Train smart. Eat cleanly:
It’s a way of life we hope all of us employ so we can live a healthy and great lives.
That being said, something is missing from that list—something that’s possibly even more important, or at least as important, as consistent training and quality nutrition.
Have you ever PR’ed a lift, or put forth an even remotely productive training session, after zero sleep? What about two days without sleep? How do you think you’d perform then?
On the other hand, it would be very possible to PR after a cheat meal weekend…
Think about that for a minute: You can cheat on your diet from time to time and still put forth a solid effort in the gym on Monday morning, but you’re utterly useless on two days without sleep.
So why is it so many of us prioritize our training and nutrition, yet we consider living off five hours of sleep normal?
Imagine for a moment how much better your performance would be if you were logging seven to nine hours of sleep a night….
Getting enough quality sleep isn’t just necessary for your gym goals: It’s necessary for your long-term health.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for example, suggests poor sleep leads to an increase in plaque buildup in the body. This excess plaque, called atherosclerosis, increases your risk of strokes, heart disease, digestive problems, and poor circulation.
Specifically, the research, which looked at 4,000 male and female participants, found that those who slept less than six hours per night were 27 percent more likely to have plaque in their bodies than those who logged seven to eight hours. Meanwhile, those who often experience what they called fractured sleep, were 34 percent more likely to have plaque buildup than those who get better quality sleep each night.
Plaque and its consequences aside, another reason to get enough sleep is to keep your memory sharp.
There is a ton of research that suggests poor sleep is linked to brain function and Alzheimer’s, as it leads to an increase in beta-amyloid—a protein in the brain that contributes to impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s.
OK, OK, enough with the fear mongering: How do we fix our sleep?
Beyond the obvious advice we hear all the time to to get off our devices before bed, because all that blue light is blocking sleep-inducing melatonin and stopping us from getting sleepy (ad nauseum).
3 practical tips to better sleep
1. Build a consistent sleep schedule
Intuitively, we know a consistent bedtime is important, but most of us stopped having a bedtime once we became adults. We would be much better off, however, if we returned to our childhood ways, where we went to bed and woke up at a similar time each day.
This includes the weekends (I know, so sad).
This 2019 study published in Current Biology even suggests there’s no such thing as catching up on sleep on the weekend.
The study found if you’re not getting enough sleep during the week and are relying on the weekend to catch up by sleeping in, you might be doing more damage than good, and are more likely to gain weight. This is because chronic lack of sleep during the week leads to poor blood sugar regulation, as well as an increase in leptin and ghrelin (hunger hormones) in the body.
Further, it has been well documented that an inconsistent sleep schedule affects your biological clock—aka circadian rhythm—which deprives your body of certain hormones, among other things.
If you’re a discerning person who wants more evidence than just the one study provided above, here’s another: This 2018 research in Scientific Reports also concludes adults need consistent bed times and wake up times for good health, as irregular sleep leads to hypertension, heart disease, high blood sugar level and obesity.
Because changing your sleep schedule is easier said than done, here’s a practical tip for adopting more consistent sleep routine:
Embrace a morning gym routine—one where you’re forced to wake up earlier than you normally do to hit the gym. If you’re prone to hitting the snooze button, plan to meet a friend or a coach to hold you accountable.
This earlier (and uncomfortable at first) wake up time will cause you to be more tired at night, and before you know it you’ll adjust to a more consistent bed time and wake-up pattern.
2. Deliberate short term sleep deprivation
If your problem isn’t going to bed, but actually falling asleep, this tip might be for you:
Sleep deprivation in the short term to reset your body.
It sounds counterintuitive, but here’s how it works in practice:
Step 1: Figure out how many hours of sleep you’re averaging a night now. Let’s say this number is 6 hours.
Step 2: Decide on a consistent wake up time. Let’s assume this is 6 a.m.
Step 3: Figure out what time you need to go to bed to get six hours of sleep and wake up at 6 a.m. In this case, your bedtime is now midnight.
Step 4: Go to bed at midnight and get up at 6 a.m. (no matter how tired you are) every night until you have seven good night’s of sleep in a row. Most people discover this happens quicker than they think it will because they’ll start to become more tired at night than they usually are because they’re getting up earlier than they want to.
Step 5: Once you fall asleep and stay asleep better for seven nights in a row, bump your bedtime back 20 minutes. Now your bedtime is 11:40 p.m.
Step 6: Repeat step 4. Once you log seven nights of good sleep, bump your bedtime to 11:20 p.m., and then 11 p.m., and then 10:40 p.m. Keep going until you feel like you’re getting enough sleep.
The idea is to reset your system so that you’re tired and ready for bed at 10 p.m. and refreshed when you wake up eight hours later at 6 a.m. (or whatever the appropriate sleep schedule is for you).
3. Lose the technology
Have you heard about sleep texting? It’s an actual thing: People text subconsciously at night as they’re asleep!
In case this thought isn’t scary enough—because who knows what type of inappropriate sleep texts you might accidentally send at 3 a.m.—having your phone with you at night might be causing more anxiety than you realize.
Oftentimes, when we’re having trouble sleeping, or when we wake up in the middle of the night, we check our phone to see how many more hours or minutes of sleep we have until our dreaded alarm goes off. Not only does this make us anxious about how much sleep we’re getting (or not getting), but the bright light from our phone wakes our bodies and minds up, making it harder to fall back asleep.
The same is true of the popular sleep tracker apps: Though they can tell us good information, they often just increase our anxiety when we discover we’re not hitting the sleep targets we want. It might be worth trying the app for a couple nights to get a baseline, but then ditch it.
If you need more help with your health, you can learn more about how we can help here!