Sleep. It’s important. We all know that.
Yet for some reason, we all (myself very much included) struggle to get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis.
One potential reason is that many people like to wear “being tired” as if it’s a badge of honor. “If you’re not tired, you’re not working hard enough” they say.
If that doesn’t matter much to you, there are a few other reasons why sleep is important:
So, we get it. Sleep is important. But how do you get a good night’s sleep?
There are two factors to think about to get some Grade A sleep.
1. Sleep latency – how long it takes you to fall asleep
2. Sleep quality – how restful the sleep you do get actually is
Here’s a few ways to help improve both of them:
What you do during the day has a big role in falling asleep at night.
Feeling tired is controlled by Melatonin (a hormone your body naturally makes). Melatonin is influenced by light – that’s why you often hear turn off the lights at night to fall asleep. While that’s a good tip, Melatonin control starts earlier in the day. Getting plenty of sunshine during the day, signals your body that the entire day has passed and to shift to “sleep mode.” Sunshine during the day helps control your circadian rhythm)
Exercise has a similar effect as sunshine. Physical activity during the day helps signal to your body that you need to sleep. Your body needs to recover and repair itself.
For some people though, simply having a full night to sleep isn’t doable. So even if you fall asleep fast, you’re only able to get 5-6 hours in a row. Well, here’s another way to think about sleep…
Get Your Cycles In
Sleep has five different stages to it (cleverly named Stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Each stage is unique and important. The first two, are considered “light sleep”. Stage 3 and 4 are “deep sleep”. And Stage 5 is REM sleep (aka dream-time). It takes ~ 90 minutes to go through all five stages.
These stages explain why you can wake up after 20 minutes (still in light sleep) and feel good. But if you sleep one hour (deep sleep), you feel exhausted.
So if you know getting 7.5-9 hours of sleep isn’t possible, aim to get 5-6 cycles in over the day. That may look like sleeping for 6 hours at night (4 cycles) and then a 90 minute “nap” in the afternoon (1 cycle). You still get your 5 cycles in, but it’s spread out through the day. If you fall short by 1 cycle, try to get an extra cycle in the next day or on the weekend (sleep debt is a real thing – don’t go in debt for too long!).
While it may not be perfect, sleeping in 90 minute cycles is better than waking up feeling more tired than you went to sleep.
Now that you may be sleeping at multiple times throughout the day, it’s important to remember:
Keep a Consistent Schedule
Your body likes routine. Whether it’s eating times, workout times, or sleep times, you’re body thrives on consistency.
With sleep, going to bed and waking at the same time are key. Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time each day. 7 days a week.
Nobody likes hearing that. Sleeping in on the weekends is a treasured pastime. But if feeling rested is important to you, set an alarm to wake up on a Saturday. Yyou can still take a longer nap later in the morning like we talked about above. Just make sure you first wake up at the same time.
Falling asleep at the same time is a tricky issue. For most people, the reason we go to bed late isn’t because we’re too busy. It’s usually self-inflicted – counterintuitive but true, for me as well. How many times has this happened to you? You sit on the couch to watch an episode of your show, and the next thing you know, three hours have passed. Bed time came and went.
Setting an alarm to go to bed can be a huge reminder for many to actually go to bed.
Another way to remember to go to bed and help tell your body to fall asleep is to keep a regular bedtime routine. Most people have a morning routine: Alarm goes off. Roll out of bed. Cup of coffee. Get dressed. Another cup of coffee. And so on.
A bedtime routine could be as simple as: 1 hour before bed, shut off the t.v./phone. 30 minutes before bed, warm shower. 10 minutes before bed, meditate or breathing routine.
Do a Brain Dump
Thoughts and worries are pests. Especially as you are trying to fall asleep. They keep your mind racing all night. And then you start worrying about how you can’t fall asleep, which keeps you up longer. It’s a terrible cycle.
Doing a brain dump can help break that cycle. Instead of keeping all your thoughts and worries in your head, write them down on paper. Whether it be what happened that day, your to-do list for tomorrow, or some other thought, getting it out of your head and on paper helps free your mind to shut down.
Kill the Lights
By now you’ve heard that Blue Lights from electronics aren’t good for sleeping, which is true. However, all light can be a problem. Blue light happens to be moreso.
If you keep all the lights on in your home all evening long, your body doesn’t get the signal to start shutting down and producing Melatonin. Try turning off or dimming ceiling lights close to bedtime.
Keep your room cool as you sleep. Most people do best around 67 degrees. You probably already know that, but remembering to turn the a/c up at night is tough.
If you have a programmable thermostat, program the air condition to be set at 67 right at your normal sleep time. That way you can set it and forget about it and still reap all the benefits.
Invest in Your Sleep
This last tip is the most expensive one, which is why it’s last.
It’s hard to sleep if you’re constantly rolling around because your bed is so uncomfortable. The mattress you sleep on is a big deal. There are now “sleep experts” that specialize in connecting people to their ideal mattress based on body type, sleeping style, and personal preferences.
If getting a new mattress is something you’re willing to do, here’s a guide to picking one right for you.
Now that we’ve talked about ways to help improve your time falling asleep and quality of sleep, here’s something to consider that hurts both.
Alcohol and Sleep
Many people swear by a nightcap to fall asleep. If you’re doing that because you enjoy a drink, by all means go ahead. Who am I to stop you?
But if you have a drink at night because it makes you fall asleep faster, then there’s something else to think about. Having a drink can make you fall asleep faster, but it kills your sleep quality.
So while you may sleep more, it isn’t as restful. The different stages of sleep don’t occur as they’re supposed to. Hormones don’t get released as much. You’re left feeling tired in the morning.
To Sum it Up
Reading about this is a good start, but now it’s time to TAKE ACTION. Here’s what to do:
Start recording when you go to bed and wake up each day for 1 week. Don’t worry about changing anything yet.
After you get a good idea of your normal sleep times, choose 1 thing from above to implement. Run a two-week “experiment” and see how that changes affects your sleep.
If you like the results of the experiment, keep going with it. If not, ditch it and try another option for 2 weeks.
Rinse and repeat until you go from this
Now that you are on the road to sleep success, think about your fitness. Try our Summer Shape Up Challenge!
Director of Training
Pursuit Fitness and Performance