If you find you are more often tired than not, you probably need a bedtime routine. Maybe you meant to start one but felt you didn’t have the time or it was too restrictive. However, creating a simple routine will help you sleep better and also benefit your overall health.
“Failure to break bad sleep habits can lead to issues with insomnia as well as myriad detrimental effects associated with inadequate sleep,” warns Kirk Withrow, MD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. “Among these are diminished alertness, concentration and psychomotor function and insufficient sleep is associated with hormonal changes that can lead to increased appetite and weight gain. Additionally, there is evidence of impairment of the immune system leading to increased susceptibility to infection.”
The good news is developing a healthy sleep routine doesn’t take too long — a few weeks at most — and it results in long-lasting health benefits. Additionally, as an athlete, you may even notice increased performance due to improved recovery during sleep.
Your nighttime routine doesn’t have to be elaborate; here are the three things you should do to get a better night’s sleep.
SET — AND KEEP — A BEDTIME
This will probably remind you of your childhood, but wondering to yourself if you are staying up past your bedtime is a good thing. Even if you just stay up — or out — late a few times a week, it can have serious affects on your overall sleep.
“The important thing is that you go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day,” urges Dr. Joseph Krainin, founder of Singular Sleep, LLC. “Fluctuating sleep and wake times can wreak havoc on your body. This is especially important on the weekends where social jet lag — a massive change in bed and wake times — can really throw off your sleep quality.”
Krainin notes that research has found the ideal time to go to sleep is between 10–11 p.m., as it “may promote more slow-wave sleep, which is the deeply restorative stage of sleep.” For athletes, this is especially relevant, as it can enhance your recovery.
If your schedule isn’t the same day-to-day and setting a consistent time for sleep seems impossible — or is constantly interrupted by children in your house — you should at least try to get an adequate amount of sleep.
“It is recommended that adults get 6.5–8 hours of sleep nightly,” adds Withrow. “Increased mortality has been observed in persons getting less than 6.5 hours and more than 8 hours of sleep per night.”
He adds that varying your bedtime and frequently napping can contribute to sleep disruption, so working to get a consistent amount of sleep should be the first step in establishing a bedtime routine.
PRACTICE ADEQUATE SLEEP HYGIENE
This is not just in reference to washing up before bed, though that is encouraged. Sleep hygiene also refers to what you do before bed to stay healthy and in this case, that also refers to what you eat and drink.
“In addition to consistent sleep and wake times, adequate sleep hygiene is crucial to obtain a good night of sleep,” notes Withrow. “Abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, strenuous exercise and stimulating mental activity in the hours leading up to bedtime is recommended.”
For those who prefer to work out at night — or whose schedules only allow for post-work workouts — moving them to the late afternoon will be beneficial when it comes to your sleep.
“If you can structure your workouts for the afternoon, this is more in sync with our bodies natural rhythms,” adds Krainin. “It can be tough to squeeze your runs into a day packed with work and home responsibilities, but if you can keep them away from bedtime it will improve your sleep quality.”
READ MORE > HOW BAD SLEEP SABOTAGES YOUR FITNESS GOALS
According to the National Sleep Foundation, our bodies are regulated by both the sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian biological clock. That biological clock is what Krainin is referring to, and it is what causes us to feel periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. In the afternoon, this dip most often occurs between 1–3 p.m., so working out after that window can help you feel re-energized (because, after all, a runner’s high is a real thing).
DITCH YOUR TECHNOLOGY
This may be the hardest step for you to follow; even harder than ending a night out early to get to sleep at your regular time. However, limiting your exposure to technology — and keeping it out of the bed with you — will help you sleep better.
“Do your bathroom routine and then read non work-related material in low light, ideally not in bed,” notes Krainin. “You should avoid blue light from your smartphone, tablet or computer 1–2 hours before bed.”
Reading a book — yes, those still exist in both paperback and hardcover — is best; doing so out of bed is even better. Limiting your activities in bed throughout the day can help signal to your brain that when you get into bed it is time to sleep and not just to relax.
“Avoidance of bright lights as well as electronic devices such as phones and tablets an hour or so prior to bed facilitates falling asleep,” agrees Withrow. “Refrain from using the bed for non-sleep activities such as homework, reading, talking on the phone and watching television.”