Sleep Toolkit - Tools for Optimizing Sleep & Sleep-Wake Timing by Best Personal Trainer in Dubai UAE Abhinav Malhotra Team AbhiFit

Sleep Toolkit: Tools for Optimizing Sleep & Sleep-Wake Timing

Everyone should make efforts to optimize their sleep. In this article we take a deep dive into all things related to optimizing sleep. Behavioural and supplement-based approaches to enhance sleep quality and duration have been described, and the impact of sleep and wakefulness practices.

Importance of Sleep

High-quality sleep is critical! Sleep is the foundation of mental health, cognitive health, and performance. During sleep, our body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health.

It also controls things like the immune system, wound healing, skin health and appearance, whether we can think clearly or not, whether we suffer from dramatic age-related cognitive decline or not. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

Getting inadequate sleep over time can raise risk of chronic (long-term) health problems. It can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

High-quality sleep is critical.

Tools of Sleep & Wakefulness

Your brain and nervous system control whether you move or don’t move. They control whether you’re digesting food or you’re not. They control whether you’re stressed or not, happy or sad, etc. What controls all this is housed inside your skin and skull. That might seem obvious, however what that means is that for your brain and body to feel alert and focused, ready to move and exercise or do some work, or if your brand and body is going to lie down and go to sleep, well, that brain and body needs cues, it needs inputs, to determine when to do those different things. And those cues and inputs arrive through a defined set of what I’ll call stimuli, but you can also think of these as tools.


The main tools that are going to allow you to control when you are awake and when you are asleep and to get better sleep every single night is light which could be from sunlight and artificial light and darkness which is the absence of light. So we’ve got light and darkness. Those are two very powerful tools to encourage your nervous system to be in one state or another, meaning awake or asleep.


Temperature is another tool. Turns out that when your body is cooling down, you have a greater tendency to fall and stay asleep. In fact, every night when you actually sleep, your body is dropping by one to three degrees and that drop in temperature is required. It’s like a gate that your body has to go through in order for you to get into sleep. And in fact, the converse is also true. If your body heats up by one to three degrees or so, you will wake up.


And of course, exercise. Exercise comes in different forms. We can do cardiovascular exercise that can be low-intensity, long-distance exercise. It can be high intensity, so-called high intensity interval training. It could be weight training. It could be yoga. It could be swimming, any number of different activities.

Exercise, in general, causes an increase in body temperature and tends to make us more alert, not just during the exercise, but in the immediate hours after that exercise. Exercise does some other things that relate to our sleep as well.


Another tool for adjusting your sleepiness and wakefulness is caffeine. This, of course, comes as no surprise to people, but why and how caffeine works might come as a surprise. Very briefly, we have a molecule in our body called adenosine and the longer we have been awake, the more adenosine builds up in our brain and body and adenosine is part of the reason why we get sleepy. Caffeine effectively operates as a adenosine antagonist. It works by basically occupying the receptor for adenosine. So, it’s a little bit of a convoluted mechanism.

Basically, all you need to know is that caffeine prevents the actions of adenosine. That’s one of the reasons why caffeine makes us feel alert. But how much caffeine we drink and when we drink caffeine turns out to be vitally important for adjusting our wakefulness and for optimizing our sleep.


Food, we mean what we eat, when we eat, and the amount that we eat is another important tool.


The other category of tools which are immensely powerful for optimizing sleep are supplements. There now exist as many as eight different supplements that can powerfully modulate sleep in healthy ways and that have huge margins for safety.

There are three supplements, magnesium threonate, apigenin, and theanine, which together can enhance the speed at which one falls asleep and people’s ability to stay asleep and to get into those deep stages of sleep that are particularly restorative.

Digital Tools

And then last in our list of general categories of tools for optimizing sleep are digital tools. Now, when we say digital tools, I don’t necessarily mean devices. What I mean are things like non-sleep deep rest scripts. These are zero-cost scripts that you listen to that take your body through some deep relaxation and that can help people both fall asleep, stay asleep, fall back asleep, and get better at sleeping, that you can access on YouTube and elsewhere in various apps that can really help you optimize your sleep.

