4 Tips To Help You Sleep Smarter (And Blow Away 80% Of Your Competitors)

Today we will be talking about sleep and how it helps you function on a day to day basis. I was able to give you this information thanks to a book called Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. In this book, I found 21 great tips to help you improve both your mental and physical performance. Unfortunately I was only able to cover 4 of them but if you feel inclined to read more, you can find his book here.
Sleep Smarter Book
Sleep as many of you know is a crucial part of your day to day routine. Just how important? Studies showed that just 24 hours of sleep deprivation prevents about 14% of the glucose you produce to get to your brain.

This 14% ended up being mostly from your frontal cortex or prefrontal cortex. Now, what does that mean? Well, the pre-frontal cortex is the part of your brain that affects your decision making or distinguishing between right and wrong. I’m sure we can all look back on our lives and notice that we tend to make poor choices when we are up very late.

In this study, they took a group of people and made them complete tasks both when they had a good nights sleep and when they had been awake for 24 hours. What were the results? Well in just 24 hours, the studies showed that when sleep deprived, the group took 14% longer to complete the same task AND made 20% more errors. So with that being said, if you are about to take an aptitude test, CPAT, or anything that requires you to be alert, MAKE SURE that you get sufficient sleep.

This leads me into my first tip for increasing performance.

Tip #1 – Have a coffee curfew

Shawn discusses this in great detail in chapter 4 of his book but here are some highlights of what I found will apply to us in the fire service. A lot of times when we are trying to “have energy” we go right to the marketing ploys. So we think, coffee or energy drinks. Hey! Let’s grab a couple monsters and be on our way! Right?
So let me break down what caffeine is. Basically, it’s a nervous system stimulant. Your nervous system is linked to your endocrine system through a gland in your brain called hypothalamus. The endocrine system is responsible for your hormone functions. So when your drink coffee you are kind of altering what your hormones are doing and releasing more stress hormones. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not really a bad thing. It’s just the timing of when you take the stimulant that can be bad.

There was a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and the participants were given caffeine at three different times.

  • just before bed
  • 3 hours before bed
  • 6 hours before bed

Now you would think, of course, just before bed you are going to have some problems BUT the study actually showed that even 6 hours before bed you are going to have some issues. They monitored this with sleep monitors and it showed that it actually caused some extreme sleep troubles. It showed that the individuals went to sleep but they were not able to get as much time in the non-REM deep rejuvenate sleep.

The reason for this is because caffeine actually has a 6-8 hour half-life. So for example, if you consume 400 mg of caffeine, after 8 hours you still have 200 mg in your system. This is why it is especially important that if you have an exam or an aptitude test that you limit your caffeine consumption to the mornings to ensure that it is completely out of your system come night time. This will ensure a proper deep rejuvenate sleep.

Our next tip is actually a modification you should make to your bedroom.

Tip # 2 – Get blackout curtains

Shawn actually got this tip from when he went on vacation. He talked about how he noticed that he got better sleep when he was out there. At first he thought that maybe it was because he had nothing to worry about and he was stress-free but actually, that is not the case at all.
Dark Curtains
The reality is it’s because you are sleeping in total darkness. Let’s face it, we are part of nature, right? We evolved from sleeping in dark caves. Only in the last 100 years have we been able to manipulate light. If we wanted too we could light up our house like a theme park. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tool but we don’t really understand what it does to our genetic expression.

Now, you might think “Oh, no problem I have an eye mask”. Now that’s ok BUT your skin actually has photoreceptors that pick up light and sends information to your internal organs. For example your hypothalamus, your pituitary gland, your adrenal glands. They send signals to these organs and causes them to send stress hormones, more daytime hormones because your body is picking up light. Get blackout curtains.

So when we go to bed, instead of worrying about “Oh, I need 8 hours of sleep” , make sure that when you do go to sleep, it’s in total darkness.It’s clinically proven to induce deeper levels of sleep. To break it down, you basically have REM and non-REM sleep. You spend more time in the deeper levels of sleep which give you great benefits such as human growth hormones.

Now when people hear human growth hormones, they think Chael Sonnen (for you MMA fans out there) and how it’s cheating or it’s a bad thing. BUT, it’s actually produced naturally in your body. Did you ever notice how kids have some much energy? Well, they get more sleep. By getting some blackout curtains, you will be able to greatly increase your quality of sleep.

Our next tip is another alteration to your bedroom… sort of.

Tip # 3 – Get electronics out of your room

I can see it already. People saying “What? My phone is my alarm?”. Now I agree with you but if you can, get all these devices out of the room. All these electromagnetic frequencies have been PROVEN to cause cellular disruption by having theses EMF’s by us all the time.
Cell Phone
It’s been clinically proven to lower your sperm count if you’re keeping it in your pocket. It has also been proven to cause tumors to develop in the breast. This is all factual stuff that people need to be aware of. So put your cell phone in another room. I promise you that the world will not end if you do this.

Another reason as to why you should avoid having your cell phone by you bed is people tend to reach for it as soon as it goes off in the morning and start checking emails. Emails lead to text messages and the next thing you know it has messed up the morning routine. The morning routine is a crucial one especially on a test or practical day.

You should have wake up strategies in place well before your big day. Getting yourself hydrated, eating a good healthy meal, getting a little exercise, all crucial things for day to day life really. Get your body ready for a great day. Checking your emails should come on your own time. When you have your morning routine completed.

So on to tip #4.

Tip #4 – Try to get more than 6 hours sleep (8+ preferably)

Now I know this sort of contradicts the focus on quality more than quantity BUT if you can incorporate both then the more power to you! So there was a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. They had two individual groups. One group slept 8+ hours and the other less than 6 hours. They also put them on the same diet and exercise routine.
Cell Phone
At the end of the test, they discovered that the sleep-deprived group lost far less weight than the 8+ hours group. The only thing different was that they were getting less sleep. This proves that your body really changes when you sleep. Not when you’re in the gym, not when your eating, when you sleep. This is when all the beneficial hormones are changing and being produced. Essentially when your brain is healing.

Simple as that. Get more sleep, achieve better results.

So in conclusion, it really is amazing how much influence and power you have on changing your genes. If you spend countless hours eating donuts, drinking caffeine and watching the walking dead then inevitably you will become a walking dead.

Once again, I would like to thank Shawn Stevenson on his great book Sleep Smarter. It’s benefited me greatly and hopefully I was able to convey just a fraction of his tips to you to help you outperform your competition. If you would like to purchase his book, you can simply click here and be taken to his book.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would really enjoy hearing your feedback. I am just testing the waters here and I would really appreciate hearing what you think about it. If you would like to receive more of these articles, please let me know by commenting below or liking, sharing and leaving a comment on our facebook page.

Thank you for reading and good luck with your dream of becoming a firefighter!

  • Steve
  • Updated January 13, 2023