Improve Your Sleep Quality to Maximize Your Goals

It is 1 a.m. and you have been laying there for an hour and a half, unable to sleep.

Your heart begins to pound. How will you cope with a full day in a busy office if you cannot sleep? What if this goes on night after night? First, you need to be reassured that insomnia is very common. Indeed, it is a symptom of modern life. Throughout most of human history, work was physically demanding but relatively stress-free. Today, the opposite is true, with many people spending their whole working day sitting still, while their minds and nervous systems are subjected to relentless stress: traffic jams, flickering screens, advertising, social media, and 24-hour-news frightening them with everything from overpopulation, to climate change.

Of course, nothing guarantees a good night, but you can at least improve your chances by trying the following :

Get into a routine. The body loves routine.

But if you start napping during the day, or going to bed and getting up at erratic times, your mind will struggle to regulate its sleep patterns. Gaining control over the light/dark cycle is key. A certain amount of darkness is necessary if the body is to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. So get out of bed at the same time every morning, then go outside and put your face up to the sun. At night, go to bed at the same time and make sure your room is as dark as possible.

Have a settling down period.

For at least an hour before you go to bed, you need to calm the mind and nervous system. Think of your mind as a snow globe that has been shaken by the events of the day. If you are to sleep, you need those little flakes of snow to settle back down. Switch off all screens, whether that be TVs, smartphones, or laptops. And do not listen to the radio. Instead, do some gentle yoga and meditation, or read a book. If you do read, choose something light and gentle- P. G. Wodehouse for example.

Get moving.

The benefits of exercise can hardly be exaggerated. First, it will tire your body. Second, it will reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system. And, third, it will reduce depression. But take your exercise out of doors and try and do it during the day. The more light exposure you get, the more your body will desensitize to the artificial light of evening. Far too many people go to a late exercise class. Leaping about in a brightly lit hall a couple of hours before bed will make sleep harder, not easier.

Turn your bedroom into a sacred space.

Do all you can to make your sleeping place suitable. Most people find a messy bedroom more difficult to sleep in than a clean and tidy one. If possible, transform it into a minimalist space, removing heavy furniture, piles of old clothes, and anything else you can see. Next, make sure it is quiet and peaceful. If you have noisy neighbors, try masking their noise with earplugs. These do not always work, so try a CD recording of gentle rainfall or sea sounds as well. Finally, make sure it is dark and cool. During the summer months, you could even buy some black-out curtains.

Be careful what you eat last at night.

Eating a big meal just before going to bed is like stoking up the engine of a steam train before halting at a station. Above all, do not eat foods hard to digest, and stay away from alcohol and refined sugar. Obviously, caffeine should be avoided, and not only last at night. Research suggests that even the caffeine ingested at lunchtime can interfere with sleep. However, do not go to bed hungry either. Try a glass of warm milk, or herbal tea, plus a ripe banana and a handful of walnuts and almonds; these will supply you with tryptophan and magnesium, both of which relax and soothe the nervous system.

Insomnia is best tackled via a combination of things. So make your room cool and dark, minimize noise, take plenty of exercise during the day, go to bed at the same time, switch off all screens an hour before bed, practise a little yoga, and then eat a banana and drink some warm milk. And never forget that sleep is not some luxurious state. It is natural. Give your body time and help and eventually you will sleep.

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Goal-Oriented: 15 ways to improve your sleep habits

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Athletes know that in order to play at their highest level they need to focus on nutrition, strength training, speed, skill, and staying healthy. An often overlooked part of an athlete’s ability to play at their peak level is sleep quality. About a month ago I was working with a female athlete and I could tell right away that something was not right. I asked her what time she went to sleep the night before and she replied “3 a.m., that is about the time I go to sleep every night.” Keep in mind, the workout we were doing was at 9 a.m. the next day. So, at best, she got 5 to 5 ½ hours of sleep the night before.

Let me start by asking a few questions:

  • Are you able to wake up every morning without an alarm clock?
  • Do you get outside every day for at least 30 minutes?
  • Do you feel more alert in the evening in comparison to how you feel in the morning?

Athletes and weekend warriors are spending millions of dollars every year on supplements to improve their performance to gain the competitive edge that they are looking for. As a coach I support the use of some approved supplements; however, one of the best things you can do for your health and performance is free and most of us don’t take advantage of it.

As a coach, it is my job to constantly monitor how the athletes I work with are feeling. On a daily basis I will talk to them about their sleep patterns. I will often ask questions like:

  • What time did you fall asleep last night?
  • What was the quality of your sleep like?
  • How did you feel when you woke up today?

Experts contend people who are not getting adequate sleep are in perpetual jet lag. Reaction times as well as body composition are directly linked to the quality and the amount of sleep that we get in a daily basis. As an athlete, reaction time and body composition are extremely important to your game day performance. If either of these two things are off, your performance is going to suffer.

