Sleep is one of the biggest players in how we feel and how we perform. I am talking about all sorts of performance: your daily tasks at work, your hobbies, your physical fitness endeavors and your circus arts activities!
Many of us don’t get the recommended 7-9 hours (a night) and doing that day in and day out, year after year, can really start to wear us down. Literally.
When we are sleeping, good things happen. Here’s a few:
- toxins get cleaned out of the brain;
- physical restoration: the body rebuilds and repairs itself;
- the brain processes information processing;
- enhanced memory function;
- regulation of mood;
- strengthening of our immune system
When we are not getting enough sleep we can experience:
- weight gain;
- decrease in emotional processing and possibly depression;
- decrease in immune system function;
- brain fog and decreased mental performance;
- increased risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes or stroke.
Not getting enough sleep consistently or having poor quality of sleep (waking up a lot or waking for long periods) can really start to chip away at our health and wellness as well as our productivity. When our quality of sleep is effected for some reason, not only is it difficult to focus on work tasks, but it makes us feel more lethargic and less likely to feel pumped about our workout. We may even drag through that circus arts class.
Poor sleep means we don’t stay in REM sleep long enough to get the restful and restorative effects of deep sleep which our body needs to repair itself and feel rejuvenated.
This is where many of us end up turning to caffeine in some form or another. Since the stimulating effects of caffeine often end up being subtle–particularly to long-time consumers–we often don’t realize that it takes hours to clear our systems. This can result in a vicious cycle: we feel tired, so we drink some caffeine…and then it interferes with our ability to fall asleep or get restful sleep…so the next day, we feel tired, so we drink some caffeine…
We should be shooting for our last caffeinated product at least six hours prior to our bedtime.
Too much caffeine isn’t the only culprit for poor quality of sleep, there are others.
Below is a checklist of ways to make sure you are setting yourself up for the most restful and rejuvenating sleep. It will probably mean some of your pre-bedtime habits may need to change. Like with anything when we are trying to form new habits, approach it one thing at a time. And even then, aim to make relatively small, manageable changes at first.
Take the time to get comfortable with that one new habit before you add another one. If you look at the list below and realize there are a bunch you are not doing, don’t let the overwhelm shut you down and have you not work on this. You need this! You are the most important person in your life–no really, you are.
(photos below are Amazon links to purchase the items if you want them and the convenience of having them shipped to your house)
- Consistent Bedtime and Wake-up time. Do you have a consistent time that you go to bed and wake up? Even on weekends? Your body’s circadian rhythm relies on consistency, therefore going to bed about the same time and waking about the same time each day is something the body needs.
- The Time You Are Sleeping. With the above being said, the hours when you are sleeping are important. Not only are we striving for between 7-9 hours a night, but the hours where the body is doing the most repair and recovery, via certain hormones, are between 10pm and 2am. Aiming to be sleeping during those hours can really help physical and mental performance.
- Sunshine! Getting out into the sunshine is really helpful, especially if you can soak up some rays in the morning. This helps your body find its natural cycle of melatonin which improves our sleep quality.
- Your Bedroom Set-up. Let’s talk about your bedroom set-up.
- Lights Out. You want your room completely dark while you are sleeping. No extra light from streetlights, computers, T.V.s, cellphones, alarm clocks (if you still have an old-fashioned one) or smoke detectors, etc.
- Cool Temperature. You want your room to be on the cooler side. Studies show that the ideal sleeping temperature is around 65º plus or minus a few degrees depending on your natural body temperature. Any temperature above 77º or below 54º will likely cause interrupted sleep.
- Use a fan or A/C for your bedroom for those warmer summer months.
- Adjust or program thermostats in the winter for lowering the temperature for nighttime sleeping.
- Shhhh! Silence while sleeping is important. Block out distracting noise–be it city noise, a snoring partner or dog or other noises (maybe a hooting owl).
- You can buy some pretty great noise-cancelling earplugs.
- Download a white noise app to your phone or tablet… although I would argue that not having the phone in the room at all is better for sleeping. I know, I know, many of you use your phone for your alarm, but the argument here is it’s a light source (see below) and it’s distracting us from unwinding. I’ve even had some clients say that vibration of the device disrupts their sleep. I am a big proponent of turning the phone off and leaving it in the other room. But that’s me. Maybe just the other room is what’s best for you and your life.
- Or purchase a white noise maker to mask the sounds that may disrupt your sleep.
- Sleep Ritual. Preparing for your bedtime.
- No Big Meals. You’ll want to stay away from eating right before bed. Aim to finish meals 2-3 hours before going to bed. Eating and then going to bed has been shown to disrupt your sleep cycles.
- No Electronics. Put down the electronics about one hour prior to your bedtime. I know it’s hard, but it is best.
- This includes T.V.s, computer/laptops, tablets, phones and anything else that emits that bright, blue light. The light emitted from these devices decreases your melatonin levels–the hormone needed for sleep–which then will disrupt your feeling of sleepiness or disrupt your sleep.
- If putting down the electronic devises one hour prior to bed isn’t something that can be arranged or slowly changed via a new habit, then you can either download a blue light filter for your electronic devices, some of which already have them built in, or you can purchase snazzy blue light filter glasses. It’s not the same as reducing the stimulation to brain by not looking at your phone, but it’s better than nothing.
- Unwind Ritual. Winding down sometimes feels hard. Especially if you do something active like teach in the evenings (like me) or take classes in the evening that stimulate your brain and body. Sometimes, your mind just won’t turn off because it keeps thinking about something at work. Some things that can help:
- Taking a hot shower or bath. Upon exiting a hot shower or bath your body temperature drops, something that happens to the body as it prepares for sleep, and thus helps you fall asleep faster. If you add Epsom salts to your bath it promotes relaxation to not only your muscles, but your mind and facilitates deeper sleep.
- Gentle stretching, gentle yoga or foam rolling.
- Journaling before bed about positive experiences from your day or about things you are grateful for has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. When stress decreases, sleep increases as well as the quality of sleep. It’s a super win!
- Meditation or breathing exercises before bed can also help put you in a relaxed state and reduce your cortisol (stress hormone) to help aid in restful sleep. There are apps you can download that can guide you through meditating or breathing exercises. I like Calm personally. It has both meditation and breathing exercises options. The meditation options are guided or unguided.
The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep
Now you may be wondering how does this really help me with my circus arts goals and fitness goals?
- Improves muscle recovery-creating less fatigue after a training session.
- Improves motor skill development–that’s the movement skills of doing the things, be it a cool new move in your aerial class or a new strength training move.
- Improves muscle glycogen storage–that’s stored muscle energy for powering your muscles to do more cool things.
- Improves reaction time–like catch your phone fast when it slips out of your hand or dynamic release moves in aerials.
- Improves memory–remember those skills and how to execute them better.
- Improves cortisol regulation–you need some cortisol at certain times of day, but not all day and especially not at night.
- Decreases risk of injury–yay!!
Like I said earlier, if you look at the checklist from above and feel overwhelmed with the number of things you have to change, please don’t get overwhelmed. Tackle one thing at a time. Ask yourself, what are you already doing? Congratulate yourself on those. From the things that need improvement, what would be the easiest to work on changing? Start there. Work on that for a couple of weeks and when you feel you have created a new habit around that checklist item, move on to the another item that you feel confident about.
Go slowly and work on one item at a time. You may not be able to change them all, but the more you do, the more it willhelp you perform optimally in your daily life, work life and play life then you are on the right track. In the long run getting good quality sleep is good for you and your well-being. You deserve good quality sleep. Now go catch those Zzzzzzz’s
Be Well, Theresa