Sleep is more than a place where dreams come true. It’s the foundation that helps you function at your highest level. After a good night of rest, you feel refreshed, reenergized, and ready to own the day. And yet rarely, if ever, do we prioritize sleep or think about how it influences every function in our work, wellness, and life. Sure you can run on adrenaline and caffeine for a while, but eventually a sleep deficit catches up with you.
A lack of sleep is associated with a slower metabolism, bad lipid profiles, higher blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, less muscle, and a greater likelihood of suffering from obesity. Need proof? People who sleep 4 hours or less per night are 70 percent more likely to be overweight. And those same sleep deprived people are likely to overeat. Its a vicious cycle that starts with not sleeping enough.
BOTTOM LINE: Lack of sleep = Stress on the body = weight gain, premature aging, hair loss, hormone imbalances, infertility, lowered immune function, and not living to your FULLEST potential. No bueno.
When you sleep, your body is in full recovery mode. Your brain refreshes itself so that you can think and process information clearly, while your muscles rebuild so you can look and feel better. That’s partially because sleep influences the hormones in your body. Uninterrupted sleep boosts growth hormone and testosterone, which help you recover quicker, feel better, have more energy, build more lean muscle tissue, and even age better. On the contrary, not sleeping enough increases cortisol, the stress hormone that makes your life miserable and turns your body into a storage room for fat. In other words: a well-rested body functions at its best.
So what’s the magic number? How many hours of sleep do you need per night to look, feel, and live your best? It varies with age, and there really isn’t one correct answer. You have to find the amount that works for you. Six hours of sleep should be a minimum, and most research indicates that 7 to 8 hours is ideal. But, like anything else in life, too much sleep isn’t good either. The occasional 10 hour night is okay, but when it happens more frequently, it will ultimately shortchange your energy.
Instead of just focusing on hours, FOCUS ON QUALITY. Not all sleep is equal, and the better your sleep, the more energy you’ll have to accomplish ALL of your responsibilities, reach your goals, achieve your ideal weight, and kick serious life butt. High quality sleep also improves your mood and memory, and it boosts immunity so you’re not as likely to be sick. I typically get about 7 hours of rest, all of which is high quality. That means Im sleeping throughout the night with minimal disruptions, and I’m spending time in REM sleep, the restorative part of the sleep cycle where dreams occur.
Unfortunately, many of us suffer from sleep disruption (I used to be one of them!), meaning we have trouble falling asleep or we wake up repeatedly throughout the night. Other than emptying your bladder, you should not be waking up. Either problem reduces your sleep quality and can disrupt your hormones. So even if you rest for 8 hours, if its poor quality, you won’t receive all the restorative and recovery benefits of a good nights sleep. Ok Sleeping Beauty, you want to get the most out of your time in the sack? Here are my suggestions for getting the rest you need for optimal performance, energy, and a healthy life:
Healthy Sleeping Guide. Get the Zzzz’s YOU need to Succeed.
Factors that Disrupt Your Sleep. Here are a few things to watch out for or eliminate if you want to improve the quality of your sleep:
- REMOVE the TV Laptops, iPads, and iPhones from the bedroom. The LED from these devices is the last thing you need before drifting off to sleep. Also work to remove bright lighting and use soft warm lighting in your bedroom. Use thick curtains or blinds to remove natural light if you plan to sleep past dawn.
- Read your labels on Medications and Supplements. If you take medications or supplements, you might be consuming substances that disrupt your sleep without knowing it. Some supplements contain the stimulants ginseng and guarana, which have an effect that is similar to caffeine. Some headache and cold medications also contain caffeine and other stimulants. Medications like steroids and beta-blockers can also keep you awake at night. Check ingredient labels closely and talk with your doctor if you suspect that a prescription medication or supplement is disrupting your sleep.
- Say no to the night cap. You may feel like a glass of wine or beer makes you feel drowsy, helping you sleep better. It’s true that alcoholic drinks may make you drowsy enough to fall asleep quickly, but once your blood alcohol level drops 2 to 3 hours later, you are likely to wake up. This prevents you from falling into the deep sleep that helps you wake up feeling rested.
- Midnight munchies. Do your best to avoid the late night snacks and midnight meals. Late night eating can negatively affect your digestion and keep you up past bedtime. If you are hungry late at night it may be because you havent had enough to eat throughout the day, are bored, over-tired, or have simply created a late night eating habit that you are addicted to. Because this is a real issue for so many, I wrote: “End to the Late Night Binge” an article with suggestions to help you avoid staying up late with food. Remember: if you are up late eating, you aren’t sleeping and digesting isn’t resting! Work to undo late night love affairs with food and close the kitchen at a reasonable time so that you can get some real rest.
