One of the well-known benefits of working out is improved sleep. Numerous studies show that when we get at least 150 minutes of exercise in a week, we sleep better, and thus feel more alert and have more energy during the day.
That said, it’s not always that simple. While working out can indeed improve our sleep, just because you’re fit and workout a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you always get good sleep?
Because so many of us do little things that sabotage our sleep.
Here are some tips to help improve your sleep hygiene:
- Maintain a regular sleep routine:
Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up at the same time every morning. Yes, you can have 20 minutes of leeway time on this, but generally speaking it is key to maintaining consistent sleep. Why is consistent sleep so important? Because inconsistent sleep routines wreak havoc on your hormones and put you ‘out of sync’ with your body’s natural day and night (circadian) rhythms. Apologies to all you shift workers, where this isn’t always a possibility.
- No caffeine six hours before bed:
And maybe longer for some of us. Why? The effects of caffeine can not only cause us to have difficulties falling asleep, they also cause fragmented sleep throughout the night. If you enjoy an evening cup of tea, go for a caffeine-free green tea, or chamomile.
- Avoid naps:
For starters, naps ruin the ‘maintaining a regular sleep routine’ tip. Second, if you nap, it’s likely to affect your nighttime sleep negatively. Either way, naps throw off your routine and disturb your circadian rhythm. Tired during the day at work? Go for a walk, get some fresh air, workout at lunch (push-ups next to your desk work), or splash cold water on your face.
- Avoid alcohol, sleep medications, sedatives and heavy meals before bed:
Yes, alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it comes with a cost. Alcohol consumption close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night when the body begins to process that alcohol. Meanwhile, ingesting alcohol and/or any sedating drugs collapses your airway and can lead to snoring throughout the night. This can mirror the problems associated with sleep apnea, a disorder in which the airway closes and thus disrupts sleep throughout the night, leading to non-restorative sleep. You may ‘sleep’ seven or eight hours after booze or meds, but it isn’t rejuvenating sleep. Heavy meals, meanwhile, can cause indigestion and/or heartburn that can disrupt sleep.
- Limit screens in the evening:
The blue glow (light) from screens in the evening alters sleepiness and alertness, and suppresses melatonin levels. This means TVs, computers, laptops, tablets and your phone. Sad, I know. But studies show that screen time late at night not only increases the likelihood that a person stays up later, but it also means a longer time falling sleep (insomnia), which results in shorter REM sleep. If you MUST be on a screen close to bedtime, there’s a solution: Invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses, which can block just the blue wavelength and can potentially restore normal nighttime sleepiness.
- Only use your bed for sleeping (and sex):
The bed should be reserved for two things—sleep and sex. This way you associate your bed only with sleep (and sex). It’s purely psychological, but there’s a lot of truth to this maxim and evidence to back it up. When your bed is associated with other activities that you might have done there during the day, you’ll confuse your mind.
- Deep breathing or meditation:
Have trouble shutting your mind off at bedtime (or in general)? Try deep breathing or meditation before bed. Deep breathing both calms the central nervous system and helps to quiet the mind. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Inhaling through the nose stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to induce relaxation. Meditation is another option. If you have never meditated, the website HEADSPACE (https://www.headspace.com/) is a great place to start!