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Get Better Sleep – The Definitive Guide

You haven't slept for 17 hours? You might as well be drunk

The CDC has declared sleep disorders a public health epidemic in the United States of America, and the rest of the developed world is not exempt. The CDC’s raising of sleep disorders to epidemic status reflects growing concerns regarding the numerous dangers associated with insufficient sleep. These dangers include increased health risks like obesity, cancer, diabetes, depression and hypertension, and tragedies such as car crashes and workplace incidents.

How often do YOU have an insufficient sleep?

The Decade of the Brain

Sleep deprevation similar to being drunk

Studies have shown that your mental and physical performance after 17-19 hours without sleep is equivalent to (or worse than) your mental and physical performance with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.05 percent (a low range drink driving reading). After longer periods without sleep, performance reached levels equivalent to a BAC of 0.1 percent.

It doesn’t stop there; multiple consecutive days of only 6 hours of sleep can also result in the same degree of impairment. Yep! You actually create a SLEEP DEBT. In order to repay this sleep debt, you require MULTIPLE consecutive nights of good sleep, not just one.

The 1990s were deemed the “Decade of the Brain”, a proclamation signed by George W. Bush on behalf of the neuroscience community. Since then, we have only dug deeper and deeper into exactly what makes the nervous system and brain function well. The role of sleep, its effects on the human body, and its role within the nervous system continue to enchant many, and for a good reason.

In this series, we will delve into the fascinating world of sleep.

Decade of the Brain

Each episode will cover a different aspect.

  • Episode I – Sleep Hacks and Gadgets – FREE hacks through to expensive gadgets
  • Episode II – Common Sleep Impediments – caffeine, sleeping partners, artificial light, etc.
  • Episode III – Myths – Melatonin, catching up on sleep, etc.
  • Episode IV – Circadian Rhythm (Body Clock) – What is it, and how is it affecting me?
  • Episode V – Supplements – Magnesium, Valerian, HOPS, Passionflower, Vitamin D, etc
  • Episode VI – Medical Conditions – Insomnia, deviated septum, sleep apnea, etc
  • Episode VII – How I improved My Sleep – My experiences & the analytical data to back it up
  • Episode VIII – Educate Yourself – Books, subscriptions, blogs, etc

I am not a sleep specialist. I am not a neuroscientist. I never went to University. But as Jack Ma told his son…

...You don't need to be in the top three in your class, being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren't too bad. Only this kind of person has enough free time to learn other skills...

I use my free time to educate myself in the realm of advanced human performance. Upskilling myself in such a manner gives me the edge to further the mental and physical development of myself, my students, and my friends. Thus, neuroscience has become an area in which I am increasingly interested, with particular vigour directed towards the subcategories of sleep and physical performance.

If you are experiencing medium to long term sleep disruptions, PLEASE see your GP about options and ask for a referral to a sleep specialist. You may end up saving yourself and other peoples’ lives.

How often do you drive whilst drowsy

In Episode I, we will delve into the sleep hacks that you can employ TODAY!

There are many small changes that you can make to your sleep/ lifestyle that will deliver a BIG bang for their buck, with little to no hassle. Along with these FREE or cheap hacks, I will also uncover a few of the high-tech gadgets available and sift through the bullshit, giving you only the facts.

Until then.

Nathan Leith
Director & Sydney CBD General Manager
Maximum Potential Calisthenics

Sleep Hacks and Gadgets

There is a myriad of different methods that you may employ in order to maximise your sleep.

Some are cheap, others are free, and then there are a select few that may be somewhat expensive. Practices such as tilting your bed, darkening your room, limiting the use of late-night electronics and learning breathing techniques are just a few of the free methods you can employ to drastically alter your slumber.

On top of this, you may opt to purchase blue light blockers, track your sleep (apps, rings, bands, watches, straps etc.), cool your frontal lobe with the Ebb CoolDrift or use a CPAP machine.

Let’s start with the cheap and easy hacks that anyone can implement.

Incline Sleeping (FREE)

After studying native African tribesmen from several different tribes, there were a few distinct observations made. Due to sleeping posture and other lifestyle factors, far fewer musculoskeletal problems were apparent in these populations; furthermore, it was observed that sleeping on an incline with no pillow was superior to the way that we ‘civilised’ humans sleep.

Sleeping on an incline (with your head above your heart) may reduce the collapse of the airway, which can diminish the risk of snoring and problems associated with sleep apnea. This may also help to reduce bodily pain.

Action: Sleeping with a pillow can help to raise the head above the heart. BUT sleeping with multiple pillows can induce something known as “Forward Head Posture”, a condition where the head protrudes forward, twisting the spine. Alternatively, you can raise the head of your bed by a few inches by inserting a small block of wood (or otherwise) underneath the bedhead. If you’re able to do this, try sleeping without a pillow!

Human beings are just 1 of 200 species of primates.

In an anthropological and zoological study, it has been found that primates sleep best on a slight incline (the head positioned higher than the torso). This has been found to benefit sleep, alleviate back pain, joint pain, and ease other musculoskeletal problems found in humans and other primates.

Darkness (FREE)

It’s a cool Autumn night. The day is winding down to an end and it’s time to call on the Sandman to help you drift off to sleep… except you can’t. Tossing and turning for an hour or two, you’re stuck in a trance like state of limbo before you begin to feel that your eyelids are finally becoming heavy.


There can be an array of causes for this, and these will differ per individual.

Some reasons may include:

  • An inconsistent sleep/wake cycle
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Excessive napping
  • Late light exposure
  • Insufficient light exposure during the day
  • Hormonal & neurotransmitter inconsistencies congruent for sleep


Humankind has always found it easier to fall asleep in the night hours and this is largely due to our biological clock (Circadian Rhythm). We will delve further into the science behind exactly why light is the enemy while trying to drift off in Episode 2 – Common Sleep Impediments. We will then examine it even further in Episode IV – Circadian Rhythm.

Action: Blackout your room as much as possible so that no light is able to hit your retinas. This is not limited to just your windows and doors. Do you have a TV with a blue or red indication LED? Put black tape over it. Absolute and total darkness will be your best friend when pushing for that maximised sleep.

