Regardless of what your health and fitness target is, sleep can have a profound impact on how well you progress towards achieving that target.
This is the case no matter how well you eat or move.
Sleep is the best thing you can do to reset the health of your body and mindMatthew Walker
World renowned sleep expert Matthew Walker highlighted in his book ‘Why We Sleep’ the importance of prioritising sleep before exercise because the statistics show that without sufficient quality and quantity of sleep you can’t exercise anywhere near your full potential and are more likely to get injured. Therefore, the effectiveness of your workout will be greatly diminished.
He also highlighted how important sleep is over diet. The better your sleep, the more hormone leptin is produced which suppresses hunger. However, just a single night of bad sleep exponentially increases the hormone ghrelin which makes you crave more refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
So sleep is the foundation of everything when it comes to health.
Of course what we eat and how much we move and how we manage our stress levels are important, but sleep quality and quantity is the foundation building blocks for all of these to be effective.
We have a chronic sleep problem
Despite the above, many of us are chronically sleep deprived with a study by Oxford University highlighting the considerable consequences to our health from weight gain, quadrupling our chances to get sick and being much less productive and low on energy.
But what is causing us to be so sleep deprived?
I think it is a cultural issue.
We live in a culture that almost praises sleep deprivation.
There is a hidden shame attached to sleep.
You don’t feel ashamed for exercising or eating well.
But there is a hidden shame attached to sleeping a long time as though you are seen as lazy and slothful.
We live busy, stressful and screen addicted lifestyles.
There is always one more urgent task to complete right now.
We’ll just drink another pot of coffee or sugary energy drink, and that will get us through the storm.
Then we say we will change for the better when I get the time.
But of course, you never get the time. And the same thing happens again and again.
So it’s no wonder we have a mental health crisis as well as a physical health crisis.
The most worrying aspect of this is that most doctors aren’t taught anything about sleep and don’t research the positive impact it can have.
They are taught to treat the problem with a pill once it’s too late, rather then solve the root cause of the problem.
So it’s up to you to take responsibility for your own health.
Solutions for better sleep
We now know the vital importance of sleep and also the fact we live in a sleep deprived society.
But how do we take action to improve this?
Speak to many people who are sleep deprived and they would acknowledge they need to sleep more.
However, acknowledging that fact is much easier than actually making the lifestyle changes required to get that sleep.
So I offer four practical tips below;
- Schedule and prioritise your day
It’s common to think you don’t have time.
But since I’ve started to schedule things I’ve realised it’s not a lack of time, it’s an overload of distractions and things that don’t matter.
From checking emails 50 times a day to checking my phone and social media updates.
So first, prioritise what matters most to you.
Initially it seems like more work, but spending 10 minutes to write down what you are going to do and for how long including what time you will finish working and what time you go to bed is incredibly powerful.
Research shows that once you write it down and have a plan to follow your brain is much more likely to want to stick to it and it will soon become a habit.
There will always be something more to do.
Task lists are never ending.
But you have to realise that whether you like it or not, you are not a robot.
You are a human being.
Increasing your work hours from 10 hours per day to 15 hours per day will surely increase the amount of work that you can get done. But it is also a mirage; you may be able to complete more tasks, at least in the short term. However, it will also destroy your effectiveness and likely mean you will make mistakes that will need to be rectified later.
So if you really feel like you need to spend more time working ask yourself the following question: will my world come to an end if I don’t do this today?
If the answer is no, then it’s better for your health and for your productivity to stop, get a decent night’s sleep and start again in a more productive state tomorrow.
2. Limit caffeine after lunch and swap it for green or chamomile tea
In simple terms, caffeine blocks the signals that tell our brains we need sleep.
It does not actually address the physiological needs which can only be met with actual sleep.
Therefore, caffeine just masks the problem of sleep deprivation rather than solving the problem.
We have not evolved to drink loads of caffeine.
It is not in our natural nature.
If you feel you really need caffeine to make it through your morning without feeling sluggish, that should be a major red flag that you are already sleep deprived.
If you do feel like you can;t live without it, try to have it just in the early part of the day and not in the evening.
You could also try drinking green tea instead which contains small amounts of caffeine and provides many other health benefits.
Chamomile tea is also great with studies showing it helps you relax and improve sleep quality..
3. No technology 30 minutes before bed
The longer you go before bed without technology, the better.
But if this is difficult start with just 30 minutes.
To get a deep restful sleep body needs a hormone called melatonin and technology and screens actively restrict the production of this hormone.
Therefore, try not to use technology in bed and instead read a book to help you relax. This will help your brain associate bed with sleep.
It is also preferential to sleep in total darkness to help keep your body’s circadian rhythm is sync.
4. Do some physical activity outside in the morning
Research shows that exercising in the morning daylight helps you to sleep.
This is true even if it’s cloudy as well as sunny.
It helps to kick-start the brain in the same way as when you expose yourself to bright light early in the morning, and it makes the body release melatonin earlier in the evening.
Moreover, you reap all the amazing additional benefits of exercising outside.
However, if your only opportunity is to do your workouts in the evening, you can have a hot shower which will help bring your body’s temperature back in sync for a better nights sleep.