Overtraining. This is an easy trap to fall into, simply because it’s often the natural progression for many accomplished athletes or trainees looking to increase their work or improve their performance: work harder, work longer.
But too much exercise may cause you to feel restless, excitable, and unable to sleep in your down time. If you are an athlete or a workout lover who struggles to get quality sleep, check your training log and be honest with yourself. Work with a coach or personal trainer to assess your current workout load and plan a program that allows for periodization, rest, and recovery. I always know when Im overdoing it on workouts when after a tough couple days of training Im tired but unable to sleep!
Things that HELP You Sleep. If you are struggling to make it through the night, try one of these techniques which can help you experience deep sleep and start living with more energy.
- Create a Zen sleeping environment. Your sleep environment is extremely important for sleep quality. Artificial light, warm temperatures, sudden noises, and EMFs can all effect sleep quality, but these things are almost always fixable. Again, you’ll have to experiment to figure out what works best for you, but in general, it helps to have dark curtains, a soothing setting, fluffy pillows, and calm colors. Aim to keep the temperature around 65–68 degrees and always below 70 degrees.
- Have regular acupuncture treatments. It really works, I swear by it.
- Take a hot shower or an epsom salt bath. The magnesium in epsom salts has been proven to soothe sore muscles and promote deep relaxation. You can read my epsom salt bath secrets here.
- Exercise regularly. Doing so will help improve your sleep quality. However if you are sensitive to stimulation, exercise in the morning or afternoon (not the evening) to allow your body time to come down from the endorphin energy rush and prepare for sleep.
- Again: Leave the iphone, ipad, and computer OUT of your bedroom
- Have a “bedtime” for your tech. Being online is stimulating and will get your brain whirling. Aim for no facebooking, texting, tweeting, email checking, or web surfing at least 30–60 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
- Foam roll tight muscles. A little self massage can be meditative and help ease tension from the day.
- Journal. It doesn’t have to be an essay, simply jotting down a few things you are grateful for each night ends the day on a high note.
- Stretch or do a restorative yoga video. Ive included a few below and there are more fabulous free videos on Youtube here.
- Have a brain dump. Take a piece of paper and write down ANY thoughts that are on your mind before bed. To-do lists, ideas, reminders — just put it all on paper so you can rest knowing it will still be there tomorrow.
- Avoid caffeine after noon
- Take magnesium ( 400–600 milligrams) 30–60 minutes before bedtime. I use the Solgar Magnesium Citrate Tablets and take them nightly.
- Visit your doctor and have your adrenal glands and hormone levels checked.
- Listen to a white-noise machine or relaxation CD.
- Meditate. Use the easy and effective Headspace App or try out some free meditations on YouTube.
- Read (I’m ALL about it!)
- Drink chamomile and lime blossom tea before sleeping
- Try some white noise like sounds of rain, ocean or use a fan to whir you to sleep.
- Try sleep affirmations. Affirmations are simple statements you say to yourself that help to insert positive ideas and suggestions into your brain where they can be surprisingly effective. It is a form of constructive self-talk. repeat statements like, “My body gets the rest it needs”, “I fall to sleep easily and deeply”, “I am relaxed and peaceful”.
- Put lavender on your pillows
- Invest in a good mattress (you spend ⅓ of your life sleeping — it’s worth it). This memory foam mattress is heaven.
- Take extra time for self care at the end of the day. Brush your hair, wash and moisturize your face, floss and brush and rinse with mouthwash. Do whatever it is that makes you feel clean, fresh and relaxed.
While all of the above tips are great, they will only work for you if you make it a habit! Create a Sleep Routine for yourself. We are creatures of habit, and behavior, not just environmental, external cues, helps set our body’s rhythms. Take all or some of the suggestions from this post and put together a pre-sleep ritual that you try to stick to every day. Maybe it’s turning off the lights at 6 and switching to candles, followed by a cup of herbal tea, a quick foam roll self-massage, and a good book before bed. Taken individually, each item might have an effect on your sleep, but taken as a whole, they become a standard ritual that you do every night to prepare your body for sleep and that acts as a cue to your circadian clock to slow down and get ready for bed.
If you want to look, feel, and BE your best, you’ve got to get your beauty rest! Whats your #1 sleeping tip for success? Leave your snooze secrets as a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
Sweet dreams my friends,
Want to build a balanced body? Check out my book, Balanced Body Breakthrough and get your mind, body, and spirit in great shape so you can love your life.
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Originally published at www.carolinejordanfitness.com on March 1, 2015.
Originally published at medium.com