Electronics (FREE)

Sleep in the dark

Yeah, yeah I know.

It’s hard to neglect your phone completely! Not to mention your TV, laptop, tablet, XBOX and a million other electronic devices towards the end of the day. I know because I’m guilty of this too.

One of the reasons behind our bad decision-making skills towards the end of the day is due to something called cognitive fatigue. It’s the same reason there is candy and chocolates at the supermarket cashiers, they KNOW you have just spent a long time travelling up and down the aisles deciding what you need. By the time you are at the cashier, you may have already made hundreds of decisions about what to buy and what not to buy and hence, are more likely to be impulsive.

When you’re winding down after a long day at work or school, electronics and digital screens will NOT help you fall asleep. Sure, it might feel that they relax you a little but that extra stimulation and the light from your LED screens is hampering your bodies’ natural urge to rest.

As previously mentioned; we will delve into your Circadian Rhythm in Chapter IV.

When you combine a limited use of electronics, a blacked-out bedroom and the knowledge of your Circadian Rhythm, you can start to build a more cohesive and restful nighttime framework.

Action: No electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime.

Blue-light Blocking Glasses ($-$$)

Your bodies’ melatonin levels play an important role in helping you to stay awake during the day and to sleep at night. Many studies have shown that blue wavelengths suppress melatonin production and disrupt ones natural circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep.

{Before you go throwing your money down the drain to buy melatonin products though… wait until you’ve read Episode III – Myths.}

It’s not just blue wavelengths though, scientists at the University of Manchester have conducted a study that shows yellow light disrupts sleep patterns in mice MORE than blue light.

So are they worth it you ask?

Current science says no.

Action: It’s not so much just the blue wavelengths, but all light wavelengths, that can negatively affect our sleeping patterns.

Regulate your use of electronic devices for prolonged periods of time and make sure to blink more often, this is how we hydrate our eyes.

Studies have shown that when concentrating on something intensely you will blink 50% less than you normally would. (Are you super aware of how much you’re blinking right now, just like me?)

Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at an object approximately 20 feet away for 20 seconds. In addition, make sure you’re sitting 25 inches or an arm’s length away from the computer screen and tilt it downward to reduce glare.

Room lighting is also important; adjust the lighting so that you’re not staring at a bright screen in a dark room.

Blue light blocking glasses are purported to reduce eye fatigue, enhance sleep quality and even preserve macular health, but…

Does it work?

One of the biggest sleep trends right now is blue light and how it affects your sleep. Not only can you buy blue-light blocking glasses but often, depending on your device, you may be able to adjust the blue light filter on your TV, phone and laptop. There’s a lot of pseudoscience around this subject and the scientific community is only just scratching the surface concerning what effect all of this artificial light is having on us as human beings and how it affects restlessness.



Sleep Tracking ($-$$$)

How do you know if you’re improving your sleep?

You can go purely off of how refreshed you feel or if you’re more of a nerd like me, take a more analytical approach and track your data.

If you’re looking to track sleep quality and quantity you can spend anywhere from $100 to $1500 (and probably more) on a one-time purchase. While all devices will track your sleep to a degree, the price will largely reflect the quality of workmanship, longevity of the device, and accuracy of resultant data.

Disclaimer: I have a bias. My Oura ring has been a close companion of mine since February 2020.
My sleep data shown in Episode VII was obtained via this ring.

Bands – Fitbit, Whoop
Rings – Oura
Watches – Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit

This page, published in December 2020, can help you to decide.

Action: Choose a device at the high end of your price range (for accuracy) and track your sleep. After tracking your sleep for some time, try the free hacks previously mentioned to see how they alter your restfulness.

Ebb Devices ($$)

Relatively new, the Ebb devices (Versa & Luxe) purportedly calm your mind, help you to relax and fall asleep faster. Not only this but they are clinically proven to promote recovery, promote overall sleep quality and help you to feel more refreshed in the morning, 100% drug-free.

These devices achieve this with:

“Our innovative, proprietary, science-based solution {which} addresses the root cause of sleeplessness by reducing activity in the frontal cortex of the brain. Imaging research and clinical studies conducted by internationally recognised sleep specialist, Eric Nofzinger, MD, demonstrated that precise, constant cooling of the forehead calms the Racing Mind, making it easier to fall asleep naturally and enter more deep, restorative sleep through the night.”

In late 2020 Ebb Therapeutics merged with Kryo, the creators of ChiliSleep. Kyro is looking to become the world’s leading force through core temperature regulation products.

Recently, I have read mixed reviews on this device on, so I went out and purchased one to find out for myself.

As a person who has a very fast metabolism and as such, I have a high core temperature. I find that the Ebb certainly does help me to cool down faster and enter sleep more quickly.

Action: Purchase an Ebb Therapeutics device. There is a decent money-back guarantee so that you may feel at ease with your purchase if you are sceptical.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP for short. This machine is a commonly used treatment for obstructive sleep apnea and has been around since 1980.
The device works by delivering a steady stream of air pressure into the airway while you doze off into a nice slumber. This constant stream of air works to maintain an open passageway which helps with respiration and sleep quality. a debilitating problem people with sleep apnea suffer from is the collapse of their airway, the CPAP machine can help to reduce or terminate this completely.

These have been around for over 40 years and as such, are well tested. This also means that there are many types of CPAP machines in the marketplace now, so shopping for one that suits you perfectly is a must.

CPAP Machines ($$-$$$)

Action: If suffering from sleep apnea, contact your GP and request to see a sleep specialist. A CPAP machine or surgery maybe your best option depending upon personal circumstances.



Your sleep will not improve if you read this information and do not act. If you are serious about improving your sleep, tracking and making adjustments to daily habits is a must. The time spent tossing and turning every night reduces your life expectancy and this does not have to be the case.

In the next episode, we will talk about the widespread sleep impediments that you may not even be aware of. Pairing a few of the hacks mentioned prior with a few adjustments to my pre-sleep and post-sleep routines has improved my sleep, they may do the same for you.

