“Want XYZ, YOU SHOULD GET MORE SLEEP!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah…we’ve all heard it. And how many times have we actually tried to make a change to get more sleep? Yup. For 99% of us, myself included, the answer is ZERO times.
As I’m sure you know, the research on benefits of sleep for a healthy lifestyle is VERY conclusive. “Exercise, sleep and nutrition form the triangle of health, and all are related,” says Dr. Phyllis Zee, a professor of neurology and director of Northwestern University’s Sleep Health Centers. For one, her research has shown that a proper night's sleep (7+ hours) results in more productive training sessions later that day.
But, seriously though, why don’t we ever try to make a change to improve our sleep? Wellllll, I see a few reasons.
We would rather try going keto, changing training programs, popping an Ashwagandha Reishi supplement powder, or trying those magical bracelets we saw selling on Amazon Prime Day for $19.99 to see if that’ll help us lose fat, gain muscle, have more energy, get stronger, look better naked, make a billion dollars next year, etc.
What if getting more, better quality sleep moved the needle more than all of the above combined? Let’s buck the status quo and jump in with this month’s blog post.
I’m going to discuss sleep, how it’s made a difference in my health, fitness and performance, why I think it’s the low-hanging-fruit for everyone else’s, and give 5 actionable strategies you can use TONIGHT to improve your sleep, without the online quick-fix magical bracelets.
My sleepy story.
My wife will tell you, I can fall asleep almost anywhere in about 3 minutes or less. And I can sleep a solid 7 and half hours straight without waking up 10 times or tiptoeing to the bathroom every 3 hours. BUT, it hasn’t always been that way! After rowing crew in college, working in NYC finance, and coaching crack-of-dawn fitness classes, I picked up some pretty rough sleep habits: working on the computer until 1AM, up at 4AM to exercise, 430AM commute, and 5AM to open the gym. My brain and body quickly reprogrammed that this was the norm. I was tired, tense, had brain fog, slower reactions, was prone to more outbursts, my gym performance was lackluster, injuries piled up, lower back constantly nagging, my body held onto stubborn belly fat like the plague, and I struggled to get lean.
Maybe you commiserate with 1, 2 or all of these issues. I want you to know that this is NOT OK, healthy or normal, and that there ARE tactile actions you can take to remedy these things.
I started to clean up my act, 1 habit at a time, in an effort to improve my sleep quality and quantity, and it paid off in countless ways for my health, fitness, and performance.
TLDR: If you don’t sleep 7+ hours a night on a regular basis your health, fitness and performance ARE SUFFERING. “I don’t know where to start,” and “It’s too hard to change” are terrible excuses. I’m going to lay out 5 strategies below you can use TONIGHT to try and get more Z’s and exactly where you should start to improve your sleep.
MOVE YO' BODY.
Not surprisingly, getting active has a lot of scientific benefits that lead to better quality sleep. According to Dr. Ramar, exercising outdoors boosts your oxygen levels, which helps calm you while vitamin D from sunlight helps regulate circadian rhythms to keep your bedtime consistent and help you sleep more soundly.
The opposite is also true. Lack of sleep leads to crummy training sessions, and it has a negative effect on your muscle recovery. When you don’t get enough sleep (or the quality of your sleep is poor), it can cause muscle recovery to slow. That means you may end up feeling more sore for longer than you should, without seeing much progress. If you’re serious about your health, fitness and performance goals, then a full 7+ hours of sleep every night is essential.
GET YOUR LIGHT RIGHT.
One of the easiest ways to get into “rest mode” is to adjust your exposure to light. When you're exposed to light, your brain stops producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. This makes you feel awake and alert. And while the debate on whether blue light from our devices affects our sleep is still being questioned, there's no doubt that doom-scrolling, or binge watching, keeps your mind racing while you're trying to relax. Consider shutting down your screens an hour before shuteye. Worst case, use an app like Flux to dim the light from your computer in the evening if you have to burn some midnight oil.
Prep your sleep space: remove electronics, keep the room cool, and make it as dark as possible. Keep your sheets clean, your pillows comfortable, and try some sort of white noise in the background. You can buy a literal white noise machine, but my wife and I use a $30 fan we got from Costco.
Take a warm shower! This is a fool-proof sleep inducer for me. Get into bed clean. Try earplugs and/or a sleep mask.
Have A Sleep Routine.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, actively building a healthy sleep routine makes it easier to get the sleep you need on a consistent basis. For example:
how i would start.
Breathwork: Try 5 minutes of focused breathing before bed. I love the Box Breathing Method after training sessions and before bed. I’ve even used it in my pre-bed shower. Breathe in for 4sec, Hold for 4sec, Breathe out for 4sec, Hold for 4sec, repeat for 6-10 rounds.
Sleep Supplements: I’ve found Magnesium really helps me to sleep more soundly. And most health professionals would point out that the large majority of folks are deficient in it. My wife uses Melatonin on an as-needed basis with good success. Brands like Beam and other CBD products have big followings and a lot of widespread use these days. Talk to your doctor, read product labels and understand that chronic use of most sleep aids will blunt its effectiveness overtime so use them only when you need them.
Meditation: Try the Headspace app, Reveri hypnosis app, a sleep podcast or something similar! There are tons of free resources out there.
The 8 Sleep Mattress Cover: I’ve heard GREAT things about these from folks I really trust, including Dr. Huberman of the HubermanLab podcast. Here’s one of his ToolKit summaries on sleep, if you’re a nerd like me!
Please share this with anyone you think it could help! Most importantly, LET ME KNOW what you try, what works for you, what doesn’t, how it has impacted your sleep, and how it’s improved your health, fitness and performance!
You can easily reach me @tomanocy on Instagram. Feel free to reach out to me for any training, nutrition or coffee talk and make sure to tag me in any pics of you and your doggos. Cheers!