With a newborn in the house, one thing is certain: I’m not getting a ton of uninterrupted sleep nowadays. Our little guy is a good sleeper from what we’re told, but he’s still waking us up 4-5 times a night for food and diaper changes.
Last week, we shared some habits that you can build outside the gym to actually improve your performance inside the gym. Likely because of the newborn, one habit stood out to me in particular – sleep.
Prior to having a little baby, I was a great sleeper. I was typically in bed before 10PM, and I didn’t wake up until 6AM. I was out. When I woke up in the morning, I felt refreshed and ready for the day. Nowadays, I find myself a bit more hazy when I get out of bed.
Like me, you probably know that sleep is important. Still, it’s often one of the last things we think about when it comes to performance following nutrition, training frequency, stretching, having all the sweet lifting gear, etc.
Before we talk about tips for getting better sleep, I wanted to emphasize why sleep is so critical in the first place.
Why You Need Sleep
- Sleep helps you stay trim. A reduction of sleep by just three hours can impact your nutrient partitioning causing you to store more calories as fat. It can also increase your hunger levels providing a lethal combination to your waistline. It also impacts your insulin sensitivity increasing your risk of diabetes.
- Sleep deprivation impacts your brain. Just one sleepless night can leave you feeling fuzzyheaded and unfocused. In fact, one study found that just moderate levels of sleep deprivation provides the equivalent mental impairment as a legal amount of alcohol. Sleep also improves your memory.
- Sleep improves your performance in the gym. A poor night of sleep can result in poor recovery and submaximal strength when you hit the gym the next day.
- A lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to getting sick. Sleep is critical for your immune system to function properly.
Alright – let’s say you’re convinced. You’re ready to double down on your sleep and get more out of the hours you spend in bed. With a newborn, I’m out of luck for a few months, but there are still steps you can take to get better sleep starting tonight.
6 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Tonight
Step #1: Establish a routine.
Our bodies crave consistency. If you’re constantly going to bed at a different time every night, it’s hard for your body to fall into a natural rhythm of when to wake up and when to fall asleep. Even on the weekends, it’s best to fall asleep and wake up around the same time each day.
Even better, establish a bedtime routine. There’s a reason they work so well for kids! Setting up a consistent bedtime routine teaches your body when it’s time to fall asleep. Build a routine that you follow for the last 15 minutes before hopping into bed. It could include some light fiction reading, stretching, or whatever else helps you relax.
DO THIS: Pick a time to wake up and a time to go to sleep. Try to follow both throughout the next week.
Step #2: Make your room cold.
You know that feeling when you’re having a hard time falling asleep? And, you desperately try flipping your pillow over looking for the cool side? There’s a reason for that. A drop in body temperature actually signals to your body that’s it’s time to snooze. Studies I’ve read have used the mid-60’s as baseline temperatures. Find something that works for you; it’s likely between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
DO THIS: Open a window or crank up the air conditioning to get your room to the right temperature or if necessary, get a portable fan for your room. Bonus points: fans provide some helpful white noise.
Step #3: Eliminate blue light and screens.
If you could only change one thing that would have the biggest impact on your sleep, it would probably be to keep all screens and electronics outside your bedroom. That includes your phone, your TV, your laptop, and any other screen. The reason has to do with how the light from those screens impacts hormones in your body.
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone in your body. We’ll hear more about it in a minute, but for right now, you just need to know that it encourages sleep. The body produces more at night and less in the morning. Now, here’s the downside to screens. The light emitted from our screens has a higher concentration of blue light, and blue light blocks melatonin secretion. As a result, staring at your phone or TV at night actually makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
DO THIS: When it’s time for bed, turn off your phone and put it in another room or set a policy like “no phones allowed after 9pm.” Buy an actual alarm clock to wake you up in the morning. Pick a better ritual to fall asleep than watching TV (see below).
AND THIS: If you’re working late at night, download f.lux, software that controls the light emitted by your computer corresponding to the time of day.
Step #4: Read fiction.
Research backs up the benefits of reading for the mind. Here’s an excerpt from an article in The New Yorker:
Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
Plus, it gives you something else to do before bed that doesn’t involve a screen.
Why fiction? That’s a personal suggestion more than anything. I’ve found that nonfiction books tend to “turn on” my brain more than I’d like. I typically then lie awake thinking about whatever I just read. With fiction, it’s easier to put the book down and hit the pillow without lingering on whatever page I was just pouring over.
DO THIS: Pick up a fiction book and try reading for 5-10 minutes before turning off the light and going to bed. My personal recommendation would be The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
Step #5: Try taking melatonin.
As mentioned above, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that promotes sleep. However, you can also supplement with it orally. It’s a popular supplement for frequent travelers since it can be useful for resetting your body when you cross over timezones. Melatonin is non-toxic and not addictive so all signs point to it being safe for regular use.
DO THIS: Before bed, try supplementing with melatonin. Experts recommend starting at 0.5mg and working up to 3-5mg if you don’t notice any effect. I personally take 10mg most nights and have experienced no adverse side effects outside of falling asleep and staying asleep longer (both beneficial).
Step #6: Get outside and in the sun.
Sunlight has a lot of benefits including encouraging the body to naturally produce Vitamin D. Sun exposure also stops the production of melatonin and starts to kick your body into the appropriate sleep cycle.
Think of it this way – our bodies are designed to be awake during the day (when the sun is out) and asleep at night (when it’s dark outside). It naturally makes sense that our hormones follow suit. Sun exposure stops melatonin production because the body assumes it should be awake. Your internal clock also starts ticking and begins producing melatonin earlier in the evening so you can wind down on time.
Here’s a quote from a scientific journal to cement it in:
When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night…The melatonin rhythm phase advancement caused by exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
DO THIS: Get outside! Easy enough. Try to get your body into sunlight as soon as possible if even for a 2-3 minute walk outside.
I know a threw a lot at you. Don’t try to implement all of this at once. Start small. Pick one habit to start with and then build from there. Make great sleep a long-term goal. It’s a habit that you can build over time!