Episode 2 will uncover common sleep impediments that, when eliminated, may drastically alter your sleeping patterns and alertness during the day.

Common Sleep Impediments

You’re yawning, constantly tired during the day, drinking 2+ cups of coffee just to stay awake until the day finally draws to a close and you can lay your head to rest.. but wait! Remember that work meeting you had 3 weeks ago? What about the square root of pi? Did you REALLY lock the front door? I wonder what that cute 6-month-old Jack Russell that you saw earlier on in the day is doing now.

You’re not tired at all. Why?!

There are many possible reasons why this could be happening so let’s jump right on in.


Coffee? Coke? Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to stay away from coffee and caffeine completely because in reality there are many positive effects of what is known to be ‘the world’s favourite drug’.

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, so much so in fact that over 80% of the adult population uses it in the western world.

When measured in your blood plasma, the half-life of caffeine is approximately 5-6 hours in healthy, average sized individuals but this can increase up to 9 hours in certain people. Every person will experience different side effects to psychoactive drugs and as such; it is important to observe the effects they have on you and adjust your dosage accordingly.

For the average person it can take up to 10 hours to be completely out of your system.

A 2021 study by the University of Basel also indicates that regular consumption of caffeine has a negative effect on your brains’ grey matter structure. The changes appear to affect the medial temporal lobe, and in particular, the hippocampus.

For anyone that doesn’t have a huge awareness of neural structure, the hippocampus has many functions but is known as the brains’ memory consolidation centre.

These negative effects on grey matter appear to be temporary after prolonged use of caffeine is halted but simply the fact that it affects our cognitive hardware should hopefully give rise to further studies on this matter.

If you’ve ever experienced a late night ‘caffeine crash’ this is, in part, due to the build-up adenosine; a neurotransmitter designed to make you feel sleepy. As your day progresses adenosine will continue to build up in the body but the effects of it are repressed by caffeine within the system. After this caffeine has dissipated however, a rush of adenosine will bring on this ‘caffeine crash’.

Action: No caffeine 6+ hours before bed-time, increase this time dependant upon personal circumstances.

Sleep Schedule

We all know that we are supposed to have approximately 8 hours of sleep but can we just slot in those 8 hours anywhere?

Maintaining a regular schedule can often be hard work, especially on weekends when we will tend to stay awake later than is normal. This may be in part due to strict work hours during a regular week, partying or staying out late on weekends, cramming study sessions, movie marathons, and a host of other reasons.

These irregular sleeping patterns are frequently costing us our restorative REM and DEEP sleep cycles and hence making us more tired during the day.

We will examine this further in Episode IV – Circadian Rhythm.

Action: Maintain a 2-hour window for your siesta time as well as the time that you wake up and strive to sleep for approximately 8 hours.


Bed-time : 10-12pm

Wake-time : 6-8am

Light Exposure

Human beings are naturally subjugated to a feeling of drowsiness when our retinas are exposed to reduced levels of light. Before the industrial age and the invention of artificial light we were somewhat immune to alterations in light exposure and as such, slept better.

Our bodies’ reaction to daylight and artificial light is hormonal.

At night the hormone melatonin is released and during the daytime, adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter is released. We covered this previously in ‘caffeine’.

Exposure to light acutely inhibits the release of melatonin synthesis and will keep you awake for longer.
All that time spent scrolling through social media and watching movies late at night is doing us no good concerning restfulness. A much more sleep-congruent practice would be to engage in meditation, breathing, or other mindfulness activities.

Action: Limit light exposure 2 hours before bed.


Does a glass of delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, or three, before going to sleep negatively affect your sleep?

While it almost seems unnecessary to mention it, alcohol plays a large role in many peoples’ late-night revelries, and as such, deserves attention.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that a ‘nightcap’ can aid by inducing sleep but much scientific evidence points to the latter. Alcohol is a depressant and a muscle relaxant that sedates the mind.

This could lead one to believe it helps in the totality of sleep, or alternatively, does it just aid by way of drowsiness and ones ability to fall asleep?

Many studies have shown that your accumulation of REM sleep (your most cognitively restorative sleep cycle) is severely diminished while under the influence. Anyone who has had more than a few alcoholic drinks and subsequently felt the consequences will know that they are much less cognitively aware the following day. If you happen to suffer from sleep apnea, once again, the results are even more damaging.

Consumption of alcohol will cause your body to be depleted of various vitamins and minerals including thiamine, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, B Vitamins, especially Vitamins B1, B3, and B5, which are contributors to converting sugar into energy. Vitamins B6 and B12 are also due for consideration, as they too are depleted from the body with frequent drinking.

Action: If you have a night of drinking, ensure that you load up on your good friend, h2o, before hitting the hay, and then also during the night. To top up on your vitamins and minerals you can aid in warding off that hangover with a banana, Berocca, Hydralyte, and a host of other hydrating drinks.

Bed Companions

Do you sleep in bed with someone else?

Do you have children or animals that can interrupt your sleep?

Restfulness (or rather a lack thereof) is a huge factor in negative sleep patterns and can cause your sleep to be constantly interrupted, resulting in a less restorative sleep.

Late Night Workouts

Is late at night, just before your bedtime, the ‘only’ time that you can work out? Consider changing this.

Studies have shown that moderate exertion exercise should be okay at this time of night. If however, you’re likely to engage in HIIT, running, power-lifting or some other form of exercise which elevates your blood pressure, re-thinking your training window will likely reap many benefits.

Hitting exercise hard will increase your heart rate, and when you’re this close to bedtime, that is the opposite of what you want. If you wish to drift off to a nice, restorative slumber, your heart rate needs to lower.

If you have no choice other than to continue to train hard late at night, consider breathing practices, meditation, and any other method you find that works, in order to lower your heart rate.


There are many elements that can come together and ruin your sleep. Pick out the major culprits from the suggestions above and do your best to eliminate them.

Next we will talk about common sleep myths, such as:

  • Myth: You Can Catch up on Lost Sleep
  • Myth: Your Body Will Adjust to Less Sleep
  • Myth: Melatonin supplementation as a Sleep Aid
  • Myth: Five or Less Hours of Sleep is Fine For Many
  • Myth: Your Brain Turns Off During Sleep


I’ll see you then.