Description of Tools

First Tool – Sunlight

Our 24-hour day cycle starts when we wake up in the morning. For some of you, that will be 5:00 a.m. For others of you, that will be 10:00 a.m. Most people wake up sometime between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. But regardless of when one wakes up in the morning, one of the first things that happens is that body temperature increases and that just happens naturally. Some of it is going to be the consequence of our moving around a bit, but really the increase in body temperature is one of the main triggers for why one wakes up in the first place. That increase in body temperature in turn causes an increase in the release of a hormone called cortisol.


Cortisol is often discussed as a stress hormone, but it’s not just associated with stress. It also enhances your immune system provided cortisol is elevated at the right times, and the right time for cortisol to be elevated is when you first wake up in the morning. That increase in cortisol is also going to increase metabolism. It’s also going to increase your ability to focus mentally and for you to move your body.

Cortisol is also, at times, demonized and its elevated level is considered as bad thing. Too much cortisol can cause some of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes. And indeed, you don’t want cortisol to be chronically or consistently elevated throughout the day or night. But you do want cortisol to reach its peak early in the day right about the time you wake up. One way that you can ensure that that cortisol peak occurs early in the day right about the time that you wake up is to view bright light, ideally from sunlight, within the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking. That’s right, view bright sunlight within the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking.

Therefore, you want to trigger cortisol increase to occur very early in your day, and you don’t want that cortisol peak to happen later, which is what will happen if you wait to get outside and see sunlight. The reason for this is that you have a set of neurons, nerve cells, in your eye. They’re called intrinsically photosensitive melanopsin cells, but you do not need to know that name. Those neurons respond best to bright light, and especially right after waking early in the day, they are best able to signal to a set of neurons that reside over the roof of your mouth called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is a cluster of neurons that then sends a huge number of other signals, electrical and chemical, out to your entire body that triggers that cortisol increase, provides a wake-up signal for your brain and body, and sets in motion a timer for you to fall asleep later that night.

What not to do

Never look at any light, sunlight or otherwise, that’s so bright that it’s painful to look at because you can damage your eyes. But for this morning sunlight viewing, it’s best to not wear sunglasses. It is fine to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, in fact, those will serve you well in this practice or this tool because they will focus the light onto your neural retina and onto those melanopsin intrinsically photosensitive ganglion cells. If your eyeglasses or contact lenses have UV protection, that’s okay. There are so many different wavelengths of light coming from the sun and they are bright enough that they will trigger the mechanisms that you want triggered at this early time of day. So, try and get outside, ideally within the first five minutes of waking or maybe it’s 15 minutes, but certainly within the first hour after waking.

Another key thing is do not, just don’t try and get this sunlight exposure through a windshield of a car or a window, whether it’s tinted or otherwise. It takes far too long. It’s simply not going to trigger the relevant mechanisms. You would be standing there all day trying to get enough light into your eyes from the morning sunlight and by then the sun will have already moved from low solar angle to overhead and it simply won’t work for all sorts of mechanisms related to your circadian rhythm functions. So just don’t try and do it through a windshield, sunglasses, or a window. It’s just not going to work.

What to do

It’s nice to get outside first thing in the morning and get this sunlight. In fact, when you start doing this, you’ll notice that your body will start to feel more energized, and it will feel more energized more quickly. You’ll start to notice this mechanism kicking in each day, especially if you’re paying attention to your physiology. So, enjoy this practice of getting outside. Yes, you can take your morning beverage outside. Yes, you can take your dog with you. In fact, animals intuitively know to get this morning sunlight.

Fundamentally speaking, get that morning sunlight viewing. You will be grateful to yourself that you did. It makes everybody feel better, feel more alert, and it will greatly assist with your ability to fall and stay asleep later that night.

Second Tool – Temperature

You will also want to leverage not just light, but temperature as a tool. If you are inclined, it would be wise to try and increase your core body temperature a bit more quickly than it would otherwise if you were to just, you know, shuffle around outside, get your sunlight, maybe read a little bit, et cetera, and there are two main ways you can do that.

