Whenever a new year rolls around it usually brings all sorts of wants and desires with it. It’s like someone presses the reset button in our heads and everything seems appealing again. We want to be less stressed, we want to earn more money, we want to be more present and we want to be healthier and stronger.
So what do we do? We make all these extreme plans of attack thinking that meditating 3 hours a day will get us calmer, thinking that working a 70 hour week instead of a 40 hour week will earn us money, thinking we need to be in solitary confinement to be present and finally, thinking we need to workout twice per day, 6 days per week to get as fit as we can.
And frankly………that’s missing the forest for the trees!
So many of life’s hidden beauty lies in the small things you’re not doing that make everything else easier. What if I proposed I had a simple, and singular answer to those wants we mentioned in the first paragraph?
Could a single suggestion carry so much potential gain? Are you willing to risk investment? Maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you want this risk free? My proposal will cost you nothing more than willingness to implement a few strategies that will lay the foundation for a better night’s sleep…..and maybe just more sleep overall.
Better sleep = better clarity of mind = better daily function = more discipline = more overall success
So many people carry the ‘sleep is such a waste of time’ mantra around with them. I totally get it. Less sleep should, in theory, equate to more time freed up for whatever you choose/need to do. It would work if we had limitless resources and weren’t mere humans, but we are just that: mere humans. Even computers cannot work non-stop. Learning we have limited resources – in almost every walk of life – was one of my hardest lessons; how can I not run at max capacity every time? Why can I not reproduce strength and skill everyday? Because my resources were depleted.
And how are resources restored? With rest – and an integral part of rest is sleep.
It’s been studied extensively, and there are connections between sleep and all forms of human ability and function…..from hormonal profiles to general mood, from the foods you crave to your energy levels. Think about it; how annoying are people when you’ve not slept? Often very annoying. Far more annoying than when you’ve had a luscious 8 hour sleep. How much productive work can you get done when you’ve had a bad night’s sleep? Not enough. Better yet, how’s your gym performance after pants sleep? Where are the PR’s? Usually non-existent.
With the case for sleep being made, let’s look at how to improve it
My promise: This isn’t a sleep article in which every recommendation is a supplement which must be bought. Why go and buy serotonin tablets and pester your doctor for sleeping pills, when you’ve only allocated 4 hours to be in bed each night and you don’t stop drinking coffee until midnight, while not bothering to get off the sofa and get into bed??
I’ll do my best to keep these in some form of sensible order – like a progressive checklist. I know many of you love trying a new supplement or 2, so budget permitting, I’ll throw one or 2 basic ones in at the end. Think of them as rewards for mastering the previous steps.
Time, comfort and things to do before sleep
- Allocate enough time for sleep – 6-8 hours is a baseline to aim for
- Make sure you’re sleeping in a comfortable place. If you’re homeless and have no bed, you’ve got bigger problems
- Try investing in a better bed if your current one is old. You’ll be amazed what difference this makes – I’ve recently got a new bed and sleep better than I did before, hands down
- Experiment with different relaxation techniques – yoga, meditation, supine deep breathing, reading and even journaling
Most of those are very conventional and you may be thinking this is just another rehashed article on sleep, one that rewords what others are saying……but notice I didn’t say you mustn’t use technology near bed? Notice I didn’t insist you get to bed before midnight?
I kept those out because exceptions to the norm not only exist, but are fairly common. I sleep well these days and don’t adhere to getting to bed super early, nor do I avoid all technology before bed. Many people find it comforting to watch a show in bed as they’re drifting off. Granted, they turn the sound down low and dim the brightness but they find TV relaxing. I like reading fitness forums on topics I’m interested in while I lay in bed. Wrong? According to who? It works for me.
If anything makes you happy before bed, do it. If anything makes you unhappy before bed, stay the hell away.
Obsessing about getting to sleep by an exact time is also a waste of time as this just stresses you out; stress + sleep = error. Accept you’ll sleep longer some days and a little less on others. Nothing is linear.
