Clean Up Your Sleep

The healthiest, longest living adults are the ones who sleep well and manage their stress correctly.

When you exercise on a regular basis, you know how your workouts suffer on days when you don’t sleep well. It’s also much easier to recover when you do sleep well. As coaches and athletes, we spend a lot of time planning out and performing workouts, but there has been a recent shift to place more and more emphasis on recovery from workouts. After all, a workout is only as good as a workout you can recover from.

When you exercise on a regular basis, you know how your workouts suffer on days when you don’t sleep well. It’s also much easier to recover when you do sleep well. As coaches and athletes, we spend a lot of time planning out and performing workouts, but there has been a recent shift to place more and more emphasis on recovery from workouts. After all, a workout is only as good as a workout you can recover from.

Electrical muscular stimulation, compression, soft tissue work, cupping, and ice baths might be pieces of the recovery puzzle, but none can compete with sleep as the most beneficial recovery technique, along with nutrition and hydration. This is where sleep hygiene comes in.

The Role of Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. In this article, we’re going to discuss the best ways to ensure a great night of sleep so you can recover from your workouts well, increase your productivity throughout the day, and improve your overall health.

We spend one-third of lives sleeping, so we really need to make the most of that time by maximizing the both our sleep quality and sleep quantity. In terms of exercise recovery, when we sleep our bodies repair broken down tissue, normalize stress and growth hormone levels, help us maintain healthy body fat levels, and increase our body’s ability to utilize oxygen and process fuel during exercise.

Honestly, we need to work on improving our sleep the way we work to improve our strength, endurance, or power in the gym. Most of you already know you that you need to get more sleep, but you also need to focus on the quality of your sleep.

You Must Get Enough Sleep

Let’s start with the length of sleep you need to recover and function well throughout the day. This is both the easiest and hardest place to start because time is a fixed asset in all of this.

The amount of sleep someone needs depends on the person, but a decent rule is 7-8 hours. Recent research on athletes shows that 9-10 is optimal, but we have to weigh what is optimal versus what is realistic. Research on athletes has shown that those who get less than 6 hours of sleep per night experience detrimental effects, so let’s stick with the 7-8 hours a night as our goal.

It doesn’t work if you sleep 6 hours a night during the week then 10 on the weekends, but monitoring your sleep debt is a good way to make sure you aren’t falling into a pattern of missing sleep. By keeping track of your sleep, you can compare your sleep numbers to how well you’re doing with your workouts or even with your fat loss or muscle gaining program.

This has been very helpful to me as a new dad this year because I’ve been able to average 7.8 hours over the past 9 months of my son’s life. Yes, there were nights where I didn’t get much sleep, but I tried to nap and sleep a little more when I could to make up for it. In order to get the sleep you need, you must set some rules when it comes to sleep.

Rule 1: Give Yourself a Bedtime

If I slept less one night, I set a hard rule of when I was going to bed the next night. Figure out what time you need to put the kids to bed, stop working, stop watching TV, get off the phone, or whatever else you do before bed and start getting ready to go to sleep.

It’s best to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day in order to establish a good rhythm for your body.

Rule 2: Sleep In When Possible

If I don’t have to go to work at my normal time, I’ll sleep in an extra 30-45 minutes to make sure I get enough sleep or to get some extra sleep to add to my positive debt. Use a sleep tracking app and it can really help focus hitting those sleep numbers.

We live in a time where working late and getting up early is glorified, but it really isn’t something to be proud of. Sleep deprivation is linked to overtraining, weight gain, depression, even car accidents.

So change what you need to in order to get those 7-8 hours a night. I’m sure if you audited your evening and morning and really looked at what you spend your time on, you’d see that you can work towards getting a little more sleep if you don’t already get it. Like I said, you only have so much time in a day, you need to prioritize your sleep.

Rule 3: Avoid Stimulants Before Bed

You can start improving your sleep quality by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.

I try not to have any caffeine after 4 pm. I know that seems early if I’m going to heading to bed at 10 pm but caffeine does affect your sleep whether you feel buzzed and energized at 9:30 or not. Caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants are understood to be bad for sleep, but a lot of people think alcohol is helpful because it can make you sleepy.

While alcohol is a depressant and makes you tired sometimes at first, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. Limit your drinking to one to two drinks in a day and try not to consume them 2-3 hours before bed.

Rule 4: Create a Sleep-Promoting Environment

You need to turn your bedroom into a sleep-promoting environment. Keep it quiet and dark. When people tell me they have a hard time sleeping I always ask if there’s a TV in their bedroom and the answer 9 times out of 10 is yes.

