My Client Sally (not her real name) walks into the gym with bags under her eyes. She looks tired, so I ask how she slept.
“Terrible,” she replies.
“Why?” I ask.
“I only slept a few hours last night. It took hours to fall asleep,” she laments.
As she begins her workout, she can only do 2 pull-ups. Last week, it was 4.
I ask her “why were you up so late?”
She explains “I had too much to do. I had to clean and get everything prepared for the week!”
Poor sleep is a vicious cycle.
When I talk to my clients about why they are not losing weight, it is usually due to a lack of consistency with their nutrition or exercise goal. Here is the breakdown of contribution from each area of our lives:
- Nutrition – 55%
- Training – 25%
- Recovery – 10%
- Lifestyle – 9%
- Supplementation -1%
If my client’s nutrition and exercise are on-point, I will then delve into their recovery. The main component of recovery is sleep.
A study published in the journal SLEEP suggested there are receptors in the human brain that can lead a sleep-deprived person to seek out food when they are not hungry. Interestingly, these are the same receptors activated by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Essentially, not sleeping can give you a savage case of the munchies. Sleep plays an integral role in our ability to achieve nutrition and exercise goals.
I’ve been there. As a proverbial night owl, I used to stay up too late to get things done. Then, when I would try to sleep, I laid awake at night thinking about everything I had to do the next day.
With the help of my wonderful hubby, I have made small, but significant changes. These changes have transformed how I function. I have even seen changes in my physique and performance in the gym.
So, how can you get better sleep and make losing weight and staying fit easier?
1.) Turn off ALL electronics at least an hour before bed.
This allows time for your brain to wind down. The blue light from your computer and phone prevent your brain from shutting down. I used to text clients and check email in bed before going to sleep. I would lay in bed thinking about my to-dos for the next day. It took me hours to fall asleep. Now I turn off all electronics an hour before bed on most nights. I fall asleep within 5 minutes of the light being turned off.
Try the 10-3-2-1 rule, adapted from Craig Ballentyne. No caffeine 10 hours before bed. No alcohol or food 3 hours before bed. No work 2 hours before bed. No electronics 1 hour before bed. It’s tough to follow, but well worth it.
2.) Have a strict bedtime.
Bedtime should be at least 8 hours before you have to wake up. This means no late night social events and no last minute to-dos. In the past, I wouldn’t go to bed until the to-do list was done. Sometimes this was 10pm and sometimes 1am. This became a problem when I started getting up at 4am.
The alarm sounded like impending doom. My days dragged on and I always needed a nap (or coffee) in the afternoon. My productivity suffered and I wasn’t pleasant to be around. Matt and I now (usually) go to be 8 hours before we wake up. It doesn’t always happen because we are social butterflies. But we’ve made huge strides in the right direction.
Start small. If you usually go to bed at midnight, don’t try going to sleep at 8. Your body isn’t used to the time change and you’ll just lay there. Try going to sleep half an hour before you normally do.
3.) Have a cool environment.
The temperature in your room when you go to bed should be cool (like the other side of the pillow). It is always easier to add another blanket on top of you, but not so easy to take layers off. The summers in SoCal are brutal. The first summer we lived here, our sleep was mediocre.
We even set up an intricate system of fans to blow air from our living room swamp cooler to our bedroom. It didn’t really work that well.
Eventually you can no longer take any more layers off. This past summer we took drastic action and invested in a window AC. #LifeChanging. We now sleep in a cold bedroom with a warm blanket on top. We instantly noticed an increase in our sleep quality.
4.) Have a dark room.
Any type of artificial light will alter your sleep. Someone decided it was a good idea to put a floodlight right outside our bedroom window. So we decided to stick it to the man and put up dark brown curtains.
Consider investing in dark curtains and put a towel or clothing over any flashing or little lights in your room than may disturb your sleep. Research says even a small light in the room can alter our sleep.
5.) Have a bedtime ritual.
Along with going to bed at the same time every night, try to come up with a routine to let your body know it is time to sleep. After turning off electronics, my husband and I like to spend time talking, getting ready for bed, reading and praying together. If I am lucky, I will get a back or foot massage! This helps us to wind down. It tells our bodies it’s bed-time. Find something you can do each night alone or with your family. It is a great time to bond and connect sans distractions
6.) Get an alarm clock.
When I got my first smart-phone, I got rid of my alarm-clock and switched over to the phone alarm. This is a big sleep mistake. Even if you put the screen face-down, just knowing people may call or text you in the middle of the night is a huge distraction.
There is also temptation to look at your phone to check the time. I know some people put their phone on do-not-disturb, but this doesn’t solve the blue light problem. We ordered an alarm clock that plugs into the wall but also has a battery so if the power goes out, it still works. A good alarm clock is a cheap and easy fix to improve sleep hygiene.
7.) Limit alcohol.
There are numerous studies linking alcohol consumption to poor sleep. It may help you fall asleep initially, but your quality of sleep is worse. Once the alcohol sugars are metabolized, we become more alert and stimulated. This can prevent REM sleep (the most important type). Stop alcohol consumption 3 hours before bed to insure you get good quality sleep.