Biohacking Sleep: The Science of Sleep Optimization
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
Sleep is a vital part of maintaining total wellness.
Missed sleep can result in fatigue, mental health issues, and even weight gain.
Taking a supplement like fatty15 can help support your body’s circadian rhythm and bring balance to your sleep routine.
Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. Nearly 25 percent of all American adults will suffer from sleeplessness at some point in their lives, with the numbers rising in adults over age 40.
A lack of sleep can do more than just leave you feeling fatigued. It can negatively impact your physical and mental health, wreak havoc on your nervous system, and even lead to weight gain.
Together, we’ll unpack the science of sleep and use that knowledge to biohack the system, attacking sleeplessness where it starts and ensuring we’re using supplements and methods that support healthy sleep.
The body has its own natural rhythm that governs sleep and wake cycles. This internal clock is known as the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm operates on light. When your body is exposed to natural light, like the morning sun peeking through your blinds, it shuts off the production of melatonin and begins stimulating the release of cortisol.
In the evenings, in response to less light, the circadian rhythm stimulates the release of melatonin to help prepare you for sleep. In addition to circadian rhythm, the body also relies on its sleep drive to help tell the body when it is time to sleep.
The Body’s Sleep Drive
Your sleep drive is like a tank that, when full, tells your body it is time to sleep. Your sleep tank is empty when you wake up after a good night of sleep. As you stay awake and expend energy, your sleep drive tank fills, getting higher and higher until you feel tired and know it’s time to rest.
Unlike other biological drives (like hunger) that you can simply ignore if you choose to, you can’t ignore sleep. Eventually, your sleep drive will force your body to sleep after enough rest is missed.
Not just any sleep will do. You need quality sleep, which means you need sleep that allows you to cycle through the appropriate REM and NREM cycles.
What Are Sleep Cycles?
The type of sleep you get every night matters. For sleep to properly serve your body, you need to successfully cycle through both REM and NREM sleep. Each stage of sleep is important to your body’s ability to repair and restore itself and vital for your brain health.
There are four stages of NREM sleep.
Stage 1. During this stage, your body transitions from awake to falling asleep. Your body temperature lowers to prepare you for rest.
Stage 2. During stage 2, you are sleeping lightly, and it’s still very easy to be awakened.
- Stages 3 and 4. These are deep sleep stages. During these stages, your brain packs away new facts you’ve learned, organizes memories, and “reboots” itself.
After the four stages of NREM sleep, you’ll transition to REM sleep. During REM sleep, your body is temporarily paralyzed. Your brain waves function much like when you are awake but create dreams.
Quality sleep cycles through both NREM and REM sleep about four to five times per night. For that to happen, you need to be able to get enough hours of sleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. This will change based on your age and activity level. If you run a marathon during the day, you’ll probably need more sleep at night than when you don’t exercise.
What Happens When You Miss Sleep?
You may ask yourself, “What’s the big deal if I miss a little sleep?” After all, many of us seem to function on four to five hours of sleep each night. Looking at just how we are functioning, though, may point out a few flaws in the system.
For instance, if you rely heavily on caffeine, lack the energy to make it to the gym, or space out during conference calls, it’s likely because you aren’t getting enough sleep.
When we miss sleep, we create a sleep debt. This means that if your body requires eight hours of sleep every night, but you only get six hours one night, you have a sleep debt of two hours.
Sleep debt is cumulative. So if you consistently get six hours of sleep with an eight-hour need, your sleep debt will increase by two hours each day. The only way to pay off a sleep debt is with more sleep.
Missed sleep results in:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Feeling mentally foggy
- Mental health issues like stress and sadness
- Weight gain
Your overall health takes a hit when you miss sleep. Even your immune system will function less optimally, which means you could end up getting sick more. If you suffer from sleep deprivation, there may be an underlying cause.
What Causes Sleep Problems?
There can be numerous reasons why you might be suffering from sleep problems.
Here are some of the most common.
As we age, our need for sleep naturally decreases. Along with this reduced need, melatonin production also decreases. This can cause your sleep cycles to shorten and cause your circadian rhythm to shift dramatically, leaving you feeling tired earlier in the day and possibly waking up early in the morning.
Certain health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes have all been linked with poor sleep quality. Ironically, sleeplessness also places you at higher risk of developing these same conditions.
Some jobs require us to work during hours we’d normally be asleep and sleep when we’d normally be awake. Because the body’s circadian rhythm operates on daylight, working night shifts can wreak havoc on your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get the quality of sleep you need.
Too Much Activity Before Bed
Working out within two hours of bedtime elevates your heart rate and suppresses the release of sleep hormones. If you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure you get your workout in at least two to three hours before you plan to go to bed.
Too Much Caffeine
It’s a vicious cycle that can leave you feeling even more tired. You wake up sleepy and reach for a caffeinated beverage to wake you up. Caffeine, however, has a half-life of five hours, which means half of the caffeine you ingest is still in your system five hours after you’ve finished your favorite cup of coffee.