A comment that I often hear from people is “I can’t fall asleep before midnight” or “I wake up every night at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep.” If this is happening to you, then your athletic performance as well as how you function the next day is going to suffer.

Our body cares about one thing and that is survival. If we develop poor sleep habits our body will slow down and conserve energy. Fat stores in our body will increase making it harder to lose body fat. Our metabolic system will slow down in order to meet the lack of sleep demands. Our bodies will age faster and our sympathetic nervous system will start to increase which will have a hormonal effect on our body that we do not want.

The good news is that we can reverse all of the negative effects of poor sleep with some simple changes to our lifestyle. With the addition of technology our minds are always on alert and our circadian rhythm is out of balance. People are glued to their phones as well as their computers. By doing this we may be contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Here are 15 simple solutions to improving your sleep patterns:

1. The amount of light we get every day from the sun has a dramatic effect on your sleep. Make it a point to get outside for at least 30 minutes every day. First thing in the morning when the sun comes up get outside for a couple of minutes and let the sun hit your face. This will start your circadian rhythm.

2. Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume after 2 p.m.

3. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink daily.

4. Instead of staying up late to watch TV, tape the show or watch online. With things like Netflix there is no reason to stay up late to watch a show.

5. Exercise during the day and if possible, exercise outside.

6. As the day goes on, reduce the amount of time that you spend in from of a computer screen. The light from the screen tells the brain that you should be awake so reduce the amount of time in front of the screen.

7. When you go to bed don’t bring your computer or cell phone into bed with you. This will stimulate a response in your brain and will throw off your timing.

8. Take a warm shower or bath before bed. Also, if you add Epson salt to the water this will have a calming effect on your body due to the addition of magnesium.

9. Make the room as dark as possible.

10. Turn off as many electronics as possible near your bed. Light can penetrate our eyelids which reduces melatonin (Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and controls the quality of your sleep).

11. Change the light on your computer. As the day goes on there are programs that can dim the screen to match the time of the day.

12. Make it a point to spend seven to eight hours in bed. If you have to wake up at 6 a.m., you need to be in bed by 10 p.m.

13. Eat your last big meal approximately three hours before you plan to go to sleep. Growth hormone is released in the evening and if your digestion has to work overtime this may affect the quality of your sleep.

14. Make your room as cool as possible. This time of year is fantastic sleeping weather. Keep the room around 65 degrees.

15. As you get closer to bedtime start to dim the lights. Instead of leaving all of your lights on at 7 p.m. start to turn off certain lights and dim others.

Athletes need to make fast decisions. If their ability to “think fast and react” is compromised their performance will suffer. I’m sorry to say that I think sleep habits for people will continue to suffer and people will continue to lower their immune system. If you want to stay ahead of the game and improve your performance you have a choice and the simple solution is to improve your sleep quality.
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8. Ways to Improve Your Sleep

1. Do not exercise within two to three hours prior to sleeping.

While exercise wears out your body, it also causes a boost of adrenaline through your body that makes your mind all wired, and causes your body temperature to rise. Have you taken a 9pm spinning class and then found yourself tossing around your bed without being able to sleep? It’s directly related to the unfortunate timing of your workout. Try a workout in the late afternoon instead.

2. Don’t overeat at dinner.

A full stomach makes sleeping difficult. Ideally, you should plan your dinner no later than three hours before your bedtime. Focus on protein and healthy fat for dinner, and reduce carbs. Keep your dinner light—you typically won’t need much fuel for the rest of your day anymore at dinnertime. Instead, start having larger meals for breakfast and lunch, when you actually need that fuel.

3. Have a fixed bedtime (ideally before 10pm).

While the opinions are divided on what the ideal bedtime is, and if there is a general ideal bedtime or if its personal, most health and fitness websites recommend to sleep between 9pm and 10pm, and it’s a common Dutch saying that “the hours before midnight count double”. Try to sleep around the time your body starts to secrete melatonin, which is typically around 9:30 pm. Turn off the TV and your laptop, and make your sleep a priority!

4. Sleep in a dark room.

Too much light in your room, either blue light from electronics or light peering through the curtains from outside, will interfere with your sleep and the secretion of melatonin. If you can’t eliminate certain electronics from your room, nor change to darker curtains or fully-shutting blinds, then invest in a good sleep mask. Don’t forget to take your sleep mask along for long flights as well.

5. Sleep in a cold room.

Your body cools down naturally during sleep, so a lower room temperature will support your sleep as much as possible. Switch off your heating at night, as it might leave you waking up at night feeling overheated. Leave your window ventilation open, even in winter, to allow fresh air and oxygen to enter the room. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is recommended to be 12 degrees Celsius (54 F), while other experts claim a temperature between 60 – 65F is ideal.

