 or 90 minutes

Naps aren’t always a bad idea.

But you should “limit daytime naps to less than 90 min, or don’t nap at all,” Dr Huberman said.

Humans sleep in cycles, and setting an alarm to wake up halfway through a cycle can leave you feeling very sleepy.

A normal sleep cycle is 90 minutes long, in which time you go from light sleep, to deep and dreamy sleep, and back to light again.

Setting an alarm for less than 30 minutes will ensure you wake up before going into deep sleep.

7. A trick for waking up at 3am

Many people are burdened with waking up at the same time in the early hours every night.

Instead of lying awake hoping to drift off again, Dr Huberman recommends using NSDR (non-sleep deep rest).

It uses techniques that reset the nervous system, relaxes the body and mind again, thus inducing sleep.

For example, this ten minute Yoga Nidra uses a breathing technique taught by Dr Huberman himself, and is “the quickest way to activate the parasympathetic (relaxation, rest & digest) response”.

8. A little help

Dr Huberman said you could consider taking a supplement 30 minutes to an hour before bed.

These include:

  • 145mg Magnesium Threonate or 200mg Magnesium Bisglycinate
  • 50mg Apigenin (Swanson is the only source I know of; we have no affiliation to Swanson)
  • 100-400mg Theanine
  • (3-4 nights per week I also take 2g of Glycine and 100mg GABA.)

Dr Huberman said: “I would start with one supplement (or none!) and then add one at a time as needed. 

“Some people do not need any supplements, and some people like theanine but not magnesium, etc. so you have to determine what is best for you.”

He warned not to take theanine if you have overly intense dreams, sleep-walk, or have night terrors.

Some people get an agitated stomach from magnesium supplementation, in which case, do not take it.

9. Late night spike

Dr Huberman said: “Expect to feel really alert around one hour before your natural bedtime. 

“This is a naturally occurring spike in wakefulness that sleep researchers have observed. 

“Don’t freak out if it happens. It will pass!”

10. Cool room

Dr Huberman said: “Your body needs to drop in temperature by 1-3 degrees to fall and stay asleep effectively. 

“Body temperature increases are one reason you wake up. 

“Thus, keep your room cool and remove blankets as needed.”

A cool room and a warm bed is the best environment for easing you into sleep, and preventing you waking up.

11. Ditch the alcohol 

A night cap might seem like a good idea because it helps you get to sleep quicker (we all know a heavy night of drinking helps us to “black out” almost straight away).

But you may not realise how much it affects the quality of your sleep.

Quality of sleep, and not quantity (hours), is more influential on how well rested you feel in the morning.

“Drinking alcohol messes up your sleep,” Dr Huberman said, “as do most sleep medications”.

12. Expect changes in sleep needs

Dr Huberman suggested it’s normal for your sleep needs to change and not to worry.

He said: “We might be night owls at 15 but become “morning people” as we age or need 6 hours a night in summer and 7-8 in winter. It will vary.”

Getting the golden eight hours of sleep every night is a myth, experts say.

The real test of whether you are getting enough sleep is whether you feel awake or sleepy at 11am/noon.

Otherwise, it is not an issue if you get six or so hours of good quality sleep per night.

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