By Personal Trainer Brendan O’Keeffe |
The importance of sleep is grossly underestimated. This seems to be particularly true in our busy culture and those that people that may neglect sleep in favour of improved productivity.
However, a lack of decent sleep will result in a direct impact on your capability to perform, both physically and mentally. If you’re also giving 100% effort in training sessions, your body is likely to need even more time to recover as there’s plenty that’s been essentially damaged and needs to heal.
This is the “more is always better” fallacy – if I simply do more then ultimately my results will be better.
Sacrificing sleep, by choice, in favour of doing “more” of anything, especially long term, is asinine – and I say this, regrettably, from experience!
In fact, high levels of sleep deprivation have been compared directly to the state of drunkenness. And the signs?
✓ Your ability to comprehend in general is impaired.
✓ Your ability to judge how sleep deprived you are is also impaired – resulting in a vicious cycle in which you cannot actually tell how sleep deprived you really are.
How To Sleep Better | 3 Steps
Your entire day will be directly influenced by how well you have slept – so surely it makes sense that this will be at the core of your decisions as to how to structure your day?
I decide how much sleep I want to get, when I want to sleep and then I work around that – not the other way around. It may be easier said than done, but once you prioritise your sleep, you’ll naturally become more productive with the energy boost!
#2 Sleep Hygiene
We talk about hygiene on a daily basis – properly washing your hands, when you blow your nose you need to throw the tissue away promptly, wash regularly and properly etc – but people rarely relate it to their sleep. Sleep hygiene is the process of creating the best possible conditions for good sleep. Here’s what I do:
>>> Dark Room
The level of light in your room is the first thing to sort out. Any light can potentially disrupt your sleep – so invest in a good pair of blinds – or curtains – blackout if possible. A dark room will help to make sure your aren’t disturbed when you sleep.
>>> Wind Down Period
Have a cool down period that lasts roughly an hour leading up to bedtime – bring down the lights, step away from all electrical devices (yes, even your phone!) and do something like read a physical book (old school, I know).
I also like to put in place a short meditation session at this time – although I deliberately have a different routine for this period, one which I do associate with sleep.
Further reinforce the associations with sleep by using a lavender spray before bed – the smell will prime you ready for sleep, over time – essentially you’re going all Pavlovian on yourself.
Finally, heat can also play a role in your quality of sleep. Look to create a cool environment; too hot and I feel stifled, too cold and it will obviously be uncomfortable. A window slightly ajar helps to circulate fresh air into the room as well, which can be beneficial also!
Our bodies are exceptionally efficient at adapting, which means that they readily slot themselves into routines, so long as we are consistent enough for a sustained batch of time.
With sleep, my personal experience has reflected the body of research that suggests that trying to keep the hour that we fall asleep in and the hour that we rise in the same – e.g, if you aim to go to bed between 9-10pm every night and aim to wake up between 5-6am every morning, try and stick to this every day. Every day.
This means, where possible, weekends also. Deviation from this will directly impact your bodies perception of when precisely it is you want to fall asleep. What we are trying to do is to create a protected block of time in which you can restore and replenish yourself, mind and body.
✓ I firmly believe that one of the reasons that people face such a seemingly insurmountable mountain on Monday mornings is because they’ve thrown their sleep out of whack over the weekend through late nights and alcohol.
✓ It’s worth noting at this point as well, that alcohol may get you to sleep quicker in some cases, but it definitely does not improve the quality of your sleep; it damages it. Bye-bye night caps.
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Let’s make note of a few more variables, particularly with relation to feeling alert and energised quicker in the mornings.
Hydration is key to making sure you feel alert and essentially refreshed in the mornings; many of us urinate during the night and the body is still working, so by morning, not only are we often hungry (hence the name of the first meal of the day, breakfast – you are literally breaking a stretch of fasting), but we are dehydrated too. Drinking a half litre to a litre of water in that first 30-60 minutes can help to make you feel more alert.
This can also play a vital role to feeling energised in the mornings. Taking 5-10 minutes for a quick mindfulness session, as described earlier, can help to make you feel focused and grounded in the real world.
Following this, exercising will help to wake up your bodily systems and your own sense of purpose; a 10-15 minute jog is a great way to do this.
Finally, try showering with hot and cold variations; start with a regular hot shower, then gradually bring the temperature down to cold; reverse this and repeat two or three times. Finish on cold to exit the shower feeling awake and ready to face the day.
✓ Good Nutrition
Whilst I won’t be going into explicit detail with diet choices, I will mention at this point that eating breakfast is of course a necessary component of waking up; just like rehydration.
In terms of what you eat, I would strongly suggest making sure your meal has a decent source of protein and a decent source of carbohydrates; for most people, this will offer them all they need to get going with the day.
Take Home Message
Respect sleep for what it is; your body’s best mechanism for rejuvenating itself!