7 Sleep Habits and Hacks
Quality sleep is essential. I relate to patients that sleep is your body’s #1 recovery tool. Yet so often in our society we put it on the back-burner. “I can sleep when I’m dead.” I too fell prey to this mindset, most notably during my college days when I was supposedly invincible. And then wondered why I was getting the flu every year and my CrossFit performance was suffering when I was seemingly doing everything else right. Sleep allows not only our body but our Central Nervous System (CNS) and Enteric Nervous System (ENS – our gastrointestinal “brain”) to reboot.
Below are a few recommendations to setting up a good sleep routine.
1) Timing. When you wake up is most important. For me, the alarm typically goes off at 4:55am. Even on days when I don’t have to necessarily be up, my body wakes me up. The importance of a set wake-up time is to establish a routine for your circadium rhythm, your body’s natural daily energy cycle. This sets hormone release and drives energy levels through the day.
What time you go to bed is important, and it shouldn’t radically vary such as going to bed at 8pm Monday and then midnight Tuesday. However, the most critical is setting up a consistent waking time.
A note on circadium rhythm – our bodies sleep on a 90 minute cycle. Try to establish your sleep patterns around every 90 minutes, such as 6, 7 ½, or 9 hours of sleep. For example, if you go to bed at 10pm and aim for 7 ½ hours sleep you will be waking up at 5:30am.
2) Routine. As children, we had a routine. Get your jammies on, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, read, time for bed. Where did that go as we grow up?! Re-establish a routine. It signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Good habits include reading, watching a fire, having mellow conversations with family, etc. Stretching is one of my favorites – 10 minutes of very light stretching undoes muscle tension from the day and helps you to fall asleep quickly, sleep efficiently, and wake up less sore.
3) Lights out. That includes electronics! The light from modern lighting often contains blue light. This blue light is a culprit in signaling our brains to suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is the popular hormone responsible for signaling sleep onset, among many other health benefits. Stop electronics usage ideally 90 minutes before bedtime! Cell phones and computers are keeping your brain turned on and literally ruining your sleep. Alternatives to electronics and bright lights are mentioned above under Routine.
4) Breathe. Breathing is crucial, and how you breathe can drastically alter your physiology. Heated phone calls, stressful emails, arguments – think back to your breathing patterns after these things. It was either very diminished, or rapid and shallow. Proper breathing is deep into the diaphragm (or “belly breathing”), and in and out through the nose. This signals to the CNS to put your body into Parasympathetic mode, or Rest and Digest mode.
Box Breathing is a pattern established by Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine. It works as follows: inhale for a count of 4, hold the inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold the exhale for a count of 4; repeat for 2 to 5 minutes. Also of important note during this breathing pattern to only breathe in and out through your nose. Give it a shot – it works.
Breathing through your nose is the most efficient way to operate at all times when not laughing, eating, talking, etc. Nasal breathe while awake – although it can be hard to do while asleep, there are such products as lip tape which help to keep your mouth closed at night and assist nasal breathing throughout the night.
5) Dark and cool. Keep the room as dark as possible. Our bodies are programmed evolutionarily to sleep when it is dark – we didn’t always have TV’s and computers and modern lighting. The bedroom should be dark. You can even operate by putting a candle on your nightstand to use as a nightlight – just remember to put it out before you tuck in.
Temperature is important. Around 65 degrees in the bedroom is ideal. Too hot and you won’t sleep, too cold and your teeth are chattering. Tips to cool body temp are leaving the bottoms of the feet exposed from under the covers. Also taking a cool shower before bed can lower your core body temp and help you sleep soundly.
6) The bedroom is for only 2 things. Sleep and sex. That is it. Not eating, not work, not TV, not studying, not training the dog. Certain locations cue our brain of what activity is to be done. Do you feel excited and amplified when you walk into a gym? Getting hungry when you walk into your favorite restaurant? You should be tired when you walk into your bedroom. The bedroom is an important place, and it should be regarded as so.
7) Supplements. Our modern world adds many distractions and often stress to our sleep pattern. I am a strong proponent of tuning in your body naturally to help it function optimally, as stated in the above tips. However, there is a time and a place for supplements to help get our body back on track. There are a myriad of different products out there designed to help you get good shut-eye. In recent past Beyond Athletics Lights Out formulation has been significantly helpful for me. Most notably contained within this product is the compound Phosphatidylserine (PS). PS has helped me frequently and many of my patients. It is a fatty substance which helps to reduce cortisol (basically reduce stress) and support brain recovery during sleep. Obviously PS is not the only supplement to assist with sleep, it is just one that I chose to highlight. And there is no 1 miracle vitamin or mineral to get the perfect sleep - see your healthcare professional to ask what may be right for your case.
I am often asked about Melatonin in relation to sleep benefit. Melatonin in my opinion is very useful for re-establishing a sleep routine. So if you are travelling and changing time zones or sleep patterns frequently it can be of benefit. However, I stray from recommending it for people who have a regular routine and are not travelling often.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of sleep enhancements. It is a thought-provoker to expose you to some ideas you may not have heard of yet, or have fallen by the wayside. Again, sleep is a crucial aspect to our recovery and well-being as humans. The average person will spend 1/3 of their life asleep. Therefore it is crucial to get the best quality sleep you can in order to spend your wakeful moments truly living!