HRV is a measure of the health of your autonomic nervous system, and in my opinion, the most powerful effect you can have on your nervous system is through improving your sleep!
Sleep is vitally important to our overall health and wellness, but unfortunately getting proper sleep has never been harder. It is recommended that you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But in reality, more than one out of every three adults get less than 7 hours of sleep per night! So 75% of the population is sleep deprived!
This lack of sleep means that your body does not get the time that it needs in order to repair all of the damage from the day before, it also means that you are missing out on hormone production, decreasing your ability to learn new information, and putting added stress on your nervous system.
Most people live their lives chronically sleep-deprived and they never really notice the effects because they simply become used to it.
Luckily, there is a fantastic non-invasive and quick way of looking at the health of your overall nervous system using heart rate variability or HRV. Many scientists and doctors have looked at the effects of sleep deprivation on HRV. The largest of which that I found looked at over 1000 subjects. They compared those individuals who slept <6 hours of sleep per night compared to those to slept 7 hours or more. In their results, they reported that those individuals who were sleep-deprived had higher resting heart rates (a sign of high stress response), and had lower HRV scores as measured by their High Frequency (HF) measurements. (Castro et al,. 2016)
If you start to take your HRV measurements regularly you will immediately see the differences between a good night of sleep and a bad night of sleep. Especially if you are measuring in the morning before any additional stressors can affect you.
Now that being said, what if you are not getting adequate sleep? Then there are 4 steps that I recommend that you follow to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Step 1: Track your sleep
You can’t fix your sleep if you don’t know how much sleep you are getting. There are numerous apps and gadgets out there to track your sleep. They range in price from free to extremely expensive. I have been using an app called Sleep Cycle alarm clock for the last 3 years to track my own sleep patterns. You need to know where you are at before you can make meaningful change. So get one of these apps or devices and start collecting data. If you aren’t getting at least 7-8 hours of deep restorative sleep then you need to step up your game so you can have a strong healthy nervous system.
Step 2: Understand Light
Blue light is going to tell your brain that it is daytime. The blue light comes from the sun but it also comes from our devices so our phones, computers, TVs, etc. And our brains can’t tell the difference between them.
So if you are using your phone before bed you are confusing your brain because it thinks that it is day time.
During the day you should get as much blue light as you can to keep you awake, but at night you want to limit your blue light exposure.
You can use things like blue light blocking glasses, blackout curtains, a program called F.lux on your computer, and red LED bulbs in your bedroom to limit your blue light exposure at night and give you that deep restorative sleep we all crave
Step 3: Keep it cool
The optimal sleep temperature is around 60-70 degrees F depending on where you live specifically. You need to actually cool your core body temperature by about 2-3 degrees to initiate sleep. So you can do this in a couple of different ways.
First, you can turn down the AC which may be an easy thing to do depending on where you live.
Second, you can get a device called the chilipad which is going to precisely control your beds’ temperature. I have been using one for years and it’s been great, especially for me living in Florida.
Third, is to take a hot shower before bed which will heat your body up temporarily, but when you get out you will dissipate the heat quickly because all of your blood vessels are at the surface of your skin. So your body temperature will drop that 2-3 degrees quickly getting you ready for deep restorative sleep.
Step 4: Have a schedule
Your body needs to follow a regular schedule in order to operate effectively. You are only so malleable. Your body needs to know that it should be awake at certain times and asleep at certain times. To do this you need to optimize your circadian biology.
First, you control your light exposure like I explained in step 2, and through following Time Restricted Eating which I have discussed extensively in previous posts and videos so make sure you check that out if you haven’t already.
If you are able to optimize your sleep through these 4 steps you are almost guaranteed to see an increase in your HRV scores which are a reflection of your overall nervous system health.
Is there anything that you would add to this list to optimize your sleep? Let me know in the comments below.
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Again this is Floyd Meyer reminding you to Sleep Better so you can Do More!
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Castro-Diehl, C., Diez Roux, A. V., Redline, S., Seeman, T., McKinley, P., Sloan, R., & Shea, S. (2016). Sleep Duration and Quality in Relation to Autonomic Nervous System Measures: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Sleep, 39(11), 1919–1926.doi:10.5665/sleep.6218
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