6. Have a bedtime ritual.

Ease into sleep by doing relaxing activities: journal, read a book, burn a candle, do some stretches, meditate, so that you can prepare yourself mentally for sleep. Create a sunset in your house by bringing down the intensity of the lights half an hour to an hour before your intended bedtime. Listen to a CD with soft music, get into your pajamas some time before you plan to sleep, and have some herbal tea or hot milk. Don’t expect that you can run all day and then press the off-switch on yourself and drift off to sleep right away!

7. Turn your bedroom into a sleep retreat.

If you have the space for doing so in your house, take all electronics (including that TV) out of your bedroom, and turn it into a sanctuary for your sleep. Decorate your bedroom with images that invoke sleep and sweet dreams. Use quality bedding and a mattress your truly enjoy, and add fresh, crisply washed sheets to your bed. If you live on a much more confined area and your bedroom equals home office, storage room and pet house, then try to keep at least your bed welcoming and free of clutter.

8. Finish your day’s business in your mind.

Plan your next day before you go to bed, so that you don’t find yourself going over everything you need to do the next day while trying to fall asleep. If necessary, write down your worries before bedtime as well. Ideally, write your goals for the next day at the end of your work day into your planner. Think positive thoughts before you sleep, and keep gratitude and success lists to reflect on your day from a positive standpoint.

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5. Effective Ways to Improve Your Sleep

1. Get Up Earlier

That’s right, you slacker: if you want to get to bed earlier and easier, set your alarm for 5am and haul yourself out of bed the second you hear it go off.

The catch is that for this to work, you’ve got to muster all the self-discipline you’ve got and not only get up as soon as that alarm goes off, but get up as soon as that alarm goes off every single morning. No matter what. Even if you only had an hour of sleep the night before.

Try going for four or five days on two hours of sleep and then try to tell me you haven’t felt sleepy and ready for bed earlier than usual. This is the best way to reset your sleep schedule.

But boy, does it require some self-discipline—more than some people have got.

2. Read the Right Material

I make a point never to read nonfiction before bed. I suppose I should clarify since some wise-mouthed kid reading this may reason that any time during the day is “before bed” and try and get out reading a textbook, and I don’t really need a mob of enraged parents after me. There’s a time of day when you’ve got to shut off your active mind and let the passive mind take over, and this can happen just an hour before bed or just after you get home from work.

In any case, you’ve got to figure out how long you need to transition out of that active mind that’ll keep you thinking and awake all night and keep yourself from partaking in any really mind-chatter-activating activities during that time.

For me, in the past, reading nonfiction before bed killed my hopes for sleep. I’d undoubtedly begin thinking about the content I’d just consumed and how I can apply it, and this could wrap my head up for hours. Eventually I decided to enjoy only fiction works, like a good Terry Pratchett yarn, after 9pm.

This small restriction fixed my thought-induced insomnia immediately.

3. Extinguish All Sources of Light

I have a Mac mini in the bedroom that I use as a media player when I’m too lazy to get up and go to the living room or office (I realize this doesn’t fit in with number one but you only need to use that technique to reset or fix your routine, not to maintain it). Like most Macs, there’s a small light on the front that pulsates on and off.

If you’ve seen the mini, the light is tiny. Way smaller than the lights on the old iBooks, more like a pinpoint. I started to notice that my sleep was better on nights when the mini was switched off completely, and then realized it must be the light (it is noiseless).

I’d would never have thought that such a small light would affect my sleep if I hadn’t read a few years back that any light, even in the minutest amounts, can affect your quality of sleep. But it’s true: if there is a light source in the room, it will decrease your sleep quality. Kill it. Pitch black is the ideal situation.

4. Sweep Your Mind for Stray Thoughts

Often, we’re kept up by worry: did I complete all the tasks I needed to complete today? What if I forget that I need to call Bob in the morning? Oh, I need to get a brief for that article in by tomorrow evening or I’ll lose the job…

It only takes a couple of minutes to sit down with a pen and pad (or a keyboard) and perform a mind sweep before tucking in for the night. Get every thought on your mind out of your head and into a tangible form. Afterwards, it literally feels like you’ve tipped your worries out into a bucket so that you don’t have to deal with them until you’re ready, and it’s a great habit if you want to get more organized.

Sweep for tasks you’ve got to complete, people you’ve got to contact, ideas you’ve had throughout the day but failed to capture and make sure you get everything on your mind written down—no matter how insignificant it may seem.

5. Avoid Computer and TV Screens

While the picture on your computer screen might look like a bunch of windows and images standing still or moving the way things in real life move, the reality is that the screen is being redrawn so fast that the illusion of motion, or even solidity, is present. The same principle is at work when it comes to television; it’s not motion being shown, just static pictures being displayed in rapid succession.

While you might not see a bombardment of repetitive flashing, your mind certainly gets hit with the strain of it, and your eyes and brain get stimulated further by it—meaning you’ll find it harder to get to sleep. If you log off the net at two in the morning and wonder why you can’t get to sleep, it’s probably because you spent too much time with your eyes glued to the screen. Steer clear of screens before bed.

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