How-To: Improve Your Sleep Quality & Quantity

YAWWWNNNNN – who’s with me?  Call it the summer doldrums (or winter blahs, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere), call it too many late nights, but I am TIRED with a capital T (all caps, in fact).  I can’t chalk it up to extra workouts (hell-O rest days) or crazy parties (I think my last crazy party was around the turn of the millennium – like, seriously, and how fun is it that we can say stuff like that and it’s TRUE?).  So I realized that I just have not been getting very good sleep quality lately.  And again, crazy as it seems (clearly I’m on the crazy train), I’ve realized that when something is true for me, it’s generally true for a lot of other people as well.  I know, I know, we’re all unique butterflies or snowflakes, but it turns out we actually share a lot in common, whether we want to or not. So let’s share these top five tips for improving sleep quality and quantity, shall we?  Besides, it’s one of the top five reasons you’re not losing weight!  (Too tired to read?  You can check out the videos on these topics on my Instagram or Facebook feed).

Get up at the same time each day

Okay, this might sound like a no-brainer (and super boring, to boot.  Why is it that most basic life advice is so darn, well, basic?).  Many of us already do this several days a week anyway, getting up at the same time for work, school or other life commitments (#adulting). It can be easier to stick to a morning wake up time than a bedtime because you won’t have as many interruptions or distractions that can push bedtime back.  Sucker for the snooze button?  Put your alarm on the other side of the room (how annoying!!) so you’ll at least be forced to get out of bed and take some steps before you can hit that one.  There are even alarm clocks that are designed to roll away from you (like these – you can bet your sweet bippy – whatever that is – that I wish I had an affiliate link for that, but alas, I do not).

Getting up at the same time helps establish your circadian rhythms and all related processes like hormone regulation and digestion, which will also help you to fall asleep more consistently, stay asleep and get better quality sleep.  Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

This week, try to get up at the same time all seven days (so yes, this will be dictated by the requirements of your earliest days – re-thinking those 5am spin classes?  I’d rethink spin classes in general, but that’s just me.  Take it with a grain of salt when you realize I’m a competitive swimmer and early morning swim team practices are my jam). You might miss the sleep in days at first, but as your sleep quality and quantity improve, you won’t need or miss those days!  Here’s hoping, anyway.

 

Go to bed at the same time each night

Did I really just have to type that out?  I do realize that there are distractions and interruptions that can make pushing bedtime back common and even appealing (because yes, I do also have a life beyond posting some pretty “vanilla” fitness and nutrition posts – we all need a little vanilla in our lives at times, right?  It’s a foundation thing, just like vanilla ice cream is usually the base for some of the most other epic flavours and frozen delights – Peanut Buster Parfait, I’m looking at you.  Chocolate ice cream based frozen desserts – what’s up with those?).  But back to the sleep thing:  Respect the importance of your sleep time! Protect bedtime at all costs. And now that you are waking up at a consistent time each day (see tip number one), it will be easier to feel tired and fall asleep at the same time each night.

I encourage you to set a bedtime alarm to help you stay on track (maybe not one that rolls – you don’t want to be running around and getting your heart rate up trying to find it when you’re supposed to be winding down for a big siesta.  No, not THAT big siesta.  Just your overnight sleep). Make it intrusive – get your fitness tracker buzzing on your wrist to tell you it’s time to get ready for bed. Protect that sleep time and you will be rewarded with better and more consistent energy each day.  And good golly, what are you going to DO with that extra energy?  Same thing we do every day (night), try to take over the world, Pinky (bonus points to you if you get that reference – let me know!).

 

Don’t go to bed too hungry OR too full

What?  No falling asleep mid-spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s?  Where’s the fun in that?  What can I say – #adulting.  It’s really not all it’s cracked up to be, is it?  But it can be better, when your sleep is better.  Honestly, everything is better when you’re getting good sleep (sleep people, I said sleep.  Stop tittering.  Oh for goodness sakes, yes it starts with “tit”).  Being too hungry or too full can interfere with sleep. If you’re too hungry, then it can be hard to fall asleep and/or you risk waking up hungry in the middle of the night, possibly leading to night eating and further disrupting your sleep.  Ever tried to crack the case of the missing peanut butter when it comes time to make toast in the morning?  On the other hand, a too-full stomach at bedtime can have you trying to digest food while you should be sleeping.

So which one is it?  For some of you, you might need to add a bedtime snack or shift your evening meal a bit later to avoid being too hungry.  In fact, you might need to push ALL of your eating a bit later in the day, or get more strategic with the timing of your meals.  If you do have that early start (spin class, swim team, whatever), you need to be mindful about eating ALL DAY LONG and therefore taking in more calories than you need to fuel the day’s activities. For others, you might need to eat more during the day and less in the evening, and/or push your evening meal to earlier to avoid being too full. It’s a balance!  So get on that seesaw and see what works best for you!  (See what I did there?  Balance…seesaw?  Oh, never mind).

 

Avoid electronics 1-2 hours before bed

Yes, I really am here to suck ALL of the fun out of your life (#evilfitnesswitch). Yes, this most definitely includes your smartphone and tablet, but potentially even your TV and any other light-emitting electronics in your bedroom like a clock radio. The light patterns associated with devices like phones and tablets can stimulate your brain and make it harder for your brain to relax and fall asleep. The light from clock radios and electronic radiation can also interfere with sleep patterns.

Finally, even fitness trackers in your wrist, if they are buzzing and vibrating (with the missed notifications from the phone you are trying to ignore) can be problematic.  (Notice I didn’t say anything about other vibrating electronics, though).

Ditch the electronics; embrace the 😴.

 

Establish a bedtime routine

Okay, creating a bedtime routine is the easy part.  You can tell yourself (and your 592 instagram followers) that you are going to have chamomile tea in your cherished bone china tea cup and meditate in front of your Zen garden…the harder part is actually DOING it.  So my final tip is establish AND FOLLOW a bedtime routine.  to It can be basic (in fact, it probably should be, to make the “FOLLOW” part easier) – it doesn’t have to be elaborate (and probably shouldn’t be – see previous) – just something you will look forward to and stick to each day. That can be as simple as herbal tea (no caffeine please – that would further disrupt sleep) in your favourite mug or cup and/or jotting down thoughts for the day to help clear your mind so that they are not bouncing around in your mind as you try to settle down.  Hate journaling like I do?  I’m already mulling over a “top five tips to journaling when you don’t like journaling.”

This routine will signal to your mind and body that sleep is coming next. Just like babies, we respond well to rhythm and routine (because we’re all just grown up babies, aren’t we? 😝).  But no, we don’t want to sleep like babies.  They generally wake up crying every few hours.  Let’s not go there.

Have a fit (and rested) day!

And no, I have not been drinking (other than my ~4L of water per day), although Studies Show Sleep Deprivation Performance Is Similar to Being Under the Influence of Alcohol.  You’re just starting to see the crazy because I can only keep my personality under wraps in the guise of basic fitness & nutrition tips for so long before I start to crack.

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