While having fresh sheets and an organized room will definitely contribute to better sleep, “sleep hygiene” actually refers to the behaviors we can perform throughout the day and before bed to get better quality rest. It is no secret that sleep is often the missing piece when it comes to recovery. Many individuals may be working hard in the gym, eating well, and still finding themselves fatigued, sluggish, in a “mind fog”, or overall not performing or recovering as well as they would like. Poor sleep also interferes with the process of building muscle and losing body fat. Ideally, we should all be sleeping a minimum of 7 hours a night, and many of us who train more than 6 hours a week, have demanding jobs or household duties, should REALLY being aiming towards 9! However, it is more than just the hours in bed that matter, as the QUALITY of sleep is incredibly important for recovery.
These days, there are a remarkable amount of sleep-aids on the market that promise to solve your sleep issues. Everything from CBD Oil and Melatonin to ZZquil and Ambien are marketed to plenty of us tired, sleepy souls. More often than not, even some of these “natural” products may interfere with our bodies natural rhythms and create dependencies. While there are situations they can and should be used, it should not be the first option. Before dropping big bucks on the latest trend, consider implementing the following practices into your daily routine.
CONSISTENCY IS THE FOUNDATION
Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday is ideal. In reality, many perform shift work or have an inconsistent schedule - this is ok, just try your best to follow as many of the following tips and establish a routine before bed.
GET MOVING & GET SOME SUN
Interestingly enough, getting good sleep starts the moment we wake up. Getting right out of bed in the morning and being exposed to natural light throughout the day helps the body regulate your sleep/wake cycle.
LIMIT CAFFEINE WITHIN 8 HOURS OF BEDTIME
Caffeine is great to aid training, but too much too close to bed can be detrimental to our sleep. Interestingly enough, if you start getting better sleep, you will be much less likely to get that “3PM Feeling” that leads you mysteriously to the Starbucks line.
LIMIT USE OF ELECTRONICS AT LEAST 30 MINUTES BEFORE BED
I know it’s tough, but this can be a gamechanger for many. Artificial light has been shown to interfere with our natural production of melatonin. Not to mention scrolling mindlessly can become a timewarp where 9PM suddenly turns to 12AM! Save yourself the trouble and put those electronics away.
ESTABLISH A RELAXING NIGHT TIME ROUTINE
This is a great time to aid recovery. Taking a warm shower or bath, meditating, reading, stretching, and being close with loved ones will help your body and mind calm down before bed.
SET THE ROOM TO A COMFORTABLE TEMPERATURE
Most people sleep best in a cool environment (66F-72F), but find what you prefer. A comfortable body temperature will yield better sleep.
THE DARKER, THE BETTER
Blackout curtains are a great tool to help with sleep. A cool, dark room is an ideal environment for melatonin production.
If all else fails and you find yourself still lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, there are a number of self guided techniques you can perform in bed. Think “counting sheep”, but better. My personal favorite is to begin at my toes and tell myself (in my head) that my toes are falling asleep (and repeat) until I start to feel that body part almost tingling, and then move up your body (ankles, calves, etc). until you fall asleep. An individual may also benefit from a white noise or sound machine if you find your mind is busy prior to bed.
Ultimately, these techniques and tips are just more tools for your toolbox. Take what you need and hopefully you will feel happier, healthier, and more recovered throughout the day. Happy sleeping!