Sleep Hygiene: Bedtime Tips for Better Recovery
There are a million reasons to give some extra attention to sleep hygiene. Sleep is when your body releases human growth hormones that rebuild you from your workouts, making it an essential component to an athlete's daily life. As a result, sleep boosts immune health, enhances performance, improves mental energy and mood, promotes a healthy body weight, and even reduces the risk of heart disease! Overall, high-quality sleep is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle and one of the best ways to support your athletic goals.
Sleeping at least 8 hours per night is optimal, but did you know that there are a few techniques that can improve your sleep quality, length, and ability to doze off? Sleep hygiene is just as important as brushing your teeth, yet most of us overlook some important nightly rituals.
Backup your health and your training by implementing these sleepytime suggestions:
Ban the Blue Light After Sunset
Blackout shades are great for promoting better sleep, but how dark your room is during the night isn’t the only factor potentially disturbing your sleep; the light you are exposed to even hours before bedtime can also end up disrupting your ability to doze off and remain in a deep slumber.
Arguably the biggest threat to your sleep is blue light, which is emitted from both natural and artificial sources. The sun is (hopefully) responsible for most of the natural blue light we’re exposed to. In our homes, we are exposed to blue light from our phones, computers, TV’s, tablets, and fluorescent and LED lights. The trouble with this is that our eyes don’t know the difference between these artificial sources and the sun’s natural blue light.
The receptors in our eyes that detect blue light are linked to our circadian clocks, which influence our sleep-wake cycle. Because our homes are littered with artificial blue light sources, it’s very easy to throw off our circadian rhythm which can result in insomnia, lowered sleep quality, and even alter our appetites.
After sundown, you’ll want to do your best to avoid blue light. Thankfully there are some easy ways to do this.
Option One: Many gadgets now offer a nighttime mode that removes the blue light from your screen. This is a convenient way to enjoy that evening movie or late night work without negatively affecting your circadian clock. Alternatively, if your device doesn't have that mode, there are apps like Flux that can be installed to perform the same function.
Option Two: Invest in some stylish blue-blocker glasses. These are relatively cheap- around $10 per pair- and can be worn around your home in the evening to block blue light from electronics and overhead lights. These are great if your device doesn’t have a night mode or if you are reading by overhead light. These can also be useful, though may be seen as a bit dorky, to wear if you are doing an evening gym session, but we’ll discuss more about that in a bit.
Option Three: The best option is certainly to shut off the lights and electronics in the evening. After sundown, hitting the sheets as soon as possible will be the best for your circadian rhythm.
The Vitamin D and Sleep Relationship
Sunlight influences our sleep in another way as well. When our skin comes into direct contact with the sun's rays, our body begins to produce vitamin D, and vitamin D plays a major role in the production of the hormone serotonin.
During the day, when we get sun exposure, our body produces serotonin, which keeps us awake, alert, and happy. At sunset, leftover serotonin is converted into melatonin, or our ‘sleep hormone’, which is responsible for making us drowsy and ready for bed. Essentially, adequate direct sun exposure during the day can play a big role in helping us fall asleep in the evening. Even more incentive to get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
If you are unable to get enough sun, vitamin D supplementation is a really good option. That topic alone is worth another entire blog post, but as a quick bit of advice, a blood test and consultation with your doctor is the best way to get an understanding of exactly how much vitamin D you should supplement with. There is literally no other way to know besides getting your blood levels tested.
Exercise Regularly for Deep Sleep
Another contributor to serotonin production is exercise! You're not just sleeping well after a hard workout because of the physical energy you expended. You are actually boosting serotonin production and, as mentioned earlier, that gets converted into melatonin in the evening. This makes exercising outdoors a twofer when it comes to improving sleep.
That said, vigorous exercise late in the evening can impede some people’s ability to fall asleep. This is likely due to the stimulating effects of physical activity and the artificial light exposure that goes with it. Sure, for many of us that’s the only chance we get to workout, but if you find yourself tossing and turning after your evening workouts, then hopefully you can use some of these other strategies to eliminate the issue. If not, it’s worth trying to swap out for a different training time like an early morning session. Again, not everyone’s ability to fall asleep is affected by late-night exercise, but it is something to keep in mind.
The final exercise related tip that can have a profound effect on sleep quality is an evening stretch session. Stretching, or even a light limber done in the evening, can greatly relax your body and your mind. For this reason, stretching deeply before a strength training session is not recommended. Before bed, however, is a perfect time to work on your flexibility! Your nervous system will get signals to begin relaxing and prepare for recovery time and rest.
This next tip can play a number of positive roles on your health and well-being, in addition to improving the quality of your sleep. As a whole, this dietary intervention is arguably one of the best, simple changes you can make to improve your overall health. Consuming all food and non-water beverages within an 8-12 hour timeframe, commonly referred to as time-restricted feeding or intermittent fasting is our next tip, and it can yield BIG health improvements.