Neuroscience, neuro-psychology and the cognitive sciences are still a relatively young branch of the sciences. As such, many well-intentioned beliefs are constantly being uncovered for what they are, incorrect assumptions, myths and postulations.

Now, however, with more advanced methods of extracting data paired with many more studies dedicated to the brain and its intricacies, we are progressing our base knowledge at an ever-increasing pace.

This pace has uncovered the truth behind many misconceptions including Myth 1:

You Can Get Used to Having Less Sleep

Many people operate ‘just fine’ off of a sub-optimal amount of sleep on a regular basis and as such, have the feeling that their body is adjusting to this lack of sleep. During this process, however, the thought process that is missing is the flip-side, how good might you feel WITH the correct amount of sleep?

How much more clarity will you have? How much will your attentiveness increase? Your focus and decision-making skills?

These executive functions of the human body, plus others, are what will decrease while your mind and body struggle to maintain the most important function: staying alive.

Try and remember the last time that you had +4 nights (in a row) of 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep, and how good you felt. For many consistently sleep-deprived individuals; the only time they will achieve this, is when they’re on holiday.

A persistent lack of sleep will take its toll on your body causing you to feel more drowsy than you otherwise would and this negatively affects your performance by wreaking havoc on your cardiovascular system, metabolism, immune system, mental health and more.

You cannot fix these issues with only one, or even two, nights of decent sleep. Research has shown that you need FOUR days of good sleep to bring yourself back to a state where you’re firing on all cylinders.

Action: Ensure you sleep for a minimum of 7 hours for four or more days in a row. Document how you feel each day in the morning, and then again in the evening, to see how your energy and concentration levels increase as your sleep regularity increases.

I'm Fine With Only 5 Hours of Sleep

While it is true that there are people who can operate on 5 hours of sleep and function perfectly fine, the numbers are not in your favour.

It is estimated that 1 in 4 MILLION people have a genetic mutation allowing them to function perfectly normal on a reduced amount of sleep. This was discovered in 2009 by a neurology professor Ying-Hui Fu, PhD, when he found the mutation in the gene DEC2.

“These are not people who’ve trained themselves to wake up early. They’re born this way.” says Fu.

Action: Sleep longer than 5 hours. 7-9 hours is best for duration, assuming a decent amount of DEEP and REM sleep is acquired.

7-9 Hours Sleep is Exactly What You Need

In recent years we have seen a rise in the number of bio-hackers and people keenly interested in the longevity of life, and how to increase this.

Sleep is a huge factor here. Everyone is different and while this should be taken with a grain of salt, the longer duration of sleep is not always the most important element.

Sleep quality plays a huge role in how much sleep you actually need. The quality and duration of your REM and N-REM (deep sleep) sleep cycles, as well as sleep spindles, are huge driving factors in how much time you need to stay in bed.

Action: Track your sleep to find out how much REM and N-REM sleep you get on a regular basis. Apply the hacks (seen in Episode 1) and aim to increase these numbers in order to decrease the time you need to spend in bed.


In the search for that ‘magic pill’, Melatonin has snagged the limelight for many, and for good reason.

The Mayo Clinic says:

“Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain is connected to the time of day, increasing when it’s dark and decreasing when it’s light.”

This connection that Melatonin has with sleep has led to many companies pushing Melatonin as a sleep aid, but what does the science say?

The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health says:

“According to practice guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017) and the American College of Physicians (2016), there’s not enough strong evidence on the effectiveness or safety of melatonin supplementation for chronic insomnia to recommend its use.” And:

“A 2015 review on the safety of melatonin supplements indicated that only mild side effects were reported in various short-term studies that involved adults, surgical patients, and critically ill patients. Some of the mild side effects that were reported in the studies included:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness.

The possible long-term side effects of melatonin use are unclear.”

So, what is Melatonin supplementation good for?

Studies have shown that it may be beneficial for those with certain conditions, such as jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, some sleep disorders in children, and anxiety before and after surgery.

Action: Use Melatonin only when necessary and monitor how well it does or doesn’t work for you. Be aware of the adverse side effects and do not allow yourself to rely on it. Never use it if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, depression, are breastfeeding or are pregnant.

Sleep Debt & Catching Up on Sleep

Sleep debt, or a sleep deficit, is the difference between the amount of sleep that you need and the amount of sleep that you actually obtain. If you need 8 hours and only obtain 6, your debt is 2 hours.The truly terrifying part of this is the accumulative effect when you rack up multiple days of sleep deficit.

Racking up a cumulative sleep debt is terribly detrimental to your mind and body.

An increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, reduced immune function and a vast array of other negative effects will wreak havoc on your physical and mental state, but this may not be fully realised.

The human body is an amazing piece of hardware. When living in a state of chronic sleep deprivation cognitive adaptations will occur in order to defend your well-being. Essentially you will not feel sleepy, but physically and mentally you will be unable to complete tasks to your highest degree.

Napping is a great tool that many use to recharge their batteries, and usher in a renewed clarity to their day. As little as 10-30 minutes is often substantially enough for a tired individual to feel refreshed.

Action: Ensure that you go to bed at a time that leaves you sufficiently able to obtain your required amount of sleep. If this is not possible, use the power of napping.

Circadian Rhythm (Body Clock)

Do you know those days where you wake up five minutes before your alarm clock goes off?

This occurs because, unconsciously, our bodies are keeping time for us. We all have our own circadian rhythm, and due to this rhythm, our bodies will be predisposed to sleep better during certain hours and worse during others.

We have been conditioned to believe that ‘the early bird gets the worm’, but is this true? If you’re not a morning person, is the worm forever out of reach?

The answer is no; it is quite likely that your internal clock may run on a different schedule to the 9-5 standard that we have been forced to become accustomed to. More on this later.

Hormones & Neurotransmitters

From a physiological standpoint, our sleep patterns are regulated by our 24-hour body clock. This body clock and the release of specific hormones will regulate how alert we feel while working together to wake us up, and subsequently, send us off to a night of blissful sleep.