The first way is to get into cold water of some sort, and this could be a cold shower.

of anywhere from one to three minutes. This could be an ice bath if that’s your thing. It could be a cold tub, or if you own a cold tub that’s specifically designed for deliberate cold exposure. Get under some cold water. That will certainly wake you up. And if you’ve ever jumped into cold water or had a cold shower, you know it really wakes you up because you release adrenaline, epinephrine, from both your brain and body, the body from your adrenals and your brain from a little cluster of neurons called locus coeruleus. One to three minutes of cold-water exposure will wake you up because of that adrenaline release and, and it will serve to increase your core body temperature.

That’s right, your body and brain interact as a bit of a thermostat system where if you put something cold on the surface of your body, your brain, a little cluster of neurons in the so-called medial preoptic area, act as a thermostat and say, “Ah, the external of my body is cold and therefore I’m going to heat up my core body temperature.”

So, it’s a little bit paradoxical. People think, oh, if you get into cold water or into an ice bath, your body temperature is going to drop. And indeed, that’s true if you stay in for a while, but if you just get in for about one to three minutes, or under the cold shower for one to three minutes, your core body temperature will increase. So then when you get out of that cold water, your body temperature is increasing at a rate, at a slope, that’s steeper than it would otherwise and you’re going to feel more alert. It also has the advantage of increasing not just adrenaline, but dopamine, which is a molecule involved in motivation, focus, etc. So, this is great for waking up.

Third Tool – Exercise

One of the best ways to increase your core body temperature early in the day is to do exercise.

Some of you might choose to do your full-blown workout for the day first thing when you wake up in the morning, I would say the best time to exercise, at least what the research points to, is immediately when you wake up in the morning or three hours after waking or 11 hours after waking. But that’s really getting down into optimization for sake of muscular strength and grip strength.

However, if you want to be alert early in the day and you want to sleep great at night, get that bright sunlight, get into some cold water, and if you don’t want to get into some cold water, try and get some movement. It could be a walk. So, you can get your sunlight exposure while you’re taking a walk first thing in the morning. It could be a light jog. It could be skipping rope for about 10 minutes or 20 minutes while looking at the sun.

Therefore, try and get your core body temperature increased first thing in the morning, and a great way to do that is with exercise. And again, it doesn’t have to be your full-blown workout for the day if you’re doing workouts consistently, which I hope everybody is because everybody really should exercise at least, I believe, five or six, or maybe even seven days a week.

Fourth Tool – Caffeine

The next category of tool for use early in the day is caffeine. Caffeine is a very important compound to think about. Some people who are prone to anxiety, especially panic attacks, anxiety attacks, might avoid caffeine entirely. That’s fine. You do not have to drink caffeine. What I’m about to describe are ways to leverage caffeine use to optimize sleep and wakefulness if you are comfortable with caffeine.

It is important to note that smoked varieties of caffeine seem to carry some carcinogenic, some cancer-causing risk. There’s increasing data on that. So non-smoked varieties are recommended.

Caffeine is something that a lot of people consume early in the day. How much depends on your tolerance, and there’s a lot of individual variability here. Again, caffeine is an adenosine antagonist, or effectively works as an adenosine antagonist and limits sleepiness. I highly recommend that everybody delay their caffeine intake for 90 to 120 minutes after waking. However painful it may be to eventually arrive at that 90 to 120 minute after waking, you want, and I encourage you, to clear out whatever residual adenosine is circulating in your system in that first 90 to 120 minutes of the day. Get that sunlight exposure, get some movement to wake up, and then, and only then, start to ingest caffeine.

And if you drink caffeine at any point throughout the day, really try and avoid any caffeine, certainly avoid drinking more than a hundred milligrams of caffeine after 4:00 p.m. and probably even better to limit your last caffeine intake to 3:00 p.m. or even 2:00 p.m. And for many people, shifting that caffeine intake from immediately after waking in the morning to 90 to 120 minutes gives them a much longer arc of energy throughout the day and they don’t feel the need to drink more caffeine later in the afternoon. If you do drink caffeine later in the afternoon, really try and limit the total amount or drink decaf. Certainly, keep the total amount to less than a hundred milligrams if you are interested in getting into the best possible sleep.

Fifth Tool – Food

The other tool that you have available to you is food. Not just what you eat, but when you eat. And it turns out that if you eat early in the day, you support a biological clock mechanism that will make you more alert early in the day.

That said, many people choose to fast in the early morning hours of the day or in the first part of the day. However, some people are hungry when they wake up in the morning.

