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Siffre was a French scientist and a pioneer in chronobiology, which is the study of biological rhythms. Siffre’s work, along with the experiments of a handful of other researchers, helped kickstart a scientific interest in sleep that has resulted in sleep performance centers at major universities like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. In this article, I’ll share the science of sleep and how it works, discuss why many people suffer from sleep deprivation without knowing it, and offer practical tips for getting better sleep and having more energy. The researchers began the experiment by gathering 48 healthy men and women who had been averaging seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
The subjects who were allowed a full 8 hours of sleep displayed no cognitive decreases, attention lapses, or motor skill declines during the 14-day study. The irony of it all is that many of us are suffering from sleep deprivation so that we can work more, but the drop in performance ruins any potential benefits of working additional hours.
In the United States alone, studies have estimated that sleep deprivation is costing businesses over $100 BILLION each year in lost efficiency and performance. And this brings us to the important question: At what point does sleep debt start accumulating? During slow wave sleep the body relaxes, breathing becomes more regular, blood pressure falls, and the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli, which makes it more difficult to wake up.
As one example of the impact of sleep on physical performance, consider a study researchers conducted on the Stanford basketball players. To summarize: slow wave sleep helps you recover physically while REM sleep helps you recover mentally. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, a€?As people age, it takes longer to fall asleep, a phenomenon called increased sleep latency. Based on my calculations of the above data, the average 80-year-old gets a whopping 62 percent less slow wave sleep than the average 20-year-old (20 percent of the average sleep cycle versus 7.5 percent). In other words, it seems reasonable to say that getting good sleep is one of your best defenses against aging quickly. At any age, most adults need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep to function at their best. Obviously, these times are not exact and merely display the general pattern of the circadian rhythm.
Now that we understand how sleep works, let’s talk about some practical strategies for getting better sleep.
The answer is simple, but remarkably underrated in our productivity-obsessed culture: get more sleep.
The remaining 5 percent are due to genetic variations that allow them to perform optimally on less sleep.
Don’t you find it interesting that many of the best athletes in the world sleep at least 10 hours per night? Thanks to Sam Sager for his tireless help researching this article and to Scott Britton for his slideshow on sleep strategies.
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The most well-known of these biological rhythms is the circadian rhythm, which controls the human sleep-wake cycle, and Siffre was on a mission to learn how, exactly, it worked.
He lived in a tent that sat on a small wooden platform with a bed, a table, a chair, and a phone that he could use to call his research team above ground.


To answer that question, let’s consider an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University.
Meanwhile, the groups who received 4 hours and 6 hours of sleep steadily declined with each passing day.
When participants graded themselves, they believed that their performance declined for a few days and then tapered off.
During this study, the players slept for at least ten hours per night (compared to their typical eight hours).
The brain is relatively quiet during most sleep phases, but during REM your brain comes to life. If you starve yourself of sleep, you can’t recover physically, your immune system weakens, and your brain becomes foggy.
The amount of time you spend in these phases tends to decrease with age, which means the quality of your sleep and your body’s ability to recover also decrease with age. There are many factors that impact the aging of body tissues and cells, but it stands to reason that if your body gets less slow wave sleep to restore itself each night, then the aging process will accelerate as a result. Since older people often have trouble attaining this much sleep at night, they frequently supplement nighttime sleep with daytime naps. In fact, even if you got a brutal 2 or 4 hours of sleep last night, your body can usually recover fully if you get a solid 9 or 10 hours of sleep tonight. Your body is smarter than you are and because it makes adjustments based on previous sleep cycles, you can’t really force yourself to get more REM sleep, for example, during a particular sleep session.
Your body will do the best it can, but it will never be able to turn a deficit into a surplus. The circadian rhythm is a biological cycle of different processes that happen over a time span of about 24 hours.
The exact times of your circadian rhythm will vary based on daylight, your habits, and other factors.
The time of day, your daily schedule, and the order in which you perform tasks can all impact your sleep-wake cycle.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, eliminating caffeine from your diet is a quick win. Tobacco use has been linked to a long line of health issues and poor sleep is another one on the list. The light from computer screens, televisions, and phones can hinder the production of melatonin, which means your body isn’t preparing the hormones it needs to enter the sleep phase.
Researchers believe that at least 50 percent of insomnia cases are emotion or stress related. Generally speaking, one nap in the early afternoon is the best way to adding napping to your sleep cycle. If you’re looking for more practical strategies on how to create better sleep habits (or better habits in general), then read my free 46-page guide called Transform Your Habits or browse my best articles on behavior change and habit formation.
Wouldn’t you assume that if anyone had access to the latest biohacking technology and advanced sleeping tactics, it would be the world’s greatest athletes?
Thousands of people have attended my online seminars on Habits, Willpower, and Procrastination. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. It's based on a technique used by top athletes and other successful people to help them make a big stride forward.
His underground home was equipped with a single lightbulb, which provided a soft glow to the piles of frozen food and 800 gallons of water nearby. After two weeks, the six-hour group had performance deficits that were the same as if they had stayed up for two days straight.
According to a wide range of studies, the tipping point is usually around the 7 or 7.5 hour mark.
Lawrence Epstein at Harvard Medical School, 20 percent of Americans (1 in 5) get less than six hours of sleep per night. During slow wave sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. During five weeks of extended sleep, the researchers measured the basketball players accuracy and speed compared to their previous levels. Or, as the researchers put it, sleep deprived individuals experience increased risk of viral infections, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, mental illness, and mortality. This can be a successful strategy for accumulating sufficient total sleep over a 24-hour period. Your body will simply spend more time in REM and slow wave sleep cycles the second night to make up for the first. If you want to recover from a night of little sleep, you need to follow it with more sleep than usual.
Staring into a bright light for 30 minutes or so can often reset your circadian rhythm regardless of what time of day it is.


