Sleep affects everything.
No, seriously, the amount and quality of your sleep dictates your bodyweight, your energy levels, and your performance in the gym and day to day life.
There are mixed messages regarding sleep. Some people argue that you can get by on 5-6, some quote the old adage of ‘8 hours a night’, and then there are the camp that believe the more the better.
Obviously it’s hard to escape the social media war between celebrities getting up earlier and earlier than each other in a bid to see who can wake up and hit the gym first, but there’s something to be said for getting up and getting your workout in early.
First let’s look at what nature dictates about our sleep and energy patterns, and then we can look at how to improve the sleep we’re getting, both quantity and quality.
Sleep and the Circadian Rhythm
We are driven by nature and rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm is a 24hr process that all of nature experience, and this dictates the hormonal response in our bodies related to sleep and energy.
In essence this is dictated by the Sun and natural light, our bodies are geared to wake up at Dawn and go to bed at Sunset. This is reflected by hormone production.
The hormones that affect sleep and energy levels the most are cortisol and melatonin.
Not to get too scientific about it all, cortisol is released in response to stress, and melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulation of sleep.
Cortisol is at it’s highest in the morning and gradually lessens throughout the day. As cortisol comes down in the afternoon melatonin starts to rise, preparing the body for sleep.
Already then you can draw the assumption that your body is going to be more geared to training earlier in the day.
If you train later in the day, you’re going to raise cortisol again and dampen melatonin, which could have a knock on effect of you winding down and getting good sleep.
Of course, if you HAVE to train later in the day, then it might be worth looking into going to bed later, and then getting up later, so that your sleep quantity and quality aren’t affected. However, if this is not possible, then it may be worth looking at your training schedule and seeing if you can push it forward.
How To Improve Our Sleep
Obviously the easiest route to more sleep is go to bed earlier and/or get up later.
The usual recommendation of 7-9 hours is bang on, depending on individual activity levels, so experiment and see what works best for you.
However, the quality of most people’s sleep is terrible, and must be improved.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re not sleeping well. This in itself is feedback enough.
Here are my top actionable tips for improving the quality of your z’s.
#1 – Stop watching TV and looking at your phone in bed
If there’s a TV in your room, get rid of it.
Honestly, sell it on eBay.
And put your phone on charge in the corridor.
Buy an alarm clock. If you improve your sleep, you probably won’t need it anyway.
And if you’re checking your emails on your phone outside of working hours anyway, you need a slap.
Turn off those notifications when you leave the office and focus on being at home when there.
If it’s important, someone will ring you, if not, it can wait until 9am the next day.
Looking at screens before bed stimulates our brains and dampens the melatonin production, thereby affecting how fast we drop off to sleep.
Reduce your screen time for the 30-60 minutes prior to sleep, and you’ll notice the difference immediately.
#2 – Sleep in a completely dark, cold room
Blackout curtains are a must in my opinion.
If this isn’t possible, have blinds underneath your curtains, or invest in a mask.
Any form of light can inhibit melatonin production.
The colder temperature also helps your body relax and drop off.
#3 – Perform a ‘Brain Dump’
If you find you can’t switch off in bed, this one is for you.
Grab a pen and paper (because no phones remember) and write down everything that’s in your head.
Write down your to-do list for tomorrow, the worries in your head, anything that’s there.
Once it’s all on paper, set it down and forget about it, it’s the paper’s issue now.
#4 – Have an Epsom Salts bath before bed.
Relaxing in a nice hot bath can help the cooling process before bed (once you’re out of course).
Epsom salts also contain magnesium, which helps with overall muscle recovery and calms the body, promoting better sleep.
This could also be a great way to unplug from the world briefly, and read that book you’ve been wanting to. This leads nicely to the last point.
#5 – Read Fiction Before Bed
Reading something light can take your mind off the daily grind and into a story.
This will help your mind and body relax and prime yourself for a relaxing night.
Obviously this is best with a normal book (remember no screens) however a Kindle paperwhite tries to reflect a normal page screen and is minimal blue light.
#6 – Manage Your Stress During the Day
There are several ways to do this.
Get outside during the day and connect to nature again. Go for a walk and enjoy the natural light and life away from the computer/phone.
Meditation is another great tool to reconnect to our bodies and manage our stress levels.
Simply by slowing down, connecting to our breath and bodies, can help us relax and resolve the stress within us.
Don’t Aim for Perfect, Aim for Better
Have a look at the information above and review your current sleep patterns and behaviours.
Choose one thing from the list above to implement in order to improve your sleep, and see how it works for you.
Don’t worry about being perfect and trying to do everything at once, just apply small changes and chip away at it.
Same thing goes for your nutrition and training 😉
As always, questions welcome in the comments.