The Sleep Regulators - Hormones & Neurotransmitters


Melatonin is the dominant sleep hormone that regulates how alert you are during the day as well as how sleepy you feel towards the end of the day.

Cortisol is often known as the stress hormone. Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream as well as the availability of tissue-repairing substances. For sleep, cortisol levels are typically their lowest before you go to bed and increase during the night, peaking as you wake.


Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can act as a depressant for your central nervous system. It helps by promoting sleep and suppressing arousal. If you’ve ever experienced a caffeine crash, this is in part due to an adenosine build-up. As the day progresses your adenosine levels will build up unless the consumption of caffeine blocks it, until of course, the effects of caffeine wear off. At this point a rush of adenosine will cause you to crash and you then feel the effects of cumulative lethargy – the crash.

GABA (gamma-amino-butyric-acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which has the effect of relaxing you, helping with feelings like stress, anxiety, depression and fear. The activation of GABA receptors will favour your sleep by decreasing a neuron’s action potential. When an action potential drops below a certain level it will excite nearby neurons, thereby helping you to relax.

How It All Works

The Wake Cycle

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (let’s call it the SCN) which is situated in our hypothalamus will release cortisol and a host of other hormones to wake us up. This cycle begins due to the SCN and its relationship with our light-sensitive optical nerve. The optical nerve is the communication highway between your eye and your brain.

Upon sensing light through the optical nerve, the SCN will send a signal via the neurotransmitter, GABA, to stop the flow of melatonin from the pineal gland.

If your sleep has been sufficient; you’re now primed and ready to wake up.

The Sleep Cycle

As darkness approaches, and light recedes, the SCN is now inhibited via communication from the optical nerve.

Through the sympathetic nervous system, the pineal gland releases melatonin in order to make us feel sleepy and ready to hit the hay.

This process is often hindered by our addiction to electronics, in particular LED screens, which emit a lot of sleep suppressant light.


Dr Michael Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, is a clinical psychologist and both a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Dr Breus says that while your personal circadian rhythm is somewhat unique to you, there are many people that have a similar rhythm to yours and then there are others who operate off of a very different body clock, or, circadian rhythm.

Largely, there are four dominant circadian rhythms, these are called chronotypes.

Take a short quiz at ” ” to find out what chronotype you fall under!

The four chronotypes are generally designated as Bears, Wolves, Lions and Dolphins.

Bears: 55% of people

Like Stephen King.

Bears tend to follow the standard sleep schedule that we are all forced to follow in the western world. These are the types of people who are lucky enough to be able to function quite well in the day to day routines of a 9-5 schedule. Not particularly a morning person, they may struggle a little to wake up in the morning and reach their standard level of velocity but once they get going they’re a solid worker, ticking off their to-do lists with relative ease.

Bear chronotypes typically awaken and fall asleep easier than others due to their sun-moon disposition which aligns well with melatonin production.

Wolves: 20% of people

Like Elon Musk.

The wolf chronotype (or night owl) is indicative of one who is predisposed to best complete their work late at night, while others are sleeping. Largely nocturnal, the early evening is generally a great time to focus on work for wolves but waking up in the morning may be an arduous process.

The standard 9-5 work hours will produce sub optimal work, due to this a lot of entrepreneurs and artists will be wolves, preferring to wake up at noon.

Lions: 15% of people

Like Benjamin Franklin.

The Lions will likely find it easy to jump out of bed in the morning and get on with their day straight away. Due to this sunny disposition, a lion will typically produce their best work in the earlier hours of the day with productivity dropping off sometime after noon. A lion is up early, they’re full of energy and generally operate with a goal-oriented mind.

Hitting the hay at 9-10 pm is not out of the ordinary for lions.

Dolphins: 10% of people

Like Charles Dickens.

Dolphins are characterised by this animal chronotype because dolphins sleep with half of their brain at a time. If this is you, you likely often have trouble sleeping due to an increased sensitivity to light and sound.

Taking control of their sleeping patterns will be greatly beneficial for dolphins and as such, should focus on it.

Dolphins are super alert during the middle of the day, typically 10am to 2pm.


The information compiled here regarding your circadian rhythm and chronotypes can be confusing and complex.

Sleep doctor Michael Breus is one of the major experts behind sleep chronotypes, the nuances of each, and how they fit with circadian rhythms. Within Episode VIII you will find a long list of great literature for learning more on these subjects.

Action: Think about which chronotype you are likely to fall under and consider the ramifications of not adhering to it. If possible, adjust your work hours to your chronotype and reap the benefits of increased productivity, better sleep, and happier life.


The global dietary supplements market was valued at a whopping $140B (USD) in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compounded annual rate of 8.6% through to 2028.

There’s big money to be made in supplements which leaves incentives for unscrupulous companies to twist the truth or fail to divulge the complete facts regarding their supplements. Considering this, it has never been more important to do your own due diligence so that you’re better positioned to know when the hype is real and when it’s just that – hype.

It is easy to pop a “sleeping pill” and just hope for the best. Changing lifestyle factors and enacting adjustments to your sleep schedule though, are inherently harder and it may be tough to turn these into a habit.

Use this difficulty awareness as a compass.

The harder a plan is to implement, the more desirable the resultant insights will likely be. If you put REAL effort into your sleep practices for an extended duration of time; then, and only then, try a supplement or two to dial it in a bit deeper.

Here are a few of the more well-known supplements and some base knowledge regarding them and their effectiveness.


Information on Melatonin can be found in Episode III – Myths


Magnesium is one of many minerals found in the body and is important for many bodily functions. Not only does it assist in regulating muscle & nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, it also aids in sleep.

The amount of magnesium required differs depending upon gender, weight and age. Currently the National Institutes of Health recommends the following:

Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 months30 mg
Infants 7–12 months75 mg
Children 1–3 years 80 mg
Children 4–8 years 130 mg
Children 9–13 years 240 mg
Teen boys 14–18 years410 mg
Teen girls 14–18 years360 mg
Men400–420 mg
Women310–320 mg
Pregnant teens400 mg
Pregnant women350–360 mg
Breastfeeding teens360 mg
Breastfeeding women 310–320 mg

If you have a varied diet you will likely be consuming enough, if not, try to eat more of the following:

  • Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Milk, yoghurt
  • Dark chocolate

How well do you fall asleep while stressed out or anxiety-ridden?

