Struggling to get through your days? Feeling hungry? Don’t have the energy to train? The first thing you should be looking at is your sleep! With our extremely busy and fast-paced lifestyles these days, there are so many factors that can interfere with sleep — from work deadlines and pressures, family life and responsibilities, relationship issues, stress – it’s no wonder that getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy!
But getting enough sleep is incredibly important for our overall health and performance. In fact, it is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. If our body doesn’t get a chance to rest and recover properly, we often find ourselves feeling tired or moody, we struggle to stay focused at work, making decisions becomes harder, and of course we feel hungrier and crave certain foods, which can make maintaining our weight more difficult.
When you’re asleep, your body is working hard to repair and rejuvenate all of the tissues in your body, including muscle tissue. Oxygen and essential nutrients are supplied to your muscles, facilitating growth, healing, repair and recovery. The pituitary gland releases growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth, muscle repair and recovery. When you don’t get adequate sleep, there is a significant decrease in growth hormone production, which can lead to loss of muscle mass and impaired recovery, as well as poor training performance. Your body also becomes stressed, and your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is a vital hormone in the body that regulates our immune response and is associated with a decrease in anabolic hormones. As a result, it causes breakdown of muscle tissue and inhibits muscle growth.
If you struggle to get the recommended 7-8 hours sleep each night on a consistent basis, it’s not difficult to see the stress it would place on our nervous system, body and overall health. Chronic sleep loss can lead to impaired immunity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression, just to name a few!
So we can see how important it is to get enough sleep, and although we might not be able to control all of the factors that affect our sleep, we can create habits and a routine that promotes better sleep!
Here’s a few simple tips to start with:
1. STICK TO A SLEEP SCHEDULE
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, or at least during the week. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night.
2. ESTABLISH A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Do the same things each night that help your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities such as doing work or discussing emotional issues and be wary of using electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that using these devices before bedtime affects sleep by increasing alertness.
3. AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. Try to avoid caffeine (which can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and pre-workout/fat burning supplements) for four to six hours before bedtime. Smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime as nicotine has a similar stimulant effect. Although alcohol may initially cause drowsiness, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is best to avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
4. PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU EAT BEFORE BED
Going to bed hungry or over-full can cause discomfort that might keep you up. Try to avoid a large meal before bedtime and allow your food to digest for around 2 hours before going to bed. It is best to limit the amount of fluids you drink before bed as well, to help prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
5. CONTROL YOUR SLEEPING ENVIRONMENT
Prepare your room so that it is perfect for sleeping. A cool, dark and quiet room is the best environment to promote a good night’s sleep. Consider using block-out shades/curtains, earplugs, a fan/air-conditioning or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs. Ensure that you have good quality bedding to maximise comfort too!
6. GET MOVING DURING THE DAY
It is a well known fact that regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and achieve a deeper sleep. But be aware that if you exercise too close to bedtime (at a moderate-high intensity), it can have a stimulant effect and affect your ability to fall asleep!
7. MANAGE STRESS
When you have too much to do, and a lot on your mind – your sleep is likely to be affected. This is because the body releases the stress hormone cortisol which increases alertness. To help promote relaxation, try to implement strategies to manage stress. This may be as simple as getting organised, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Before bed, write down your to-do list for tomorrow and what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
8. GO TO BED WHEN YOU ARE ACTUALLY TIRED
Struggling to fall sleep can lead to frustration and over-thinking. Generally, if you’re not asleep after 15-20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading until you feel you are tired enough to sleep.
Try incorporating these simple things into your daily routine and notice the difference it makes!