Tag Archives: sleep

Things We Like: Managing Coffee Intake For Better Sleep

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

It’s no secret that I look forward to my morning cup of coffee. The caffeine certainly helps fuel my desire to indulge, but I also enjoy the ritual and flavor. Having been away from home the past couple months, I have deeply missed my fresh-ground café latte in the mornings. And while coffee shops abound, unfortunately, Starbucks just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Last week I found hope: a new coffee shop nearby with an appeal to the coffee connoisseur (at least I thought so). Excited for the prospect of some good Joe, I turned this place into my office for the day and drank a variety of coffee creations with reckless disregard of getting to sleep that night. While I did get all my work done for the day, I also found myself wide-awake at 2:00 that morning. Wow! That’s some good stuff.

I’m not usually this sensitive to caffeine, and definitely have a new appreciation for this powerful stimulant. What I’m even worse at is self-control, which is why I was happy to discover a new app, called Up Coffee, that helps you manage your coffee intake throughout the day. It’s free to download, and all you have to do is enter information about your gender, weight, height, caffeine sensitivity and regular bedtime. Then, when you have a caffeinated beverage make note of it on the app, which will then tell you approximately how long it will be before you can get to sleep.

In addition to the time to your target bedtime, Up Coffee will also show you charts of how caffeinated you are throughout the day (may be helpful for planning time for prime productivity), compare your consumption to other users (which may be a bit skewed due to the fact that the only people using the app are the ones drinking lots of caffeine), and other fun little tidbits.

Is a coffee management app right for you?

I don’t usually drink coffee in the late afternoon or evenings, save the occasional affogato (espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream), so there really isn’t much of a need for me to adjust my caffeine intake to get a better sleep every day. Plus, I don’t usually go to bed until after midnight anyway. However, if you’re drinking coffee well into the early evening on a regular basis and need to get to bed at a decent hour, then a little app like this may be just what you need.

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Things We Like: Placebo Sleep

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

A lot of the articles I’ve posted here on the Charles P Rogers blog deal with ways to help you sleep better. A comfortable bed, proper diet, enough exercise, and a solid routine are all cornerstones to a good night’s sleep. However, I recently came across a study that found simply believing you’ve slept well improves cognitive performance, even if you actually didn’t sleep well at all — a classic example of mind over matter.

The study, “Placebo Sleep Affects Cognitive Functioning,” was conducted by researchers from Colorado College, and is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In a nutshell, the researchers hooked up their participants to a bunch of fancy equipment and told them that it would measure the amount of REM sleep they got. Note: The equipment did not actually measure anything. The researchers then reported back to the participants with made up numbers about how much REM sleep they got the evening before. Participants were randomly told they got 16.2 percent or 28.7 percent REM sleep, regardless of what may have actually been recorded.

After being told their results, the participants were asked to take a series of tests to measure their cognitive performance. As the title of this post suggests, the participants who were told they had a higher level of REM sleep the night before performed better on the tests than their peers. Some other controls were put in place to help get rid of bias and the subjects’ self-reported sleep quality, and the results held.

So what does this mean for the rest of us? Basically, it confirms the adage that if you change your mind, your body will follow. If you’re in the mindset that you’re getting good sleep, then your brain will perform like you actually got good sleep irrespective of your actual sleep quality. The opposite also holds true: if you’re always thinking about what a bad night’s sleep you got, then your mind will perform like you did, even if you slept wonderfully the night before.

So while a comfortable bed, in an ideal sleeping environment may help you actually sleep better, you need to believe that you are sleeping better too. For me, I’m going to make a conscious effort to tell myself what a good night’s sleep I got and hope that my mind adjusts accordingly. This may be especially important with a lengthy test coming up next week, one where I’ll need every cognitive advantage I can find.

As an update to last week’s article on barn doors in the bedroom, I’ve included some pictures of what my barn door looks like. There is still a lot of work to be done with the bathroom remodel, but it’s good to see some progress! While I was a little skeptical about how would look in my room, and how functional it would be, I honestly couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. It fits over my existing doorframe like a glove, and the substantial heft of the reclaimed barn wood blocks affords a lot more privacy than I had expected. An unexpected bonus is that I was able to use old hardware that was reclaimed from an old barn nearby. The door has a lot of character and, in my mind, is truly irreplaceable. It is definitely something I plan to keep and use wherever I live.

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Things We Like: Sleeping In Total Darkness

 

Post by Kyle St. Romain

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the three basic ingredients for a good night’s sleep: (1) a dark room; (2) a cold room; and (3) a luxurious bed. There are some other things you can do that will help you sleep more restfully, like: getting enough exercise, eating the right foods, and even wearing a pair of socks to bed, but a comfortable bed in a cold, dark room are the pillars of good sleep.

Unfortunately in today’s world, many people sleep in relatively light rooms. Some people even sleep with the television set on — something I do not understand. But even if you’re able to fall asleep in a lit room or actually prefer it, chances are you’re not getting the best night’s sleep you could. So today we’re going to discuss exactly why total darkness is a must-have for your mind and body to rest properly.

Darkness was probably something our ancestors took for granted (read: feared). With no electricity or artificial lights, early humans lived by the natural cycles of day and night — the key word being natural. With the advent of fire we started to become masters over our domain. Fast forward to present time and it’s all but impossible to find total darkness outside unless you’re camping somewhere remote. This is especially true for those of us who live in urban environments where almost every street is laden with artificial lights — lights that are considerably brighter than what we would otherwise be exposed to at night (the moon and stars).