How about when you’re feeling particularly down or are dealing with muscle aches and pains?

Considering the array of functions that magnesium plays in keeping your body running smoothly, it’s not surprising to see how much it can help.

Magnesium aids with sleep by reducing the stress load on your body including aiding with digestion and helping to create diversity in your gut flora.

If you cannot consume enough due to dietary requirements or otherwise; a high-quality magnesium supplement will likely help, but be aware, there are many types of magnesium.

  1. Magnesium glycinate
  2. Magnesium citrate
  3. Magnesium chloride
  4. Magnesium oxide
  5. Magnesium lactate
  6. Magnesium L-threonate
  7. Magnesium malate
  8. Magnesium sulfate
  9. Magnesium orotate

Each variant has different uses and benefits, do your research before wasting your money and time.

Not ingesting enough magnesium can have many deleterious effects such as accelerating or contributing to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heart-beat
  • High blood pressure

If that wasn’t enough, the NIH also states that it can affect in other ways including, but not limited to:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Coronary spasms

Action: See your GP and mention that you are curious about your magnesium levels concerning sleep function.

Have your blood levels taken and ascertain whether a magnesium supplement is for you. Whenever possible, adjust your diet first.

Vitamin D

One of our most abundantly free vitamins, Vitamin D can be found just about anywhere.

According to the Vitamin D Council, the time you need to spend in the sun to saturate yourself with this vitamin may be less than you think.

It all depends on your skin tone:

  • 15 minutes for a light-skinned person
  • 2+ hours for a dark-skinned person

It is almost essential that we bathe ourselves in natural light on a daily basis due to the scarcity of vitamin D in foods.

Not only does it help our body to absorb calcium but it is also necessary to keep the nerves, muscles and immune system pumping which in turn… has an effect on your sleep.

In 2018 a systematic review and meta-analysis of the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and sleep disorders were conducted.

In the search for viable information, a total of 2298 articles were initially screened to produce the required data.

This number was further reduced to 105 articles for assessment before being reduced to 27 for specific eligibility criteria.

Of these 27, 9 were declared acceptable for use in this meta-analysis.

This detailed analysis demonstrated that the deficiency of vitamin D in a person system does indeed lead to a higher risk of sleep disorders.

Action: Make sure to bathe yourself in vitamin D, for at least 15 minutes per day, longer if necessary due to skin tone and time of day.


Valerian is a tall flowering grassland plant which has been shown through many studies to aid with sleep on a short term basis.

A systematic review of Valerian as a sleep-aid for insomnia, has been found inconclusive at best. Since 1982 there have been 16 controlled studies with a total of 1093 patients. These studies all used varying dosage levels and ultimately showed inconclusive evidence for effectiveness, efficacy and safety


Valerian has been implicated in a small number of cases of clinically apparent liver injury, but usually in combination with other botanicals such as skullcap or black cohosh. Given its wide-scale use, Valerian has to be considered an uncommon cause of hepatic injury.

Valerian may cause headaches, stomach upset, mental dullness, excitability, uneasiness, heart disturbances, and even insomnia in some people. Other individuals have shown positive effects including an improvement in sleep quality, but a wide array of studies have shown inconclusive evidence.

Action: Until larger randomised, controlled studies have been conducted it should be considered that Valerian, currently, has not enough evidence to be considered as a helpful sleep-aid.

Hops (Humulus Lupulus)

Hops (yes, the same that is found in beer) can be found in many over-the-counter medicines and supplements.

Hops are derived from the female flowers of the hop plant and exhibit a rather bitter taste upon ingesting. This is what gives beer that bitter edge.

Used in OTC supplements for years due to its widespread availability and apparent sedative effects, hops is often paired with chamomile, passionflower, and Valerian. Besides giving beer its bitter taste, hops may also be found as an ingredient in many skin lotions and creams.

One experiment, performed on the common quail due to its similar circadian rhythm cycle to humans, showed interesting confirmations. In this study, a range of dosages from 1-11mg were administered with the finding that a dosage of 2mg was ideal.

2mg (close to the content of non-alcoholic beer) was effective in demonstrating a decrease in night-time activity. While the sedative effect of hops certainly seems to have some validity, insufficient studies have been performed in order to say that they are unequivocally beneficial for sleep.

Due to its effects on oestrogen, hops are not considered safe for breastfeeding or pregnant women due to changes that it may create to the menstrual cycle. For the same reasons, individuals with depression or hormone-sensitive cancers should also steer clear of this supplement.


Hops has never been linked to any instances of clinically apparent liver damage and, considering its widespread use, is safe to use as a sleep-aid or otherwise.

Action: If suffering depression, hormone-sensitive cancers or are pregnant or breastfeeding; discontinue use of any supplements, creams, or beers containing hops.


This flower has been used as a sedative by multiple indigenous cultures including the native peoples of the Americas and Spanish explorers who subsequently introduced it to Europe in the sixteenth century.

A small amount of research has shown that passionflower may reduce the effects of anxiety on an individual. It has also been shown to help some people with sleep issues, pain, heart rhythm problems, menopausal symptoms and ADHD.

One study, lasting a total of eight weeks, administered 800mg daily of a dried passionflower extract. This study, for which the participants exhibited negligible side effects, indicates that the continued use of passionflower can be safe up to a certain level.

Due to the little research conducted on the subject, however, there is inconclusive scientific evidence to suggest that improvements in sleep are sure and safe.

Action: Ditch the passionflower for sleep improvements and focus on the daily habits that will bring you results.

Medical Conditions

The array of medical conditions that may have a deleterious effect on ones’ sleep habits is vast. We will now cover just a few of the conditions affecting millions of people around the world. If you suffer from one or more of these, educate yourself on the matter and seek professional medical advice.

