Sleep is easily the most underrated aspect of health and is oftentimes an overlooked component in both the fitness and healthcare industries. Lately, however, the importance and benefits of sleep are becoming more mainstream and it has even been called the greatest performance enhancer with the ability to improve your performance by 30%. That’s huge!
One thing we are also seeing is that it’s not just MORE sleep that people need but actually sleep QUALITY. We should all be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night but if you are tossing and turning all night and not getting quality sleep, then it doesn’t matter how long you are in bed.
Sleep quality and sleep density are what we should be aiming to improve. But how do we do that? Luckily there are some quick and simple things that you can do tonight to help get your sleep on track.
The first thing we need to do is set up a routine just like you do with your kids. You know, bath time, pajamas, tuck them in, read them a book. All of these things trigger a response in their brains telling them it is time to calm down and get ready for bed. It’s the same thing with us, it’s just going to look a little different.
As a part of this, we need to make sure our exercise, stress, and nutrition are all on point as well. As such, caffeine and alcohol both affect sleep quality. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep us awake, tossing, and turning. Alcohol is a depressant and while people have often used this as a sleep aid, studies have shown that it actually keeps us out of the important REM sleep cycles. So we aren’t getting the deep, restorative sleep that we truly need.
Our routine is going to start with 8-10 minutes of soft tissue work. Take a foam roller or lacrosse ball and start rolling – it doesn’t matter where (quads, back, hamstrings, calves, etc). The reason we are doing this is because it provokes a parasympathetic response in us. This is the rest and digest mode of our autonomic nervous system (the opposite of sympathetic, aka fight or flight). This is going to prime us and get us ready to fully relax.
Next up is all about sleep hygiene. We want our room to be cold! We are talking between 62-68 degrees F. You can also use a cooling mattress pad such as this. There are a ton out there, so read some reviews and pick one for yourself.
We also want our room dark! Too much exposure to light before bed has been linked to things like sleep apnea and depression and affects our circadian rhythm. One of the best ways to make sure the room is dark is to get black out curtains. If you don’t have those or don’t want to spend the money, get an eye mask! Bonus: you can take an eye mask with you when you travel! A white noise machine or ear plugs can also create a nice environment to help you sleep as well. We have a couple of these and even take them with us when we travel now, too. The key with all of this is to set up a repeatable pattern that you can do every single night. Just like the bedtime routine you have with your kids.
Another way to prepare your body for sleep is to reduce your core body temperature. A great way to do this is by taking a warm bath. This will increase your peripheral blood blow (aka in your arms and legs) and thus decrease your core temperature. This is why you feel sleepy after a warm bath.
Tart cherry juice has also been shown to naturally increase the level of melatonin in your body. All it takes is 1 ounce, 2 times per day.
Now onto what will probably be the hardest for everyone: NO technology in the bedroom! This means no television, no iPad/tablet, and NO cell phone! If you have to have your phone in the bedroom, turn it on night mode and turn it upside down. I would also recommend a red alarm clock in the room but also turn it upside down so the light isn’t disrupting. Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed and do yourself a favor and get a blue light blocker screen protector or glasses. Blue light has been shown to affect serotonin levels and leads to poor sleep quality.
As mentioned before, try to create a routine and do it nightly. This goes for when you are at home but also when you are traveling. A great example of this is the British professional cyclists. They noticed that sleeping on different mattresses during their travels was affecting their performance so they started traveling with their own mattresses. I get that this likely isn’t feasible for most of us but we can control certain aspects of our environment such as a pillow, pillow case, sound machine/ear plugs, and a face mask.
Master your sleep routine and watch your performance skyrocket!
Check out the interview below with Dr. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist who studies sleep:
Bedrosian, T. A., & Nelson, R. J. (2017). Timing of light exposure affects mood and brain circuits. Translational psychiatry, 7(1), e1017. doi:10.1038/tp.2016.262
Valley Sleep Center. (2012, December 6). The Truth About Tart Cherry Juice and Sleep. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
Ohio State University. (2009, October 21). Light at night linked to symptoms of depression in mice. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Sleeping with a TV & Lights On – National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
Price, G. (2020, January 14). The Power of Sleep: Nature’s Greatest Health and Performance Enhancer. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
Rogan, J., & Walker, M. (2018, April 25). Joe Rogan Experience #1109 – Matthew Walker. Retrieved January 31, 2020.