In darkness, our brains are wired to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps lower blood pressure, glucose, and body temperature. The production of melatonin is one of the most important physiological responses that helps us sleep better. When melatonin production is suppressed, we start to go into sleep debt, which can cause fat gain, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

When we are exposed to light before going to sleep, however dim, our bodies’ natural rhythm gets thrown out of whack. Making matters worse is that many light bulbs, computer screens, and smartphones emit blue light, one of the most stimulating colors of light. Exposure to blue light from a computer screen is why it’s harder to fall asleep quickly after responding to those late night emails.

If you’re struggling with overexposure before bed, here are some helpful tips for eliminating light before sleep:

  • Blackout curtains are an easy way to keep unwanted light from coming through your windows.

  • Get rid of electronics in the bedroom. All those little power indicators can create quite a bit of light in an otherwise dark room. Clock radios, televisions, computer screens, and other gadgets are common sources of light in the bedroom. Even if these devices are not emitting light, their electrical currents can still disrupt your sleep pattern, so get them out of the bedroom.

  • Color shift your computer screen. Working late is a fact of life for many of us, but if you have to be on the computer after sundown, you should at least try to minimize the damage. Having used the program f.lux for a number of years, it now hurts my eyes to look at a “regular” screen at night. This is something I cannot recommend enough.

So next time you’re having trouble going to sleep, think about how much light you were exposed to right before bed. You may find that a little less light is just what your body needs to get out of sleep debt.

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Things We Like: Sleeping Positions For Better Health

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

We all know that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, and we’ve posted dozens of articles here on the Charles P Rogers blog to help you do just that. Today, we’re going to discuss another important element of a good night’s sleep: the position you sleep in. Keep reading below to learn more about how the most common sleep positions affect your health (and what they say about your personality).

The “soldier”: Flat on your back with your arms at your sides.
Widely considered the best sleeping position, lying on your back with your arms at your sides promotes a healthy spine and neck. However, people who sleep on their backs tend to snore more than others. Solider sleepers are usually more reserved, quiet, and have higher standards for themselves and others.

The “log”: On your side with both arms down.
The log is generally considered a good sleeping position; however, it can cause some neck pain as your shoulders put your head at an angle down towards the pillow. Loggers and are usually thought of as being easy going and sociable.

The “starfish”: Flat on your back, with your arms overhead.
Similar to the log position, starfish sleepers lie flat on their backs. Instead of leaving their arms at their side, however, starfish sleepers put them above their head — either on top of or underneath the pillow. While this position also promotes good spine alignment, some people may experience shoulder/neck pain over time due to the extra pressure put on the shoulders. Starfish sleepers tend to make good friends, and are good listeners.

The “freefall”: On your stomach, face down.
Sleeping on your stomach is said to help with digestion; however, it restricts breathing. After all, it’s pretty hard to breath through a pillow. As such, many people who sleep on their stomachs tend to tilt their head to one side or another which can put a lot of strain on your neck and back. This strain also causes many freefallers to experience restlessness, as they constantly adjust throughout the night in search of comfort. Freefall sleepers are typically brash and outgoing, but do not take criticism well.

The “fetal position”: Curled up in a ball on your side.
The fetal position is the de facto for comfort, and is by far the most popular position people sleep in. After all, it is the position we were first created in. If you’re having trouble with snoring or are pregnant, the fetal position may provide you with temporary relief. While the fetal position may seem like the most comfortable way to sleep, it can wreak havoc on your neck and back, and also restricts deep breathing. People who sleep in the fetal position are said to be tough on the outside and soft on the inside.

The “yearner”: On your side with both arms out.
Similar to the log, the yearner position is another popular sleep position. The yearner differs from the log in arm placement: they are stretched out in front, rather than being kept at your side. Yearners tend to be stubborn yet open-minded.

So if you’re looking for a better night sleep, you may want to try changing your sleep position. A new sleep position can not only help you sleep better, but can also help you stop snoring (which means your spouse will sleep better) or even get rid of that lingering pain in your neck.

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Things We Like: Getting Primed For A Better Night’s Sleep

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

Following this month’s theme of sleep studies, I have another bit of research that may help you sleep better. In a study titled, the effect of subliminal priming on sleep duration, which can be found online here, the authors found that subliminal exposure to certain words before going to sleep can improve the quality and duration of our sleep. The Boston Globe goes so far as to call it “subliminal Ambien.” To better understand how this works, we first need to understand a concept in psychology known as “priming.”

A simply way to describe priming is “that for a period of time after a word or other perceptual object is presented, less neural activity is required to process that same word of object.” In other words, repeated exposure to certain words or phrases makes it easier for your brain to associate them with a specific memory. As it relates to this study, priming your brain with sleepy word with the objective of getting to sleep faster is known as “goal-priming.” Okay, so how does it work? And more importantly, how can I prime myself to get to sleep faster?

The author of this study has stated that this type of “goal-priming” can be achieved by placing sticky notes or index cards with slumber-centric words like “calm,” “rest,” and “drift away” throughout your bedroom. So much so that the participants who were exposed to these sleepy words slept 47 percent longer and had lower heart rates than those who were exposed to “neutral” words. The study also found that the effects of subliminal priming are greater among participants who had trouble sleeping, suggesting that exposure to these subconscious cues may be a cost-effective treatment to help people with sleep problems. This may also help explain why bedtime stories are so effective for getting your kids to go to sleep.

However, this sort of goal-priming for better sleep is somewhat controversial, as other studies have been unable to replicate the results. Does it work, or not? We’ll let you be the judge. For me, it’s worth a try.

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