Just know that if you eat early in the day, you are further triggering an increase in metabolism and in temperature that will make you more alert. So, you don’t have to eat early in the day, but you can start to see how these different tools layer together. Sunlight viewing, exercise, cold water, eating. Many of them are converging on the same mechanisms. In fact, when you drink caffeine, there’s also a small increase in body temperature due to the adrenaline increase that it stimulates. So, all of these things can be layered on top of one another, or you can use them individually or think about them individually.

Food is an interesting tool because it’s not just about when you eat, but it’s also about what you eat.

If you eat a very large meal, it doesn’t matter if you slept terrifically well 10 hours the night before or if you are about to go to sleep or if it’s the middle of the afternoon, if your gut is full of food, there’s just a large volume of food in your gut, it’s going to divert a lot of blood and other critical resources away from other organs of your body, in particular, your brain, and you’re going to be sleepy after eating a big meal.

So, if you eat a huge breakfast, it’s likely that you are going to be tired immediately after eating that breakfast unless of course you exercise very hard prior to that and you metabolize all that food very quickly. It’s up to you whether to eat first thing in the morning or not. But if you do eat in the first few hours of the morning, just understand that you are setting or you are helping to set a food entrained, as it’s called, circadian clock.

A circadian rhythm, or circadian cycle, is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.

Light, temperature, movement and exercise, timing of food intake, all these things literally funnel-in in a neural sense, they funnel into this thing that we call the circadian clock and they let that clock, that set of neurons, predict when you are likely to be eating and active and viewing sunlight the next day and the next day and the next day.

Autonomic Timing

The reason we’re talking about these things in the context of sleep is that they start to give your body some predictable autonomic timing. What is predictable autonomic timing? Well, your autonomic nervous system is the components of your brain and body that cause wakefulness and sleepiness and you can start to create some predictability in that autonomic timing. You can start to do things that really make it such that you naturally wake up at six in the morning or five in the morning.

That’s right, if you’re somebody who naturally likes to stay up until two in the morning and sleep until 10:00 a.m., and you now have a job or you have to go to school or you have a partner that likes to get up early and go to sleep early, well, you can make that happen and you can make that happen pretty painlessly if you take a week or so and go to sleep 30 minutes or an hour earlier each night, set an alarm and wake up 30 minutes or an hour earlier each morning until, of course, you’re waking up at the time you want to wake up, and then even in that groggy state, get some exercise, get some sunlight viewing. If the sun’s not out, turn on those bright artificial lights. Have some breakfast, even if you’re not hungry. In fact, for those of you that engage in shift work because you must, or travel and you’re jet lagged, one of the quickest ways to shift your circadian clock and get onto the local schedule is to eat on the local schedule.

Sixth Tool – Supplements

There are some supplements and supplement protocols that can also assist in the ability to fall and stay asleep and that can adjust anxiety and that do not seem to disrupt sleep architecture in negative ways and, in fact, can enhance the depth and quality of sleep architecture.

Okay, so you’ve done everything correctly up until now. You got your morning routine right. You’ve got your afternoon routine. You saw some sunlight in the afternoon. You avoided caffeine in the eight hours or 10 hours before bedtime. You’re not drinking alcohol. You’ve cooled down the room. You’re doing all these things right. You’ve dimmed the lights, etc. What else can we do to optimize our sleep?

Well, I always say behavioural tools first, then look to nutrition, then, if necessary, look to supplementation, and then, if still necessary, look to prescription drugs obviously prescribed by a board-certified physician.

There are supplements that for most people will greatly improve their ability to fall and stay asleep and the three main supplements in that category or that kit of sleep supplements are magnesium threonate, apigenin, and theanine.

First of all, you don’t necessarily need to take all three, although, many people get a synergistic effect from taking all three. In fact, you may not even need to take even one. What I recommend is that if you’re already doing all the behavioural tools regularly and you’re still having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, well, then you might try one of the supplements within this sleep stack. They do have fairly wide margins for safety.

For many people, taking 145 milligrams of magnesium threonate can be very beneficial. That’s the dosage that most people will benefit from. Some people need to go a little higher. Some people need to go a little bit lower. One of the reasons that we’ve been pointing people towards single-ingredient formulations these days is because it allows people to adjust the dosage of one component of a so-called sleep stack without having to disrupt the dosage of another component, and so on.