It may feel relaxing to zone out in front of your tablet, tv, or smartphone before bed. Still, the blue light emitted from the screens tricks your body into thinking it’s time to be awake, suppressing the release of melatonin and making it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
A nightcap may seem like the perfect way to relax into dreamland, but it has a negative impact on your ability to sleep and pass through each sleep cycle. Drinking alcohol before bed causes you to sleep less, experience disrupted sleep, and spend more time in light sleep than in deep sleep.
Now that we understand the possible causes of your sleeplessness, we can use what we know to biohack our ability to sleep better.
Biohacking Your Sleep: Ways To Sleep Better
Using what we know about how sleep works and what could be causing us to not sleep as much or as well as we should, we can use a few cheat codes to optimize our nighttime routines and get a better night’s sleep.
1. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially before bed.
Alcohol is pretty much off-limits in the biohacker world, and drinking immediately before bedtime will reduce your sleep quality. Caffeine is a nootropic drug and helpful for increasing mental clarity and focus, but make sure you finish up your caffeine consumption before noon to get the rest you need at night.
You can probably improve sleep by simply unplugging your devices or turning them off at a certain time before bed. Instead of dozing off while watching tv or playing games on your favorite gadgets, try reading a book or listening to a podcast (with your smartphone screen closed) before bed.
3. Get outside in the morning.
One of the best ways to wake up and kickstart your circadian rhythm is to get plenty of natural light exposure in the morning. This helps stimulate higher cortisol levels that help to wake you up and helps naturally suppress melatonin production.
4. Avoid meals before bed.
Eating before bed can set the stage for digestive issues like heartburn. In addition, your body now needs to digest the food you’ve eaten, which is harder to do when you’re lying down.
You don’t have to practice intermittent fasting, but eating at least three hours before you go to bed will help you avoid midnight digestive issues.
5. Practice good sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to how you prepare for sleep and the conditions in which you sleep. Good sleep hygiene could mean using blackout curtains, setting your alarm clock daily to maintain a consistent wake time, and going to bed at the same time each day.
6. Take a sleep-supportive supplement.
There are a few supplementsbiohackers use to help support sleep naturally.
- Melatonin. Taking melatonin is a good option if you have trouble falling asleep. It’s also a good fit since natural melatonin levels decline with age. Try taking it about one and a half hours before you’re ready to go to bed.
- Magnesium.Magnesium is an important mineral that regulates blood pressure and blood sugar and supports better sleep.
- Vitamin D.Vitamin D is on most biohackers’ list of most important supplements. Vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk of developing a sleep disorder, suggesting that vitamin D plays a role in how well and how much we sleep.
- C15:0. C15:0 activates special receptors, PPARɑ and PPARẟ. These receptors regulate homeostatic functions like metabolism, immunity, heart health, and liver function. They also regulate sleep and mood, so taking C15:0 can help bring your sleep cycles back into balance.
Never heard of C15:0? That’s okay. We’re happy to introduce you to the newest and most promising biohackingsupplement on the block.
C15:0 is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that science supports as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered since the omegas, over 90 years ago. An essential fatty acid is one that our bodies need to thrive but cannot readily make it on their own. We have to get it from food or a supplement.
What It Does
In addition to supporting healthy sleep cycles, C15:0 has been shown to strengthen your cells and reverse cellular aging, resulting in the ability to live healthier, longer.
C15:0 supports cells by:
- Integrating into cell membranes to keep them strong and help them maintain their shapes, so they can function properly. In studies, it improved cellular strength by 80%.
- Rescuing broken energy pathways in the cell. Mitochondrial function declines with age, and C15:0 helps your mitochondria produce more ATP (the cell's energy currency). In one peer-reviewed study, C15:0 increased ATP levels in cells by 350%.
- Calming and regulating the inflammatory response. C15:0 calms and lowers levels of proinflammatory cytokines, a key driver in the again process.
Getting C15:0 into your body can help you feel better and sleep better, resulting in a restored and revitalized you. The problem is that C15:0 is found primarily in whole-fat dairy products like whole milk and full-fat butter.
Increasing your intake of these foods wouldn’t be a good biohack because it would mean increasing your overall caloric intake and consuming unhealthy, even-chain saturated fat.
A solution? Fatty 15.
Fatty 15: Better Sleep, Better Body
Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to contain FA15™, the pure, vegan-friendly, sustainably-produced, award-winning version of C15:0. This supplement was created by physicians and scientists after years of studies using FA15™, the exact same ingredient in fatty15. Read more here if you want to nerd out on the science.
Taking fatty15 once a day can support your sleep and your overall health and wellness. It’s a decision that’s easy to make and pays dividends into your future, making it a biohack you simply can’t live without.
Broader and safer clinically-relevant activities of pentadecanoic acid compared to omega-3: Evaluation of an emerging essential fatty acid across twelve primary human cell-based disease systems | PLOS ONE
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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