The term “biohacking” may bring nefarious images to your mind, such as criminals sneaking around trying to take over your body. While this notion may be dangerous and even a little seductive, in reality, wellness coaches mean something else entirely. Biohacking means optimising your total body by changing your environment (inside and outside).
Our bodies are incredible machines full of billions of moving parts. To be at our very best, we need to ensure the proper balance between all of these parts, from the neurons in the brain, to the way the heart pumps, to how our gut handles food. Humans need certain things to survive, including oxygen, water, shelter, food and sleep. Without sleep, our brains start to change, and these changes can impact the body and our overall health and wellbeing.
NO SLEEP = ALTERED BRAIN PATTERNS & ANXIETY
The amygdala is part of the limbic system, which controls instincts, emotions (including fear) and mood. Damage, developmental issues or neurotransmitter (the chemicals in your brain) imbalances can cause dysfunction, manifesting as anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD. Anxiety begins in an area of the amygdala responsible for longer-lasting responses, resulting in someone feeling a threat long after it diminishes.1
Unfortunately, sleep loss and anxiety go hand in hand, often forcing sufferers into a vicious cycle, which can be extremely difficult to break from. Neuroscience has found that sleep loss amplifies the response in the amygdala when we anticipate something, leading to increased anxiety. When your brain is fatigued, your amygdala is in a heightened state, ready to react to whatever threat is contributing to the fatigue.2
BIOHACKING YOUR BODY TO HAVE A GOOD NIGHT’S REST
There are many technological gadgets available to help you biohack your body, from neurofeedback devices to hyperbaric oxygen pods. But, you don’t need to spend anything to improve your sleep and help reduce anxiety.
Dr Satchin Panda, an expert in circadian rhythms has studied how lights reset our internal clocks, affecting sleep, and how food also impacts our circadian cycles. According to Dr Panda, each organ has its own circadian clock, so it isn’t just the brain that tells us we need to sleep.
Our brain isn’t the only organ which needs to rest, either. The liver can function for a certain number of hours, and then it needs time off. Even the bacteria that live in our guts have a daily clock. When all of these moving parts inside of us synchronise, we will experience high performance. But without sleep, these pieces break down, and instead of being balanced, we’ll be out of sorts and conditions such as anxiety and depression can occur.3
Your day actually begins when you go to bed the previous night because that determines how long you’ll sleep, how long you’ll reset your brain and then how fresh you’ll wake up in the morning.
Dr Satchin Panda
HOW TO GET YOUR BODY ON BOARD WITH BETTER SLEEP
Wanting to make changes is only part of the equation if you’d like to biohack your sleep. You have to figure out what you’re doing wrong, too. If you want to sleep better, increase performance and feel less anxious, you have to look for the red flags. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you having a hard time falling asleep? Take a good look at your sleeping area. Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex. No working, no watching TV and ideally no browsing your device. Consider the temperature, the bed itself and ambient light sources. Creating the perfect sleep space may require some effect, but you’ll likely find the reward is worth it!
- Are there lots of melatonin-suppressing blue lights around? Blue lights seem to have a bad reputation lately, but they aren’t always bad. During the day, these wavelengths boost attention and mood. At night, however, these same wavelengths suppress melatonin levels, which influence circadian rhythms. LED lights, even though energy-efficient, produce more blue light. Limiting exposure to bright screens two or three hours before bed can help your body adjust.4
- Have you considered intermittent fasting? When you fast, your body enters a different metabolic state, relying less on glucose and more on ketones. Eating at certain times (dubbed time-restricted feeding) allows your body to fast daily, which can have multiple positive effects. Essentially, you consume all the nutrients you need during a window of time, and you abstain the rest of the day.5
ISN’T IT TIME TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH?
The “always on” approach that modern society seems to demand, particularly for leaders, is ultimately unsustainable. Without balance, we cannot make good decisions, engage in collaborative endeavours or come up with new ideas. If you look at a brain image of someone who doesn’t sleep much, you see poor functioning and areas of inactivity; basically, a brain that has aged before its time.6
The i4 Neuroleader Program can help you develop a high-performing mind and body. Recognising the importance of sleep, and how even what we eat can impact our sleep is the first step to making big changes. If you’d like to learn more about gut health and overall wellbeing on your leadership journey, watch the film Make Me A Leader. Biohacking isn’t a figment of the future, it’s possible now, so are you ready to take control of your biology?
1. Edwards SP. The Amygdala: The Body’s Alarm Circuit. The Dana Foundation. 2019.
2. Goldstein AN, Greer SM, Saletin JM, Harvey AG, Nitschke JB, Walker MP. Tired and apprehensive: anxiety amplifies the impact of sleep loss on aversive brain anticipation. J Neurosci. 2013;33(26):10607-15.
3. Asprey D. Eating Affects Your Sleep (and vice versa) - Satchin Panda #560. Podcast interview with Dr Satchin Panda. Bulletproof 360, Inc. 2019.
4. Harvard Health Letter. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publishing. 2018.
5. Longo VD, Panda S. Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan. Cell Metab. 2016;23(6):1048-1059.
6. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Neuroleader Model. About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].