Let’s say you have a checking account. Every day you put $100 into that account, and every day you spend around $90 to $100. One day you decide that you’re going to start spending more. $120, $150, $200… You keep spending a little more each day, because no one from the bank has called you and told you stop. What happens? You find yourself in the red, with some major banking penalties.
This is essentially the same as trying to diet, exercise hard, and live a full, hectic life. Only the currency is recovery, and the only way to deposit more into your account is to sleep. The more activity and energy you spend to meet your goals, the more sleep you need to deposit into your account.
In North America, the average adult reports sleeping 7 hours per night, and 33% of the population logs fewer than 6.5 hours per night. It’s important to note, these numbers are based on polling data in which people report the amount of time they spend in bed, not necessarily the time spent snoozing—and there’s no data measuring the quality of that sleep. Deep, consistent, rejuvenating sleep is a major factor in recovering from a stressful day. Improving the amount and quality of your sleep will benefit just about every area of your life.
To improve your sleep, it’s important to focus on the outside factors you can control. Instead of getting into bed and hoping for Mr. Sandman to show up, my clients and I work on crafting the environment and the habits around bedtime to ensure a restful night. Here’s how you can do it, too.
Plan a sleep routine Going to bed at the same time every night (or at least every weeknight) sets the stage for shutting down your brain and falling asleep quickly. But the plan should start well before you turn out the lights.
Set a “shut down” alarm It takes time to unwind, so have an alarm go off 30 to 45 minutes before you want to actually be asleep and begin your bedtime ritual.
Create a nightly ritual Turn off all your electronic screens, write down everything you need to do tomorrow (so you’re not fretting about when the lights go out), get into your pajamas, brush your teeth, wash your face, drink a small glass of water. Whatever you need to do before bed, do it in the same order every night. This sends the message to your brain that it’s sleepy time.
Get dark Humans are very sensitive to light, so do your best to make your bedroom as dark as possible. Think about repositioning your furniture, purchasing a set of dark curtains, and covering up all the little lights on your devices—black electrical tape works well. If you keep your cell phone on your bedside table, place it face down.
Shhh… Make your room as quiet as possible. A bed partner can make this difficult, so consider investing in a pair of earplugs or a white noise machine if the person next to you is a heavy breather.There are also phone apps that successfully muffle the sound of snoring.
Soak up the sun during the day Exposing yourself to plenty of natural light during the day, taps into your body’s circadian rhythm—the internal clock that tells you when you’re tired. At night, the contrast of your dark, quiet room, will strongly signal that clock to make you sleepy, so you’ll fall asleep faster and more easily. Spend as much time outside during the day or in bright rooms as you can and save dark spaces for bedtime.
As a coach I’ve seen the worst. I’ve had clients show up at my doorstep ready to exercise themselves into the ground, starve themselves to meet their fitness goals, and balk at the idea of sleeping 9 hours a night. Sleep may not be sexy, but it’s the currency that makes all the other things we want to do in life possible. Take the time to master a simple sleep routine and you’ll find you have more than enough energy to spend on your health and fitness goals.
How many hours of sleep are you getting each night? Think you need more?
Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.