Deviated Septum

Human beings are genetically predisposed to breathe through the nasal cavities. Predominantly breathing through our nose leaves the mouth to focus on its more important tasks – talking, eating and drinking. If we get sick and can’t breathe normally due to a build-up of mucus, the mouth may take over for a short period, it’s your Plan B.

Nose/Mouth Breathing

When we breathe through the nose, the nostrils warm the air entering the body, they add moisture and filter out dust & allergen particles. Your nostrils can even aid in detecting the bacteria and bugs you are inhaling.

When you breathe through the mouth at night, a few negative consequences will undoubtedly arise.

Mouth-breathing creates a dry atmosphere in the mouth, which leads to unnecessary wake-ups. The more you wake up to drink water, the more you will need to use the toilet, which makes you less hydrated, leading you to need hydration, which makes you need to use the toilet. It’s a vicious cycle that forces many people to re-awaken multiple times per night.

The Nose

Your nose is vertically divided in half by a combination of bone and cartilage. When the cavities on both the left and right side are equal, and nasal breathing is easy, there is no deviation. Unfortunately, most people do suffer from a deviated septum to some degree. The degree of deviation is what matters most; when it is a large deviation and it becomes quite difficult to breathe through one nostril, it will negatively affect your sleep.

Negative effects of septal deviation may include:

  • Blocked nose
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Waking up feeling thirsty and having to drink water
  • Sore throats
  • Crooked teeth
  • Unhealthy gums
  • Reduced oxygen intake
  • Snoring
  • Noisy breathing
  • Poor-quality sleep
  • Waking up feeling tired
  • Dry, cracked lips

While it does depend on how large your deviation is, there are many methods you can employ to fix a deviated septum:

  • Mouth strips
  • Nasal dilators
  • Saline rinse
  • Surgery – septoplasty
  • Nasal steroid spray & antihistamine tablets / spray

Another method, which may be used in conjunction with the above methods, is to utilise a breathing practice.

The Buteyko breathing practice is believed to help in retraining your breathing. Buteyko does this by forcing you to breathe equally through both nostrils in a slow and deliberate manner. This should increase restful slumber by decreasing inflammation and mucus production and re-balancing the levels of C02 and oxygen within the blood.

Action: If you find it harder to breathe through one nostril compared to the other, see your GP and obtain a booking to see a specialist. If you suffer some of the other symptoms but your nasal passageway is clear, you may be a victim of insomnia, sleep apnea or otherwise. Read on.


Picture an extremely sleep-deprived individual who hasn’t enjoyed an ounce of sleep in multiple days. Painful, bloodshot sunken eyes with large, dark bags under each eyelid, she exhibits pale skin, a vacant gaze, and a despondent attitude.

When one thinks of insomnia, many different images may come to mind. While the portrayal described above can often be true, these are generally rare and extreme cases of insomnia.


When it comes to this particular sleep condition, there is a huge variation potential and it may be diagnosed differently by sleep experts, physicians, and general practitioners.

In a journal by the US National Library of Medicine; Dr Thomas Roth, PhD, has defined insomnia slightly more liberally.

“the term insomnia will be used as a disorder with the following diagnostic criteria: (1) difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or non-restorative sleep; (2) this difficulty is present despite adequate opportunity and circumstance to sleep; (3) this impairment in sleep is associated with daytime impairment or distress; and (4) this sleep difficulty occurs at least 3 times per week and has been a problem for at least 1 month.”

Under these terms, insomnia is a health disorder that has far-reaching implications and ramifications, not only for the individual affected but for society as a whole.

Daylight Savings & Road Fatalities

One hour of missed sleep can’t be that bad, can it?

At no other time of the year do we have such a high level of mass synchronisation where people have an increased likelihood of missing one hour of sleep. This (largely) worldwide phenomenon has gifted us insight into what happens when people miss not three, not two, but only one hour of sleep.

Drowsy driving is one of the major causes of fatalities on our roads with numerous statistics showcasing drowsy driving as worse than drink-driving.

After clocks have been wound back an hour for Daylight Savings Time (DST) the following has been observed.

  • Likelihood of heart attack increases
  • Likelihood of stroke increases
  • A 24% increase in hospitalisation due to heart attacks
  • Fatal car crashes increase by 6% the week following DST

Lawmakers everywhere are lobbying to ditch the switch due to these complications and the clear negative side-effects of daylight savings. If these are some of the causative effects of losing only one hour of sleep, what then is happening to insomniacs who lose many more?

When not only the prior mentioned consequences must be dealt with but also increases in suicide rates and depression, it’s a mental health concern that should be dealt with, and swiftly.

Action: If you are exhibiting any of the typical signs of insomnia, seek help. If not for yourself, for your loved ones.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that can be characterised by a collapse of ones airways rendering an individual unable to breathe for a short period. This collapse of an airway may be total or it may be partial dependant upon the case in question.

Persons suffering with sleep apnea will experience a decrease in oxygen saturation and an increase in sleep disturbances due to this airway collapse.

Unchecked, sleep apnea may result in:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Acid reflux
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Adult asthma
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart & liver problems
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased sexual desire

Besides these negative side-effects, someone with sleep apnea will wake up many times during the night. A person with a severe case may find themselves waking up in excess of 30 times per hour, though they may not be consciously aware.

Persons being tested for sleep apnea may attend a sleep laboratory where they spend the night hooked up to a machine called an overnight polysomnogram (PSG). This device tracks how often you wake up in order to diagnose how bad your sleep disturbances are and advise you to take the required steps.

Often the treatment can be quite non-invasive with remedies such as wearing a mouth guard or using a CPAP machine (see episode 1 – Sleep Hacks & Gadgets). Surgery may also be an option but more often than not a variety of lifestyle changes can help to alleviate many symptoms.

Losing weight as well as decreasing or quitting alcohol, caffeine and smoking are also often good measures to take if they are contributing factors.

Action: If you believe you may suffer from sleep apnea, contact your GP and request a consultation with a sleep specialist.

How I Improved My Sleep

I became interested in the science of sleep in late 2019.

Since then I have attempted many different methods to increase my quality of sleep but due to a severe septal deviation, my sleep has always been sub-optimal.

