Sleep. It’s something we all do, everyday. Some longer than others, some deeper than others. But we sleep! And if you’re reading this article, you probably would like to learn how to sleep better. Am I right?
Before we dive any deeper into sleep, I want to preface this by saying this blog WILL NOT try to diagnose or solve any sleep related illness’ or other diagnosis. We will merely be covering the basics of sleep! In my experience, most of us can greatly benefit from the basics.
So why is sleep so important?
Sleep is by far the most important factor in ensuring that we are functioning optimally! More important than nutrition, exercise, not smoking, etc. The National Sleep Foundation has dubbed the chronically under-slept population “The Walking Tired.” Not quite a term of endearment.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to:
- Increase risk of injury and reduced pain threshold
- Greater susceptibility to sickness
- Decrease in testosterone levels
- Reduced physical and psychological performance
- Reduced motivation, learning ability and memory
- Increased anxiety, irritability, and mistakes
- Increase in body fat percentage
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Reverting to old habits
- Poor judgment of distance, speed, and/or time
This likely isn’t news to you, but what are you doing on a daily basis to improve your sleep?
In relation to stress affecting sleep: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it” – John Steinbeck
- Consistent exercise: A consistent commitment to daily movement can do wonders for sleep. 30-60min of exercise is best, but even just getting ample movement throughout the day will improve sleep quality and sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep). Goal: 10k steps or 30-60 minutes of exercise
- Consistent sleep and wake times: Going to bed and waking up at the same time will teach your body and mind when it should start winding down and release “sleep hormones”. Inconsistent sleep and wake times wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm. One night a week won’t ruin you, but creating habits is far more effective when you stick to it night after night. Even if you don’t get a lot of sleep, keeping it consistent will be beneficial
- Get outside: Consistent sleep and wake times are good for circadian rhythm but research shows that spending time outside in natural sunlight without sunglasses (if possible) for 10-30minutes a day is best. 5-10+ Minutes in the morning sun, and 5-10+ minutes in the afternoon sun, program your body clock and make going to bed and waking up on your own far easier.
- Sleep environment: A cool, dark, quiet room significantly increases sleep quality and time in deep sleep stages. Temp: 63-67, Dark: Blackout curtains or sleep mask (I’m a diva I wear one). No artificial light: Cellphones, TV, Computers, Etc. If you must use these items after 9pm I recommend using blue blocker glasses or at a minimum the blue blocking filters that many of these devices now have. Quiet: Fan App or White Noise App make for a great sleeping environment
- Diet: The big 3 that affect sleep: Alcohol, Carbohydrates, and Caffeine. Alcohol: useful tool for falling asleep, but the result is junk sleep. If you plan on drinking alcohol, the earlier the better (before 7pm). Carbohydrates: Healthy carbohydrates at dinner can help with “winding down” and falling asleep. Eat your highest carb meal in the evening if you have trouble falling asleep (sources: Rice, potatoes, quinoa, and whole grains) . AVOID SUGAR AND PROCESSED FOODS
- Stress: Physical and mental stress are the arch nemesis of sleep! Are you a worrier/high stress person? Make a worry list: write down anything that is on your mind causing worry and a brief action item beside each concern. This can provide a semblance of closure. Meditation, Yoga, a hot shower, reading, or listening to relaxing music can also put you in a better mental state to sleep.
Notice there was nothing about supplementation or time.
Supplements: Common supplements used for sleep: ZMA, Melatonin, SOM Sleep, Advil PM, ZZZQuill/Nyquil. These products will never provide you as much value as the lifestyle changes listed above. They may be a tool in your “sleep toolbox” but if you are relying on them, you’re missing the boat!
Time: When it comes to sleep we actually have a predisposition in our genetics that makes us a “Morning Lark” or “Night Owl”. Ask yourself when you feel most energized, motivated, or get your best work done. If you’re a morning lark: Go to bed early, get your work started early, and workout early. The night time wind down for you should start early too! Night owl: Go to bed later, and SLEEP LATER. Night owl that has to adapt to early rise times = walking tired.
Benefits of adequate sleep
- Motivation: You will be more motivated to take care of yourself, get work done, eat well, and exercise
- Recovery of muscle strength: You’ll recover faster from hard workouts, injuries, and stress
- Muscle glycogen: Your muscles will be able to store more energy to be used in your workouts, and power your day
- Stress regulation: Your cortisol levels will be more steady. Less energy crashes and cravings. You’ll also be more mentally resilient to the stressors of life
- Motor skill development: Improved balance, coordination, speed, strength, and power.
- Memory consolidation: Sharper memory and focus
How to tell if you aren’t getting enough sleep:
- Drowsiness: being tired all the time is not normal, it’s not a badge of honor, and it’s not something to really be proud of. Between 12-2 we all experience an urge to sleep. The degree at which you feel that urge is a pretty good indication if you are sleeping enough or not.
- Stress: Short fuse? If someone cuts you off in traffic do you get a visceral reaction? Chill out bro and get some sleep.
- Cravings: If you can’t seem to feel full no matter what you eat, or have cravings for certain foods. That’s a sign that you need more sleep
- Lousy workouts/Low Motivation: Don’t feel like yourself in your workout, or have less motivation or enjoyment to train? Sleep!
- Getting sick/Injured: It’s not normal to be injured often. If you find yourself battling sickness or injuries consistently, that is a sure sign that you are not getting adequate sleep.
- You can get too much sleep: No such thing
- Naps are bad: Naps are great if they are done right. Try a Nappuccino: drink a cup of coffee and then take a short nap. Caffeine takes about 20min to hit the body, you will wake up feeling supercharged
- 8 hours of sleep is ideal: Ideal can be different for everyone there is no perfect amount but chances are it’s between 8-10 hours
- Older people don’t need as much sleep: Less than 24 years old you need 9-10 hours, Over 24 years old you need 8-10
- You can store up sleep for the week ahead: You may be able to recover from a bad night or bender with a few nights of sleep, but you can’t bank up extra sleep over the weekend for the week ahead.
- Alcohol helps you sleep: Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it significantly impacts the quality of your sleep. You put your body in an extended state of stress when you drink. Think of it as forgetting to put your phone on the charger the night before.
- Sleep arguably the most important variable of health and wellness
- Natural sleep strategies are always more effective than supplements
- Like anything you can actually get better with sleep
- There are far greater risks to lack of sleep than just feeling tired
- Book: The Sleep Revolution
- Tech: Oura Ring or FitBit Sense