- Attempt to stay up when you know you’re tired. Just move on to your chosen place of sleep (preferably a nice, comfy bed)
- Do things that are very intellectually stimulating – arguing, working out equations, trying to grasp and absorb detailed information
- Worry too much about tomorrow. It hasn’t happened yet and if you must worry about it, try writing your worries down. Many people feel freed when they do this
- Drink heavily caffeinated beverages close to bed – close being within 6-8 hours or so. Although everyone’s tolerance differs
- Worry about not getting enough sleep. Even though it sounds counterintuitive to this post, people have survived on a day after a poor night’s sleep. Just pick up where you left off
Lifestyle, dietary habits and squeezing the odd supplement in
- Try and get out in the fresh air each day, even in winter. Walking is good for you!
- Stay active and exercise; doesn’t matter if it’s gym, dancing, walking, gardening or even just a physical job……MOVE YOUR BODY!
- Go to bed hydrated but not saturated and drowning in water. Who wants to pee all night?! If your mouth is dry before bed, have a mouthful of water, don’t down a 2 litre bottle
- Ensure you’re neither too hungry nor too full. You don’t want your digestive system working its butt off to digest a monstrous meal, not to mention how uncomfortable it is to lie down when you’ve eaten that much
- Try sleep inducing foods and drinks – a few pieces of dark chocolate, Greek yogurt, Chamomile tea etc…
- Think about getting a magnesium supplement; magnesium calms the nervous system
- Consider vitamin D3 also, as that helps sleep and mood – especially during winter when sunlight is scarce
I was a little hesitant to add nutrition ideas as this is an area that’s unbelievably individual! Protein is supposed to be stimulating and thus, avoided before bed, but I know multiple people who find protein/meat heavy meals tiring; think about Christmas…..
Generally, carbs will be more relaxing and best eaten nearer to bed, due to their affect on the body’s serotonin production. Experiment with different combinations to see what works for you. For me, a balanced meal works best. Sometimes I’ll eat foods with tryptophan in them as tryptophan triggers serotonin release – foods such as turkey, yogurt or dairy products.
With regard to supplements, I can anecdotally state that magnesium citrate had the best impact on my sleep of all supplements I’ve tried. Whether you should use it or not is a discussion you need to have with your wallet. I do find making sure I get all the basic minerals and vitamins really helps too; but they’ll only work if you get the foundations right too.
Things to not do…….
- Lay in bed too long after waking up, this will leave you tired for the rest of the day (an old bad habit of mine)
- Do zero exercise and minimal productive activities – you won’t be able to restore your resources if you aren’t ever depleting any of them!
- Eat too much sugar as this will cause your blood sugar levels to yoyo and leave you feeling tired at the wrong times
- Take supplements and medicines that are stimulating prior to sleep; cough medicines have plenty of caffeine in them. Be careful with things like that.
Extra tips and bonus takeaways
As I wrote out those bullet points, a few more ideas and things I’d momentarily forgotten had come back to me. I mentioned electronics and said even I read articles on my phone before sleep, with a dimmed screen. What I didn’t mention is: I turn the phone off just before I go to sleep. Just because I don’t want the distractions of alerts etc…even with the phone on silent, I still don’t sleep as well as when it’s off.
Many of these things I’m working on implementing myself, so I’m right there with you. Another big obstacle that I’ve yet to touch upon, is sleep schedule/patterns. Shift work is the arch enemy to set bedtimes. I’m trying to overcome this obstacle myself and it doesn’t budge easily. If anything, it’s something I want to hand over to anyone reading this: how do you handle sleeping around changing shift patterns, ones that change from very early starts to possible very late finishes?
It’s also worth me conceding that we all need differing amounts of sleep; some need loads, some get by with very little. The great Winston Churchill comes to mind as someone who had an erratic, or eccentric, sleep schedule by today’s standards. He would sleep 5 hours per night on average and nap during the day for an hour or so. It was the nap that he attributed most to his success handling the immense responsibility he held, leading Britain through a world war.
Nobody functions best without sleep. Achieving great things requires hefty amounts of resources…..resources that need replenishment; sleep is the answer. Many people are talking about beating the winter blues, when sleeping right is probably the lowest level, most foundational way to do so.
Thanks for reading. Sleep well.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.