In the personal training world, I see clients coming to the gym tired and stressed on a daily basis. They come to see me because they want to feel better and most people think that a good hard workout will get them there. I might be doing myself out of business but the fact is if they were to adopt better sleeping habits they probably wouldn’t need to see me to feel a whole lot better.
How good is it when you wake up after a solid sleep, when your face is crinkled from some solid pillow time, your hair is a bird’s nest and you’re busting for a wee. You feel amazing and magically it somehow sets you up to have a great day. Getting quality sleep is more important than you realize but unfortunately in today’s environment sleep is neglected, with important health implications, so here is some information on why sleep is important and how to get more of it.
Precision Nutrition, Leo Babauta and Azza Callaghan from Peak 40 helped me write this article as I am by no means an expert when it comes to sleep. Details of where you can find more information and references are at the bottom of this article.
The most surprising thing I learned when researching this article was that we cut back on sleep because we choose to. Sure, there are diagnosed conditions that affect sleep but for the majority of us, it comes down to basic distractions that we have total control over and a lack of routine that inhibits us from getting the magical 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Did you know this about sleep?
The average adult gets about 7 hours of sleep per night. That sounds like a lot to most of us but 33% of the population in the US (where this study was undertaken) gets fewer than 6.5 hours per night. Now get this, studies suggest that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a 6-year period as people who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. You can actually lose weight by getting quality sleep but excessive sleep isn’t necessarily better: those who sleep more than 9 hours per night suffer the same fate as those who sleep less than 6 hours. That to me is bizarre but with the studies I’m doing at the moment around optimal health I’m learning more often that the body craves homeostasis. It loves balance.
Precision Nutrition state that; A study with 12 young, healthy, normal-weight men found that just two nights in a row with 4 hours of sleep (and no napping) resulted in lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. As low leptin and high ghrelin both stimulate hunger and appetite, the men reported higher overall hunger ratings, especially cravings for energy dense, processed foods like sweets, baked goods, and bread. No “jonesing” for kale and kidney beans. Thus, scientists speculate that deregulation of appetite hormones could be another reason that sleep deprivation results in body fat gains.
Sleep is that vital reset your body and brain needs. (Aaron Callaghan)
Let’s take a quick look at some of the problems that keep people from sleeping like the proverbial baby:
I’m not tired yet – Let’s say you usually go to sleep later, around 11:30 when you’re feeling really tired and ready for sleep, so if you go to bed earlier, you’re not tired enough to fall asleep. You stay up until you fall asleep on the couch or until your Facebook newsfeed reaches the previous day’s posts. Your waiting to be tired but actually, you are stimulating your brain and tricking it out of natural sleep preparedness.
I’m actually too tired – it’s possible to be so exhausted that sleep is difficult. You toss and turn and end up getting angry and frustrated making sleep even harder to reach.
I’ve got so many worries – you’ve got something spinning around in your head, so the sleep doesn’t come. Sometimes it’s replaying something that’s happened or things that someone said, and other times it’s worrying about something coming up, or planning stuff. Stuff that goes around and around in your head.
Computers — if you’re on your computer (often in bed), you might be tired but have a hard time sleeping because your mind isn’t unwinding plus the light emanating from screens such as your laptop, phone or tablet are tricking your brain into thinking its still day time.
The sleep checklist
So how do we solve the problems above and become baby-like in our sleep?
Exercise. A good hard workout or run, bike, walk or swim will get you nice and tired. A good yoga workout is a wonderful way to do that, as you learn mindfulness at the same time. Don’t workout right before bed, though. Most nights Georgia & I will turn the lights off, put a range of candles on and get on the floor to do numerous stretches and foam rolling. It’s a great time to moisturize and to do a quick 10-minute meditation (www.headspace.com)
Get up early. This is what I struggle with, big time but apparently you can get your body to shift its sleeping schedule by slowly getting up earlier. Try 15 minutes earlier than normal for a week, then another 15 minutes. If you get up earlier, you’ll be a bit tired during the day, and when it comes time to go to sleep, you’ll enjoy the rest. The most successful people I know get up early (excluding Tim Ferriss).
Establish a bedtime ritual. It takes some time to unwind the body and mind so at least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down. Make a cup of tea, do the dishes, put on you Jimmy Jams (pajamas), turn off the computer, phone, and iPad. Your inbox does not need to be empty! I’m in bed by 9:30 most nights with the aim of being asleep by 10. I read and this is the perfect way for me to tell my brain that, it’s time. This kind of ritual helps establish in your mind that it’s time to sleep, and your body takes this cue and begins to prepare itself.
Keep your room only for sleeping. Don’t eat, watch TV, use your computer, or do other kinds of activities in your room (settle down Fabio). Keep those activities in the living and dining rooms, so that when you go to bed, there’s just one thing to do. Sleep.
Focus your attention. Once you’ve done your bedtime ritual and unwound, and your body is nice and tired, you need to quiet the mind. A trick Leo Babauta suggests for doing that is: close your eyes and visualize what you did first thing today. That might be opening your eyes and getting out of bed. Then visualize the second thing you did — let’s say you peed and washed your face, or drank a glass of water. Then you started the coffee but first had to grind the beans. Visualize these tiny steps in detail. I never get past the first hour before I’m asleep. Another tactic is using a mantra…kinda like the counting sheep method but I say repeatedly to myself, I love myself. It seems like a weird thing to say but this mantra eliminates all negative thoughts and cuddles you with a warm embrace. As soon as your mind starts to wander bring it back with the mantra. Eventually, your brain will recognize this pattern and immediately put your body into deep sleep mode.
Change slowly. Be patient with sleeping changes — they are difficult, because when we are tired, our mind doesn’t have the discipline to stick to changes. Our body and mind want to do what they’re used to doing. It’s like any new habit….it takes time to form. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the process.
Keep a regular schedule. Our bodies like regularity. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night. While it might be unrealistic to do this seven days a week — especially if you have young children, but try to be as consistent as possible.
Keep alcohol and caffeine moderate.
Eat and drink appropriately. It’s preferable if you’re not digesting food at bedtime. Aim to have your dinner a few hours before bedtime. Sugar is everywhere…in so much food, especially processed food, so having dessert every night could inhibit good sleeping patterns. Save dessert for special occasions.
Do a brain dump. We’ve all done it: Stared at the ceiling, long after lights-out, obsessing about all the things we’re supposed to do tomorrow, tossing and turning and getting more and more stressed by the minute. Try this instead: In the evening, take a few minutes to write out a list of whatever’s bugging you like emails you need to send or reply to, calls you have to make, project ideas, creative thoughts, that thing you should have said to so-and-so… just get it out of your head.
Keep the room as dark as possible. Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain that signals to your body it is time for sleep. Making your room as dark as possible will maximize your melatonin production. Meanwhile, light — particularly blue light, which most electronics produce — inhibits melatonin production and makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. That’s why at home we use candles as much as possible.
Just like my post last week about forming new habits don’t implement all these changes at once go slowly and change one habit at a time. Make sleep a priority and save your Game of Thrones marathon for the weekend.
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