Again, all of this is about finding the supplementation protocol that’s ideal for you. I should mention that whether you’re taking one or two or three of the components of the sleep stack, the ideal time to take those supplements is 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, especially if you haven’t had anything to eat for the three hours or so before bedtime.

Seventh Tool – Digital

Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR), or yoga nidra, is the kind of rest you get when your body is in a relaxed state, but your mind is still awake. NSDR can accelerate neuroplasticity.

Non-sleep deep rest protocol is available on YouTube, so available to anybody and at zero cost provided you have an internet connection. Again, dim the screen if you’re going to turn that on late at night. And there are several other yoga nidra scripts and apps and sources around the internet on YouTube, that are zero cost that you could use.

There are paid apps as well which you can search online and try which one suits you.

Some Other Tools

Eye masks

Do eye masks improve your ability to stay asleep? Indeed, they do, provided they are not too tight and provided that the room is cool enough. Why? Well, eye masks cover the upper half of your face, which is where glabrous skin is localized. Remember, palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, glabrous skin on the face. So, a lot of people who wear eye masks will wake up because they’re too warm if the room is too warm. So, if you’re going to use an eye mask to keep light out, make sure the room and your sleeping environment and your bed are cool enough for you to stay asleep.

Ear plugs

Some people find that earplugs are very beneficial because, of course, they prevent the entrance of sound into the ear that could wake us up. But some people find that the sound of their own beating of their own heart can be disruptive, and they get a sort of humming in their head when they have those earplugs in. So, it’s up to you. You must see whether those earplugs help or disrupt your sleep.

Elevated feet

Elevating your feet either with a pillow or by elevating the end of your bed by about three to five degrees can be beneficial for increasing the depth of sleep because of the so-called glymphatic washout. This is the movement of and circulation of fluids in your brain at night that leads to more wakefulness and can improve cognitive function and several other things related to brain health. There’s one caveat to that. For people that suffer from acid reflux, having your ankles elevated above your chest or above your heart in the middle of the night can exacerbate that acid reflux. You want to do the opposite. You want to elevate the head side of your bed by about three to five degrees.

Nose breathing

Now, one of the common causes of sleep disruption that has tremendously detrimental effects is so-called sleep apnea. This is basically bouts of suffocation or lack of oxygenation during sleep. This is particularly the case for people that are very heavyset, and that heavyset could be from obesity, it could also be heavyset from having too much muscle. A lot of people who are carrying too much muscle will have sleep apnea without realizing it. Sleep apnea is actually very dangerous. It’s associated with several cardiovascular issues. It’s associated with sexual dysfunction. It’s associated with issues with cognition.

Sleep apnea is bad. A lot of people will have to use the PAP, which is a device. It looks like a sort of like a snorkel mask or a dive mask. It’s a whole apparatus that people will go to sleep with. However, many people can relieve themselves of sleep apnea provided it’s not too serious and can sleep much better, in fact, I think all people can sleep much better, if they train themselves to be nose breathers while they sleep. There are a lot of reasons to be a nose breather unless you are breathing very hard due to exercise or talking or eating. ‘Anulom Vilom’ pranayama, a yogic breathing technique helps in this. It’s a good idea to be a nose breather unless you need to mouth breathe. And it’s a great idea, it’s a superb idea, to be a nose breather in sleep.

Please contact me Abhinav Malhotra to learn what I and my team AbhiFit can do for you through personal training and nutrition services. We train kids, teens, adults, elders, athletes and models in Dubai and online across the UAE and around the world. We help our clients achieve their fat loss, weight loss, muscle gain, strength gain, rehab, figure / physique transformation & healthy living goals.

Many female and male clients including kids, teens, adults and elderly people have greatly benefited from Abhinav’s strong experience as the best personal trainer and nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. You can see some of our client transformations here here.

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1. Link

Client Transformations - Best Personal Training and Trainers in Dubai, UAE – Abhinav Malhotra, Team AbhiFit - 8 August 2022
Boosting Immunity through Diet and Exercise - Dubai UAE Best Personal Fitness Trainer Abhinav Malhotra

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About Author

Abhinav Malhotra

Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.

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