Sleep: The Missing Link

If you search the interwebz you will undoubtedly find hundreds if not thousands of articles on a single training method that will claim to be the end-all-be-all when it comes to building muscle, burning fat, and getting fit.  Understandably you will espouse those methods until you are blue in the face and 9 times out of 10 you still won't get the results you want or even expect. So you make it a point to try harder.  You hit up the gym to train an extra day each week, you diet your face off, and you may even hire a trainer.  Don't get me wrong, these are all GREAT action steps towards creating the body and the life that you want but you might be skipping over something that is more important.  I actually encourage all those things.  ALL OF THEM!

Recovery is perhaps the most essential cornerstone in any fitness program.  Without it you may sabotaging all those good intentions from the get go.  No recovery = poor results....and that is wack.

In my experience the least expensive and time consuming components of a great fitness program often are the ones that yield the greatest results.  These include drinking enough water, taking care of your soft tissue, taking mental breaks and of course: SLEEP!

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Regardless of whether your training goal is fat loss, building muscle, getting stronger, preventing injury, or just being fit enough to chase your kids around the yard, enhancing the quality and quantity of your sleep can pay huge dividends.  And if you are one of my clients, this is non-negotiable.

8 hours is best and 7 hours should be your absolute minimum and you should aim to hit those numbers by any means possible.  The frustrating laws of time and space dictate that if your head hits your pillow a mere 6 hours before your alarm is set to go off you will get at the most 6 hours of sleep.  Unfortunately, you will never be able to stretch the fabric of time to your liking.  Sorry.

Step 1: Create the Ultimate Sleep Environment

If you are surrounded by bedroom 'clutter' you will have a hard time getting into the groove.  Your bedroom MUST be the set up the be a temple of sleep if you plan to catch some quality Zzz's on a regular basis.

Here are a few ways you can dial it in to create your zen sleep space:

  • Purchase a comfortable bed/bedding.  I can' t tell you how important this is to a good night's sleep but for starters you spend at LEAST a third of your life here so don't cheap out.  Get set up with cool, soft, and clean covers.  It should be like you are sleeping on a cloud.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THrpJSstWZ8

  • Make your room pitch black.  Any light at all will keep you awake and disturb your sleep which means no TV, no nightlights, no cell phones, no bright clocks, no street lights, and no aurora borealis.  (do I get points for that reference?)  Seriously, hide your electronics and cover your windows with blackout curtains or dark window treatments.  Sleep in a cave.
  • Consider white noise if you live in a noisy area/household.  This can be something as simple as a fan, nature CD or even a mobile app.  Very light white noise, your fan shouldn't sound like a jet engine.
  • Keep your room the right temperature.  For most people the high 60s is ideal but I have found that for myself and others it is better to be on the cooler side than the warmer side.  If you have ever tried to sleep sans AC in the summer and have laid in a puddle of sweat then you know what I am talking about.

Step 2: Develop a Bedtime Routine

Our minds and our bodies crave order.  We are all creatures of habit and as such we are inclined to follow our own habits, rituals and daily routines almost to the T.  If your bedtime routine is staying up late to watch reality TV, having a few 'drinks', laying in bed checking emails, or just stressing about life chances are you aren't going to sleep very well.

Here are a few tips and tricks I recommend to optimize bedtime routine:

  • Ditch the electronics 60 minutes before bed! Seriously, the light from electronics is proven to keep you wired all night.  Your brain also detects these as daytime activities.  It is not daytime.  It is bedtime.  Turn them off.
  • Take a warm shower 60 minutes before bed.  As your body cools down so will your nervous system helping you relax and get ready for sleep.  You may have already taken a shower earlier but just a quick spritz is all you need.
  • Do some static stretching.  You get double points for this because it is another recovery activity.
  • Read.  I recommend something that isn't super engaging but is still something you can greatly benefit from.  Self improvement books work really well or if you're like me, a good biomechanics or movement therapy (or quantum mechanics) book will help you fall asleep. 
  • Eliminate caffeine and booze.  This is obviously a 'duh' but the more of this stuff in your system the harder it will be to get 'quality' sleep.  Keyword: quality.
  • Get stuff off your mind.  Perform what I like to call a brain dump by either writing stuff down on paper or talking with your spouse about what may be stressing you out.  Worry about it tomorrow.

Other helpful things you can do to optimize sleep:

  • Supplement with melatonin or ZMA
  • Practice deep breathing techniques
  • Use visualization to relax
  • Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea
  • Spend a relaxing night with your spouse or loved ones

Overall, you must commit to making sleep a priority and oftentimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference when we're looking to improve our fitness and optimize our lives.  It is easy to fall into the Facebook and Twitterspheres but as my grandmother always said, "If it hasn't happened by 10:00, it probably ain't going to happen.".  Boy was she right!

So don't let all of your hard work go to waste and make sure that your sleep habits are all that they can be.  If you haven't noticed, yes, it's that important!