How much rest is enough, and why do we need it?
My time at home has been kind to me in many ways. I am extremely grateful that I’ve been able to maintain a fairly normal life over the past two years. Of course, being stuck at home has forced me to adapt in many ways. My training went from weights in the gym to kettlebells in the living room, and my diet shifted to whatever was in my kitchen.
This shift forced me to be much more aware of the decisions I was making. For the first time in awhile, I had to make deliberate decisions about every single thing I was doing on a day-to-day basis. I had never considered how I was going through the motions without questioning my daily actions.
Today’s letter isn’t about training or diet, though. It’s about something much more important. Today we are talking about sleep.
The average person spends 26 years of their life asleep. (We also spend 7 years of our lives trying to fall asleep.) That’s a considerable amount of time, so it’s worthy of discussion. How do we get optimal sleep? How does it interact with your training? I am not a sleep physician, but here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned while playing with my sleep.
Sleep Impacts Everything
This should come as no surprise, but it’s easy to forget that sleep impacts every aspect of your life. We need sleep to survive and higher quality sleep leads to a higher quality existence. There are a couple of reasons I suggest getting better sleep:
When we get better sleep we have more mental clarity. This helps us perform better at work, learn more efficiently, be more present in our daily lives, and make better decisions. Studies show that lack of sleep causes hormone imbalance, which leads to shifts in our eating habits. Having a tough time sticking to your macros? Sleep more. There is also a link between our sleeping habits and our training habits. In fact, they have a reciprocal tie to each other.
Once you are training consistently you will need optimal sleep to recover. As your training load increases your sleep load will need to increase to allow your body time to rest. The great thing about exercise is that it makes sleep easier. If you have trouble sleeping, exercise is will be a great tool to kick start a more effective sleep cycle.
The combination of better sleep and better recovery will lead to better results. I don’t need to convince you further that sleep is important and that you need good sleep, but my goal here is to create a world where sleep is a critical part of your healthy lifestyle and training regimen. Plan for sleep and work to optimize it.
Everyone Sleeps Differently
We are all different. What works for me might not work for you. My wife could sleep through a plane engine falling through our roof, but I wake up if the dog shifts his weight. (We sleep with our dog, and it’s definitely not good for my health but it’s too cute for me to kick him off the bed.)
I say this only to suggest one thing: be curious about how you sleep. Much like training and diet, you should play around with different elements of your sleep to see what works for you and what doesn’t. For me, white noise (we use a Google Home) and a small fan next to the bed have been game-changers. On the flip side, I tried a sleep mask (this one is awesome) for a bit and it wasn’t much of a help.
Play around with variables like these and see what works for you:
Body Temperature (Clothing and Blanket Weight)
Light (Reduce morning light with blackout shades)
While we are all different, there are three tips I would suggest for all of us.
Reduce screen time. Screen time tricks our minds into preventing our natural wind-down associated with our circadian rhythm. Most phones have a setting to shift screen colors before bedtime. Make sure you use these settings if you have to use your phone in the evening.
Reduce late-night eating. When we eat late at night our bodies have to work to process that food while we sleep. We should be letting our metabolic system rest while we sleep. If you need a late-night snack, make it a small nutrient dense snack.
Reduce alcohol intake before bed. Alcohol prevents deep sleep. While some folks get sleepy when they get a buzz, the quality of sleep is still drastically decreased after a couple of drinks. It’s also much easier to get a good run in without a hangover!
That concludes my sleep PSA! According to my Apple Watch, I’m currently getting 8.3 hours of sleep every night. Try setting a benchmark for your sleep and see what you can do to increase the quality. Bad nights are inevitable, but like anything we train, keep an eye on the trends. Over time focusing on sleep will be a life-changing effort.
Have a great week!