Sleep: it’s how we spend roughly one-third of our lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s recommended that adults (18+) get roughly 7 hours of sleep per night. However, more than one-third of all American adults report getting less than that.
Not to beat an asleep horse, but sleep is important for many reasons, especially if you’re exercising.
“Sleep helps the body repair and recover, and the immune system is no exception,” says Shana Verstegen, a TRX master trainer. And that’s not all it does. “Adequate sleep improves mood, decreases blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain and diseases associated with these risk factors such as depression, diabetes and heart disease.”
Whew. What *can’t* sleep do??
With that, let’s talk about the top five science-backed ways to improve your sleeping habits.
1. NAPS ARE YOUR FRIEND
“I have three staples to my recovery day routine: light, active recovery swim or cycle for 30 minutes in the morning, a 25-minute nap in the afternoon, and NormaTec recovery boots for 45-minutes on Level 6 before bed. Most people assume ‘rest days’ mean ‘do nothing,’ but it’s an opportunity to recover from past training and prepare for future training,” says Jason Loebig, Nike trainer and co-founder of Live Better Co. “I also take the time I would have spent training and use it to prepare for the rest of my workouts for the week.”
Kathleen Maddison, PhD, a research fellow at the Center for Sleep Science at the University of Western Australia is also a believer in the power of naps; their ability to help you catch up on sleep after the occasional late night, overcome fatigue from jet lag or deal with natural mid-afternoon dips in energy.
“The most obvious indicator that you need a nap is if you feel sleepy and are starting to doze off,” says Maddison.
But remember, everything in moderation. According to the Sleep Foundation, a good amount of sleep for a nap is 20-30 minutes. If you sleep too much during a nap, it could cut into your sleep that night. Hot tip: if you’re worried about oversleeping on your naps, set a quick alarm.
2. REMOVE ANY AND ALL DISTRACTIONS
Intrusive thoughts, late night emails, the kids’ homework you couldn’t figure out. Distractions are a major hindrance to falling asleep.
Dimming the lights, turning down the temperature and blocking out noise to create the ideal sleep environment are all great ideas, says Maddison.
For those sensitive to temperature, sweating in your sleep can also be a huge distraction. Hot tip: Cozy Earth products provide temperature regulation and luxury through ethically sourced materials. Their temperature regulating and moisture wicking fabric keeps you cool all year long.
You can also incorporate meditation and mindfulness. This is one of the most researched ways to reduce your stress, which can go a long way recovery-wise. “Disconnect for at least 10 minutes a day and empower yourself with better perspective,” says Brian Nguyen, CEO of Elementally Strong. “I suggest starting out with a guided meditation practice if you’re a rookie.”
3. CURATE YOUR BEST SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a Himalayan salt lamp or to invest in slippers (though that wouldn’t hurt). It all starts with simply sleeping in your own bed—not your living room or your dining room chair.
Then, it’s about examining what puts you at ease.
For example, Cozy Earth delivers unparalleled sleep and leisure; creating the world’s softest, highest quality bedding, loungewear, and home goods.
You could also consider a face mask if you’re light sensitive, or a white noise app or headphones if you’re sensitive to sound. Curating a great sleep environment doesn’t have to be about redoing your bedroom; it’s about the little things.
Plus, it helps create new healthy habits and routines that work toward improving your recovery. “A solid recovery routine will help you become faster, stronger and help you perform better because — bottom line — you’ll have less pain,” says Nguyen.
4. USE YOUR BED FOR SLEEPING ONLY
This one is huge. “Since so many of us are working from home, it’s really easy to snuggle up in bed during the day, but this can create sleep difficulties,” says Ginger Houghton, a licensed social worker. “Likewise, leave your bed if you’re awake for more than 20 minutes. Find a low-key activity to do until you feel the signs of sleepiness, and then return to bed.”
So, using your bed only for sleep (not for reading, gaming, catching up on emails, or watching TV) is probably the most important thing you can do to boost your sleep time.
After all, if boosting your sleep time means better recovery, then consider the benefits of your improved recovery, as well. “Recovery reduces inflammation, stressors and compensations which makes you feel better,” explains Nguyen. “If you feel better, you move better and, ultimately, move more.”
5. GET MORE DEEP SLEEP
Getting an adequate amount of deep sleep—not just sleep overall—is key to helping with workout recovery. Most people need 7–9 hours of overall sleep per night, though individual sleep needs vary. And within that time, 25 percent of your sleep is spent in deep sleep.
“Reduction of total sleep usually impacts total deep sleep, particularly going to bed later than normal,” says Dr. W. Christopher Winter, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. “Deep sleep is essential for athletic recovery,” says Dr. Winter. “We typically make growth hormones during deep sleep, so if you are not getting enough deep sleep, you are not making growth hormone. If you don’t get enough, you might find it more difficult to recover from athletics.”
So what does it take to get a better deep sleep?
Cutting back on alcohol and/or caffeine before bed, and eating foods low in sugar are great places to start. If you do have a bedtime snack, try a small one that’s balanced with protein and fats.
At the end of the day, trying to implement a completely new recovery routine all at once can be daunting. “Take it one thing at a time, beginning with adequate sleep,” says Verstegen. “Spend at least one week focusing on going to bed and getting up at the same time, achieving at least 7–9 hours of sleep.”
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