If you read the previous article on sleep then you’ll be well aware of how integral sleep is to your health.
The problem is, you can commit to creating that eight-hour window each night, but the modern world we live in throws up tonnes of obstacles that affect our ability to actually sleep through it.
15% of people lie in bed awake unable to fall asleep and it’s also common to have broken sleep and wake up in the middle of the night with no idea why.
Neither needs to be though; think of this article as a basic lifestyle checklist for getting a good night’s sleep. The pattern you’ll notice is consistency and contrast, as this is how your body sets its inbuilt clock.
It won’t surprise you that the first thing a personal trainer recommends is exercise, and not because “it makes you tired”. Ever tried spending a day in bed or on the sofa, napping in the day and restless at night? Your body is out of tune.
To achieve the contrast that tells our body if it’s day or night, be as active as possible early in your day. If you can do so, find a way to train within six hours of waking up. Then, be lazy at night!
Conversely, sleep specialist, Dr Dan Pardi, has researched how the stress from continued or sudden overtraining can affect your ability to relax.
Good personal trainers and coaches manipulate variety, breaks and consistency, to optimise sleep.
Having one or two low-intensity sessions each week, or timing a de-load week is necessary to maintain an ideal hormone balance.
Opsin receptors in your eyes are another tool that sets the rhythm of your body’s daily cycle. It uses light to understand that it is daytime, and a lack of it to sense night, but we confuse it.
With minimal sunlight exposure, we’re artificially awake from the light in our homes and offices.
So in the day we get way too little light exposure, but at night it’s actually too much. Ceiling lights are enough to keep our bodies thinking that it’s sunrise or sunset, when in fact it’s night.
Focus on contrast once again, getting as much sunlight as possible early in the day, and keeping all household lighting low in the evenings.
Exercise isn’t the only aspect of your schedule that benefits from being appropriately placed.
Napping, for example, is best done as far away from your bed time as possible. Think of it like how your mum wouldn’t let you snack near to dinner because you’d “spoil your appetite”.
Speaking of dinner-time, keep it as far apart as possible from sleeping time. Despite getting drowsy from eating a big meal, your brain is connected to your gut through your vagus nerve, so it cannot relax whilst you’re still digesting.
A brain that isn’t relaxed cannot go into REM or deep sleep, so you’re wasting the first cycle or two of your sleep if you eat a large meal before bed.
If you must eat a meal close to your bedtime, stick to mainly complex carbohydrates. Fats and proteins will prolong digestion and delay deep sleep. Sugar raises the stress levels in your systems, which is counterproductive to sleeping.
The same applies to alcohol and marijuana. Both feel like they help you get into light sleep, but they only help you fall into the light sleep phase. Like the digestion of food, these substances also restrict you from progressing into the REM and deep sleep stages.
Now to address the timing of the world’s most commonly abused drug: caffeine. It hides poor sleep or sunlight deficiency for many, but also impairs a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep.
This results in a vicious cycle of fixing a problem using the cause of the problem.
The key? Ensure you’re not drinking more than two cups a day and drink them as early as possible. Stop drinking caffeine within 12 hours of going to bed and it shouldn’t impact your night ahead.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, timing your sleep. Before artificial light, people were asleep by 9.00pm or 10.00pm because there was nothing left to do.
They were then up by 5.00am or 6.00am because they had enough sleep and were getting ready for sunrise.
They did this every day and slept brilliantly because their bodies were in sync with the sun. Sleeping late and at a different time every night is like living with jet lag.
So there you go, the basic guide to living a sleep-centric life. You’ve got a week to complete this beginner level and then read the next article on sleep where you’ll learn the advanced hacks to take things one step further.
Joompa is a digital platform that facilitates the sourcing and booking of freelance, mobile personal fitness coaches. Available on iOS or via www.joompa.com.my