Every hack that you have read in this series, I implemented.

For a while I slept with wooden blocks under the head of my bed so that my body was on a decline angle. My housemates were lucky enough to see me walking around in the twilight hours in an extremely fashionable pair of blue-light blocking glasses. I avoided LED lighting and installed red lights in my en suite. I tracked my data with the Oura ring, bought an Ebb Versa, but in the end, nothing cost quite as much as one of my best investments ever… a bed.

In June of 2020 I bought a brand new Koala bed (with amazing pillows priced at AUD$150ea).

My old bed was an insanely soft King-size beauty which sported a huge pillow top causing you to practically sink a metre into it when you lay down. The pillows were probably about two and a half years old, and even when purchased, were not exactly the highest quality.

This bed was indicative of the way I once lived.

Just like you, I’m human, as such I am subject to my own emotions and vices. In my younger years I did not care too much about sleep, believing the old maxim, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. It is now well-known that burning the candle at both ends is a surefire way to lead yourself to an early grave, and that was the path that I was on.

Joining the Royal Australian Navy at 21, I willingly fell headfirst into the role of the drunken sailor. Alongside my vigorous training, I hit the liquor with an equal amount of gusto, believing that my mind and body could weather any storm. Often you can at a young age too, but that doesn’t mean that you should, or that it’s not still slowly killing you.

Old habits die hard I suppose…

During my journey that you will see below, I was still finding the person that I wanted to be… I still am! As such, there are periods where I fell off the bandwagon and didn’t adhere to the principles that would ensure a good sleep and solid data from my Oura ring.

You read about my Oura ring in EPISODE 1 - Sleep Hacks & Gadgets - Sleep Tracking.

My first night with the Oura ring was on 28/02/2020, but the ring needs time to find a base line and adapt to its wearer.
For clarity we will skip the first few months of data since I occasionally neglected to wear the ring, the battery ran out once or twice, and I lost it for a little while.

Let’s start on the 1st of May where I have 3 months of continuous use.

HRV = Heart Rate Variability

RHR = Resting Heart Rate

REM = Rapid Eye Movement

Judging from this data I am able to ascertain how my sleep has changed over the past year and a half and make informed decisions going forward.

The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has this to say on the matter of deep and REM Sleep.

Normal deep sleep Duration for 19-60 y.o. = 13-23% (assuming 8 hours of sleep)

I currently sleep for 59min (13.8%), up from 10.1% when I first started wearing the ring, that’s a 36.6% increase, not bad.
So, even with 53minutes of less sleep, I am within the normal range, albeit on the low end.
Were I to increase my duration to the full 8 hours it could be assumed that my deep sleep would also increase.

Normal REM sleep duration for 19-60 y.o. = 20-25% (assuming 8 hours of sleep)

I currently sleep for 1hr07min (15.6%), strangely enough, that’s exactly the same as when I first started wearing the ring (15.6%).
In both cases, I am outside of the normal range and should increase this. Considering that REM sleep predominantly occurs in the later hours of a night’s slumber, increasing my total sleep time to 8 hours could certainly aid this.

One must remember though, that there are always many factors to keep in mind. On top of my deviated septum and the fact that I wake up multiple times per night to drink water and use the bathroom, the data doesn’t lie. (unless it’s been doctored of course)

Just have a look at the rest of my data to catch a glimpse of what else may be having effects.

While your body is at rest, you desire a high HRV and a low RHR. A high heart rate variability indicates a body that is not stressed.

From a meta-analysis study and review of literature in regards to stress and HRV levels “the current neurobiological evidence suggests that HRV is impacted by stress and supports its use for the objective assessment of psychological health and stress.”

Comparing the initial 3 months through to the final 3 months, the following has occurred.

My RHR and HRV variation has narrowed, lowering my HRV and raising my RHR, indicating that I am in a heightened level of stress comparative to those first three months.

The last few months in particular have been stressful on me due to the world-wide covid-19 situation, my personal livelihood suffering, less time outside, more time sedentary (this can be seen in the decrease of my steps) and family complications.

While I feel blessed that I have not suffered anywhere near as much as many have, and I sympathise greatly with those who have, the data shows a clear sign that my overall health has declined as a result.

If this is the decline seen in one such as myself, and I certainly believe I’m more introverted than extroverted, and as such do not mind being stuck at home, how much is it affecting other more extroverted individuals?

What about those living in broken homes or people suffering the loss of a loved one?

Life is unpredictable, so it will always be best practice to ready your body and mind for the unexpected.

The time to take charge of your health is now.

 Sleep is at least one of the major pillars of a healthy life, if not, it’s the foundation that those pillars ultimately rest on. Take charge of your sleep and take control of your physical and mental well-being in order to make the best that you can of this life.

If you are eager for more and are looking for quality literature on sleep, look no further than the next episode. Episode 8 – Educate Yourself.

Educate Yourself

Don’t just take my word on it.

There are numerous authors, neuroscientists, neurodiagnostic and sleep science technologists, as well as a wide array of other sleep enthusiasts with decades of more experience than I have on the subject.

Listed below you will find literature either directly or indirectly related to sleep.

As such, within certain books or podcast series, you may only find sections of information relating directly to sleep. Other subjects may include bio-hacking, habit building, scientific studies, human performance, etc.

Books (audible & visual)

Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker

Sleep Smarter – Shawn


Habits For Good Sleep (only on Audible)

Super Human – Dave Asprey

Atomic Habits

Limitless – Jim Kwik


The Matt Walker Podcast

Huberman Lab

Bulletproof Radio

Science VS


The Sleep Doctor – Dr Michael


Sleep Education Blog

Sleep Junkies

Let Sleeping Blogs Lie

Video Media

Headspace : A Guide to Sleep (Netflix)


The Mind : Explained (Netflix)

12 Minute Meditation for Sleep (Prime)


If you have any recommendations of material for me to read or to add to the above lists please don’t hesitate to be in contact.

Additionally, if you are aware of more up-to-date information that is unequivocally scientifically accurate, my email address is below.

[email protected]



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