Improving my sleep was the most impactful health improvement I’ve made in 2016! Around April, my body basically hit a wall. I was low on energy, I couldn’t think straight, and when I worked out I felt like my heart was going to explode. I went to the doctor a handful of times for this test and that test. Nothing. They sent me home telling me that I was perfectly healthy. This was of course terrifying because I figured that if it weren’t something they could figure out quickly, then it must be some super rare form of something-or-another that you only learn about in high school biology. Around that time I came across a new podcast called, “The Model Health Show,” by Shawn Stevenson. I enjoyed the podcast so much that I purchased his book, “Sleep Smarter,” and began to implement some of what he wrote about. After just a couple weeks of getting my sleep in order, my energy levels were through the roof, my mood had improved, and I was once again killing it in the weight room!
One of the issues I had, and one you may be facing now, was that I thought there was no time for sleep. Today’s society teaches us that “sacrificing sleep” is one of he keys to success. This is one of the biggest lies ever told. The only way we can have any kind of consistent success is to ensure that we show up everyday with the same energy, focus, and tenacity to perform at a high level. The all-natural way we can do this is by getting great sleep regularly. In this article I’m going to list 3 strategies that have helped me upgrade my sleep and my life!
1.) Get to Bed Early, Consistently
If there’s one thing modern life has really messed up, it’s our bedtime. With the technology we have it’s so easy to stay up late and stay entertained. We no longer feel threatened at night and many of us don’t get to sleep until the next morning. I know some of you are reading this and saying, “Oh you don’t understand, I’m a night owl,” well I’ve got news for you, I’ve used that excuse before and chances are you aren’t a night owl. Actually, being a true “night owl,” is extremely rare. It’s like when we tell others that being overweight is a health condition, yes some people do have health conditions that make it very difficult for them to lose weight but that is actually very rare and there are a lot of people out there ready and willing to use that excuse to support their unwillingness to change. I digress.
Getting to bed at a reasonable hour actually improves the quality of our sleep A TON! In fact, the key repair hormones, Melatonin and HGH, peak right around when it get’s dark and decrease as the night goes on. Around the time the sun rises, cortisol spikes and we wake up, ideally, rip roaring and ready to roll! If we continue to miss our opportune times to recover because we’d rather stay up all night binge watching Netflix, playing video games, or trying to button up that report for tomorrows meeting; we will end up piling up on sleep debt that will seem to hit us all at once. The best course of action is to go to sleep within a few hours of it getting dark and aim to wake up around sunrise. For me I’ve set my schedule from about 10pm-4:30am and this is coming from a former “night owl.” Some of you may notice that this does not follow the law of getting 7-8 hours of sleep, you’re right. This is because getting to sleep at the right time beats trying to sleep longer because you will have better sleep quality!
2.) Stress Management
You’ll notice this is a common theme among my post and that’s for good reason. We are TOO STRESSED! Let me rephrase that. WE HAVE NO PLAN FOR HOW STRESSED WE ARE! That’s much better. The number one reason my clients tell me they have trouble sleeping is because they can’t turn their brains off. They lie awake in bed constantly thinking about what they have to do tomorrow or what they didn’t do the day before. We become so obsessed with the past and the future that we oftentimes forget to appreciate where we are now. In America, we are truly blessed to have the safety and opportunity that many other places in the world don’t. Before bed, why not be thankful and show gratitude because we could be dealing with far worse things than Jenny badmouthing you in the break room.
There are a few practices that can help you re-center and deal with the seemingly overwhelming stress you may be experiencing. One of my favorites is meditation. Meditation is simply having some time to yourself to sit in peace, appreciate the moment, and teach yourself not to react to every little thought that pops into your head minute to minute. One way to get started meditation is by using a new, convenient meditation app like HEADSPACE, that will literally walk you through everything. Getting into good stress management practice will work wonders when it comes to you falling asleep!
3.) Sleep Routine
Ok it’s 9pm it’s time to start winding down. I head to the bathroom to freshen up, throw on some comfortable clothes, and get the ebook ready for some nigh time reading. Having a good sleep routine that you can repeat night after night will help wind you down and get you to sleep on time, consistently.
Some things I would advise against including in this routine is TV (especially if it’s close to you), work in bed, exercise, or eating sugary snacks. These all promote wakefulness to some degree. You generally want to get into a routine that is relaxing and get’s your mind off of what you have to do tomorrow. With television, it’s the blue light emission that can throw off your sleep hormones; try listening to an audiobook instead or angling the television so it’s not pointing directly at you. Instead of work try reading a book on something you are passionate about. Instead of eating sugary snacks, drink some water or have some soothing peppermint tea. This is a time to pamper yourself and relax because darn it, you deserve it!
I could honestly go on and on about the importance of sleep and ways we can improve our sleep quality but let’s start with these three hacks and I assure you, you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.
-Howard Bowens III