Melatonin is produced in a predictable daily rhythm, increasing after dark and decreasing before dawn.
When it comes to sleep, exercise will make it easier for your brain and body to power down at night.
Specifically, it is the blue wavelength of light that seems to decrease melatonin production. Find outlets to reduce your stress and you’ll often find that better sleep comes as a result. This is particularly useful if you aren’t getting enough sleep each night as your body may be able to make up the deficit during your nap.
If you are feeling lethargic and groggy in the morning, you may often be slightly dehydrated.
Getting sunlight in your morning routine is critical for establishing your circadian rhythm and waking your brain and body for the day. If there was any group of people who could afford the research and money to purchase the best ways to hack their sleep and get more done in less time, it would be this group.
I share a public reading list of the best books to read across a wide range of disciplines. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
There were no clocks or calendars, no way for him to discover what time it was or whether it was day or night. Let me repeat that: if you get 6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks straight, your mental and physical performance declines to the same level as if you had stayed awake for 48 hours straight. In other words, we are poor judges of our own performance decreases even as we are going through them. Generally speaking, experts agree that 95 percent of adults need to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night to function optimally. Researchers also believe that the body’s immune system is repaired during this stage.
During this phase your brain clears out irrelevant information, boosts your memory by connecting the experiences of the last 24 hours to your previous experiences, and facilitates learning and neural growth. In other words, the two main sleep cycles are largely influenced by the amount and type of sleep you had during the previous night. This is particularly important as you age because the percentage of time spent in REM and slow wave sleep decreases as you get older.
More commonly, the rising of the sun and light striking your eyes triggers the transition to a new cycle.
Researchers believe that the melatonin production cycle help keep the sleep-wake cycle on track. However, while it makes it easier to fall asleep, it actually reduces the quality of your sleep and delays the REM cycle. Proven methods include daily journaling, deep breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, and keeping a gratitude journal (write down something you are thankful for each day). In the real world, well-lit office spaces, social conversations, caffeine, and a variety of other factors can make you feel fully awake even though your actual performance is sub-optimal.
As an example, a 60-year-old may need to sleep for 10 hours to get the same about of REM sleep that a 20-year-old can get in 7 hours.
Additionally, working late at night can keep your mind racing and your stress levels high, which also prevents the body from calming down for sleep. You might think that your performance is staying the same even on low amounts of sleep, but it’s not. You’ll often hear about professional athletes like Roger Federer or LeBron James sleeping 11 or 12 hours per night. These are simple ways to improve the choice architecture of your bedroom, so that sleep is easier and distraction is harder. It’s probably best to improve your sleep through other methods before resorting to alcohol to do the job. And even if you are happy with your sleep-deprived performance levels, you’re not performing optimally.
If you place heavy physical demands on your body, slow wave sleep is what helps you recover. One caveat: avoid exercising two to three hours before bedtime as the mental and physical stimulation can leave your nervous system feeling wired and make it difficult to calm down at night.
Throughout the experiment the subjects were tested on their physical and mental performance.



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