5 Game Changing Rituals that Improved my Sleep and How I Proved It

Sleep and Peak Performance - Tyrell Mara


When looking at what separates world class violinists from great violinists the single most critical factor after practice, was sleep.
— Malcom Gladwell, Outliers. Research by Anders Ericsson

Okay, that's great... But what the heck do I do with that?

It's not like there is a dial above my bed telling me exactly when my optimum sleep quota has been met.

What's the magic number? 5 hours? 7 hours? 9 hours?

Several months ago I set out with Peak Performance coach, Helena Bianchi, to answer this question in my own Human Performance Equation as I train to throw Discus at the 2020 Summer Olympics. 

How to measure the impact of sleep

1. Qualitative Data 

This is about you and whether you are showing up at your best every day. To capture this qualitative narrative I kept (and continue to keep) a daily journal where I do 3 things:

  1. Document energy, focus and mood scores (/10) first thing each morning. 
  2. Document any interesting fluctuations in energy throughout the day (flow states and energy crashes).
  3. Document energy, focus and mood scores (/10) each night before bed.

I have found that Evernote and Voice to Text work best for me. Here is what it looks like: 

Daily energy tracking journal

2. Quantitative Data

I wanted to know what was actually going on with my sleep as I started to optimize my peak performance equationt. I went out into the market and found the ÖURA ring which I believe is the most accurate and functional sleep tracking wearable on the market. 

Wearing the ÖURA ring to bed I can see a minute by minute breakdown of my sleep detailing everything from the sleep zones I was in to heart rate variability (HRV).

*Note: HRV is a great measure of our autonomic nervous system's effectiveness - simply put it is the measure of our body's level of resilience as we deal with the stresses of the world.

How to get better sleep - OURA sleep tracking
How to get better sleep - OURA sleep tracking

I clearly had some major work to do. 

(full disclosure - I am not sponsored by ÖURA however they are currently running a promotion to get $100 off the next (epic) version of their ring - if you're considering the ring you can use the Promo code "tyrellmara" which will also act as a $30 contribution to my 2020 Olympic fund).

3. Human Performance Baseline

This is a simple process where Helena and I documented all of the things included in my daily life that affected my energy and performance. Things like what I'm eating, key activities throughout the day as well as any quantitative data you're capturing (steps, activity, sleep).

I highly recommend taking a week or two to understand and document where you're starting from. This will help you benchmark your improvements as you go forward. 

A sleep tracking experiment

Before setting out on this life-hacking adventure Helena and I defined the desired outcomes we were aiming to impact through this experiment: 

  1. Fuel my body with the physical energy and ability to quickly recover as I train up to 4 hours a day in pursuit of the 2020 Olympics. 
  2. Increase my sustained cognitive and emotional energy to allow me show up as a strong leader in my corporate leadership position. 
  3. Ensure there is enough gas left in the tank to come home with an abundance of energy for Tash and the girls after the long days. 

What would your Peak Performance outcomes look like?

Starting with this question forces us to drive clarity and ownership of "Why" we're making the investment to improve our human performance equation.

Quantitative 

Thanks to ÖURA's dashboard, the results have been nothing short of mind blowing.

Comparison between time in bed and total time spent actually sleeping

Comparison between time in bed and total time spent actually sleeping

Amount of time spent awake throughout my sleep

Amount of time spent awake throughout my sleep

Overall sleep efficiency score 

Overall sleep efficiency score 

Qualitative

Looking back at my daily journal I can see the transformation taking place as I become holistically fuelled in an abundance of higher quality energy. 

Friday, November 3, 2017
5 AM
Wake up.
Feeling completely awake and rejuvenated, I could sleep for another 30 minutes but I'm not really interested.

5 game changing rituals that positively impacted sleep

The list of most impactful ingredients I tested during my experiments - these are all now part of my daily practice. 

1. Meditation 

10 minutes every night before bed

Keep it simple. I set an alarm, lie down on the floor, listen to running water through wireless headphones and practice a simple breathing technique. 

2. Intermittent Fasting (IF)

18-20 hour daily fast

This is the single biggest game changer in my energy, focus, recovery and resilience - possibly ever. The health benefits of IF are quite astonishing and only growing. I would recommend consulting a health coach (like Helena) before diving in.

3. Earthing 

Daily contact with the earth + earthing bedsheet

Earthing is simply the practice of physically connecting to the earth, facilitating access to the earth's natural energy field. Again the health benefits are significant include: dramatically help with inflammation, chronic pain and illness, physical recovery, stress and quality of sleep.

I now know why in the summertime I unconsciously create a ritual to work in the garden for 10 minutes every day when I get home. 

Because this ritual is less ideal in the Pacific Northwest Winter, I now use an earthing bedsheet from Earthing Canada that conducts the earth's energy field into the sheet via the 3rd prong of your electrical outlet (which I didn't know until recently serves an electrical grounding function and so is lodged directly into the earth!). 

4. cold thermogensis

IMG_1580.JPG

Accumulate 5 minutes of face submerged in ice cold water

I LOVE rituals that are simple, efficient and have an immediate and lasting impact on how I'm feeling. Stage 1 of Cold Thermogenesis is exactly this.

So what is cold thermogenesis and why is it so effective?

In short it has to do with our "Vagus Nerves". The job of our Vagus Nerves is to act as the information highway between everything happening in our body and brain. It tells the story of "what is going on in reality" so our brain can respond. 

Our Vagus nerve has fibers that run into our jaw and face. When you expose your face in ice cold water for an extended period of time (say more than a handful of seconds) you are training your Vagus nerve to slow down it's fight or flight response to the brain.

Not only did I notice feeling completely zen and relaxed after my 5 minute practice but as days went on my stress and emotional levels stabilized despite life getting more chaotic and taxing. 

5. Daily Journal and daily Gratitude

Energy, focus & mood report & 3 points of gratitude  

Since starting this experiment I have kept a running daily journal where along with the qualitative reporting I do I also document my high's and low's, flow states and energy crashes. 

Every morning I document 3 things I am grateful for. 

Again, the science is pretty clear here that simply documenting your appreciation on a regular basis makes you a happy and more healthy human being.

Own your equation. 

Start with Why. Define the outcomes you want to achieve. Set your baseline. Set up some qualitative and (if possible) quantitative tracking. 

Dive head first into sleeping and living as the very best version of yourself!

Want more?

Invite Tyrell to facilitate a human performance equation workshop.