Get the TV out and use nightlights or dimmer lamps when getting ready for bed. My wife and I typically get ready for bed using a small table lamp in our room before bed. Light has a lot to do with our sleep cycle. Before alarm clocks, we went to bed when it was dark and we got up when it was light. Our bodies continue to do well in modern times by increasing the amount of natural light we’re exposed to during the day and decreasing the amount of light we’re exposed to at night.

This is where electronics come in, or should I say, get thrown out. One of the greatest things you can do for your sleep quality is to stop using electronics before bed—at least a half hour if not an hour or more. The more the better, honestly. It’s tough for me running my online personal training company, being a full-time personal trainer, teaching at a college part-time, and producing a podcast so I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at this one but I do stop watching TV and checking my phone about 30 minutes before bed.

Blue light from electronics actually decreases your body’s production of melatonin which is essential to sleep. What does increase melatonin though is natural light like candlelight or very dim light, which makes sense because it mimics the sun setting and our bodies respond to that. Stopping the use of electronics close to bedtime also allows us to reduce the noise before bed. Again, noise is like a stimulant, and that’s not helpful when we’re trying to wind down.

Another thing that helps promote a good sleep environment is keeping your room cool—67-68 degrees is best. Again, think about the sun going down at night. It gets cooler outside and that helps signal our bodies to wind down. Your body temperature actually drops a degree or two during sleep so a colder room helps with this. Some studies say 60-67 degrees is optimal for sleep but I really don’t think my wife will let me turn the thermostat down anymore, so 67 degree works for me.

Rule 5: Develop a Pre-Bed Routine

So we’ve talked about what not to do before bed, let’s get into what you can do to help you sleep better. You need to ease the transition from waking to sleeping gradually, so do things that help you relax like reading or taking a bath or a shower. Do some foam rolling or mobility work, drink some herbal tea, or anything else you find relaxing.

I like to take a prepare my overnight oats for the next morning, make my son’s bottle, brush and floss my teeth, and take a shower every night before bed. This routine relaxes me and the familiarity of it allows me to basically start turning off my brain so when I lay down, I’m out cold immediately.

My son’s routine is diaper, PJs, bottle, snuggles on my shoulder, then down to sleep for the night. This routine helps him sleep through the night most nights and if he gets off this routine, it really screws with his sleep. So we establish patterns to help our kids sleep, we really shouldn’t stop as adults, they just include different things.

Rule 6: Resist the Late Nap

Something else that can set you up for a bad night of sleep is napping, especially too close to bedtime. I know this sounds weird because more sleep is usually better, but napping too late in the day throws off the natural sleep rhythm and gives you kind of a half charge that keeps your body too wound up when you want to turn in for the night. I know some people need to nap because of busy work schedules, but the earlier you can nap, the better.

Rule 7: Eat Smart Before Bed

My last meal is usually a snack around 9 pm and normally is fruit and Greek yogurt with nuts or seeds. It’s not hard to digest and keeps me from waking up hungry in the middle of the night. Plus it helps me hit my daily calories.

Snacks can definitely help you sleep better, but it needs to be the right kind of snack. A pepperoni pizza 20 minutes before bed is not a solid choice. Any foods that cause indigestion or are basically difficult to digest should be avoided—nothing too spicy or sugary, and remember, no caffeine, so avoid chocolate before bed.

Also, try to stay hydrated throughout the day, but taper your water intake off as the evening goes on. You want to be hydrated, but not so much that you have to keep waking up to use the bathroom. If you get thirsty at night, keep water by your bed. When you wake up in the morning, drink a big glass of water and you’ll be off to a good start.

Rule 8: Work Out Regularly

A recent study noted that people with minor sleep disturbances improved after four months of brisk walking just 30 minutes four times a week. I know I keep going back to it, but back when humans got up when it was light out, we worked physical jobs until the sun went down, then we went to bed.

This is how our bodies are designed to work. We are supposed to be active throughout the day in order for our bodies to want to calm down and sleep to repair, regulate, and recharge at night. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just get some kind of physical activity during the day, even if it’s in short, 10-minute bouts several times a day.

Ideally, you should be doing a solid strength and conditioning program with mobility and prehab work for a host of other reasons, but just walking and moving around more during the day will help you sleep better at night.

Sleep Is Recovery

Keep in mind, sleep is the pinnacle in your post-exercise recovery, so take this just as seriously as your workouts and nutrition.

Beyond helping you recover and get fitter, sleep quality is essential in stress management which is one of the key factors in determining your longevity. The healthiest, longest living adults are the ones who sleep well and manage their stress correctly.

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