The protocol is very straightforward. Let’s say you wake up and have your first sip of coffee at 6 am. That initiates your eating window, and the latest you’ll want to eat dinner or drink any beverage besides water is 12 hours later, at 6 pm.
To get the greatest sleep benefits out of time-restricted feeding, ending your day’s eating window as close to sunset as possible is ideal. Here’s why: although our circadian rhythm is often described as a singular “circadian clock”, we actually have a number of body clocks that coordinate with each other to ultimately regulate our internal 24-hour clock.
These clocks reside in various body tissues and regulate all of our body systems, as well as our central circadian clock. This is just one way in that our brain connects with the rest of our organs and body structures. Eating in these 8-12 hour windows has been shown to be a very effective way of properly syncing our digestive system’s peripheral clock and ultimately helping to balance out our circadian rhythm as a whole. Never underestimate the complexity and intelligence of the human body!
This tip comes with a nice range of bonus benefits too! Time-restricted feeding also promotes weight loss, increased muscle mass, and reduced risk of cancer. For more information on time-restricted feeding, Dr. Satchin Panda and Dr. Valter Longo, Ph.D. are both great resources. Each has published some fascinating research in this area and continue to explore the potential benefits of restricting food consumption.
Sometimes, it’s not the noise outside our window that prevents us from falling asleep. It can be stress or racing thoughts that cause sleep disruption. This mental chatter is our internal noise. Taking just a few minutes to relax in the evening can help to calm your mind, bring your thoughts into the present moment, and ultimately help you fall asleep more quickly and easily.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to help you relax, and is most commonly practiced by simply focusing on your breath. As you do so, your mind will inevitably drift off into other thoughts, feelings, or emotions. This is completely normal, and the key to mindfulness meditation is simply noticing when your thoughts have started wandering. When this happens, do your best to bring your focus back to the present moment.
Meditation has a host of other benefits as well, and nowadays there are endless apps to choose from that offer guided mindfulness meditations. As little as 5 minutes of mindfulness practice can have a dramatic impact on restlessness and a host of sleeping disorders. Don’t worry, even if you can’t get it done in the evening, a daily meditation practice will positively affect your overall stress levels and help you remain more relaxed as a whole. This will transfer to the evening and has a good chance of helping prevent you from tossing and turning.
Cold Water for DEEP Sleep
This last sleep hack is a bit chilly, but is showing some promise as another way to positively influence your circadian rhythm and promote some seriously sound sleep.
The protocol is simple: take an evening shower and, at the end, take an extra couple of minutes to alternate between hot and cold water. Spend about 10 seconds on hot before turning the water to the coldest temperature you can handle. “Freeze” yourself for a brief 10 seconds before switching back to hot. Repeat 5 to 10 times and END ON COLD. Ending on cold is without a doubt the worst part, but makes all the difference.
Starting with baby steps here is totally okay, as it does take some time to get used to the chilly water. It is completely worth it because, by the end of that 10th round, you’ll be ready to head straight for the sack. For most, this procedure is as potent as a sleeping pill.
Cautionary Statement: Be careful and don’t crank the heat up too high! The temperature doesn’t need to be excessively hot or cold for you to begin noticing the benefits. It is also safest to consult with a medical doctor before exposing yourself to extreme temperatures, especially if you are at high risk of heart attack or stroke.
Wrapping Things Up
We sleep one-third of our lives (ideally), so it’s no wonder so many things influence our ability to fall asleep, the duration of that sleep, and its quality. That was a lot of info, so here’s a quick summary of the sleep hacks discussed:
- A dark room is, of course, great for sleep, but even more important is limiting screen time in the evening or at least blocking blue light. Use nighttime modes on your electronics, wear the classy blue light blocking glasses, or, best of all, shut off the lights and technology as close to sunset as possible.
- Get enough vitamin D, ideally from sunlight. Just how much is enough depends on a wide array of factors, so if you’re not sure how your vitamin D levels are looking, ask your doctor about getting that tested, especially if you are considering supplementation.
- Exercise! Physical exertion produces hormones that help you fall asleep and more relaxing forms of exercise like stretching can calm your nervous system and your mind, making it easier to nod off. Our online courses have both strength and flexibility programs so give your fitness and your sleep a boost with GymnasticBodies Training!
- Avoid nighttime eating. As a general rule, not eating or drinking anything besides water after sunset can improve your sleep and provide a number of other health benefits. If you’re looking to improve your diet as a whole, check out GB Thrive, our habit-based nutrition program.
- Practice mindfulness. Simply focusing on your breath can help calm your mind and ultimately improve your ability to fall asleep.
- Getting cold in the evening is a highly effective way to fight sleep difficulties. Alternating between cold and hot in the shower, and ending on cold, is a surefire way to combat sleeplessness.
GymnasticBodies Training is best supported with at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and these sleep hygiene tips can help you achieve that while simultaneously enhancing other aspects of your health.