7 Steps to Improve Sleep and Why you Should Care

By CrossFit Black Bear | July 15, 2016

Did you know that sleep has a big affect on your recovery and wellness? Of course you did! So why do you continue to go to bed later than you plan, only to dread the grogginess of the morning?

Not only does sleep affect your recovery and wellness, but it also aids in improved mood, more productivity, and increased fat loss! Yes, sleep not only affects your brain but serves as a reset for your entire body including hormone levels which have a major impact on body weight and fat loss.

As I can’t make any of you go to bed, I will try my best to explain the science behind sleep…but most importantly provide you with a few tips for getting a better night sleep!

If you are anything like me, you generally set your alarm right before you go to bed, and the clock tells you something like this: “Alarm set for 6 hours from now”. Pretty accurate? You would then close your eyes and think that you are getting 6 hours of sleep. Well, there is more to it than that! The quality of sleep is just as important as the amount.

sleepAccording to the National Sleep Foundation “Your brain is truly on overdrive during sleep, as it is working to clear itself of toxic byproducts that naturally accumulate throughout the day. Many neurological diseases are associated with a lack of sleep, perhaps because when you don’t get your zzz’s, your brain doesn’t have this chance to cleanse itself.”

It takes your body time to reach the deepest part of sleep called REM sleep. It is in REM sleep that your body performs necessary functions such as:

Regulate Hunger Hormones – Leptin and ghrelin are two specific hormones which are regulated during sleep. Ever find yourself reaching for donuts and soda after a night tossing and turning? This is why.

Muscle Repair – It is during REM sleep that your body releases growth hormones to rebuild muscles and joints. For youth, this is when they grow taller. Sleep Apnea in young children has been shown to cause stunted growth.

Lower Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
– Your body relaxes and doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain basic body processes.

Tissue Regeneration – Exercise is hard on your body, but sleep is where your body heals and mends tendons and ligaments that are broken down.

So now that we have established the importance of sleep, you must be wondering what are a few ways to improve sleep in order to get the most of these benefits.

1. No electronics in bed. According to SleepFoundation.org, “There is robust scientific data documenting the role of light in promoting wakefulness”. Artificial light, such as that from electronic devices disrupts our body’s natural circadian rhythm (our natural day/night cycle). Since it can be difficult to put the phone down completely before bed, try dimming the screen or enabling “night mode” on your phone to limit the exposure to the artificial backlight of your device.

2. Make a schedule and be consistent. When making health and fitness changes, consistency is key! Habits are formed after a few weeks of consistent and dedicated effort. Set a dedicated bedtime that you know is manageable and don’t hit the snooze button!

3. Keep animals off the bed. Pets are great cuddle buddies but allowing them to sleep on the bed can lead to unwanted middle of the night disturbances. We all love our pets and would gladly contort into the most odd positions in order to not disrupt our pets, this also leads to low quality sleep. Create a comfy bed of their own in the corner of your room so you both can get quality sleep.

4. Stop drinking water about an hour before bed. As anyone who frequents the bathroom at night will tell you, avoid large amounts of liquid before bed. This will help avoid unwanted bathroom trips which disrupt deep sleep.

5. Do not use your bed as a work desk. Doing anything else in the bedroom but sleeping teaches our brain that the bedroom is for things other than sleeping. Working from bed — which eight out of 10 young professionals do — weakens “the mental association between your bedroom and sleep,” according to Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine. When you are in bed, sleep, and leave the work at the table.

6. Avoid large meals, especially high in protein for the two hours before bed. Our bodies are conditioned to use fuel for energy, so eating a large meal close to bedtime can trick your body into believing it is time to work and burn that fuel. Do not confuse this however with the common myth that eating food before bed will lead to weight gain. Only an excess of calories over the course of the entire day can do that! Plan your day a little better to allow some time for your body to digest your dinner.

7. Control the room temperature. Using a thermostat is the best way to ensure a consistent and appropriate room temperature. On these hot summer days however, it may be as simple as opening a few windows overnight and turning on a fan in order to bring the room temperature down to a comfortable level to promote deep, healthy sleep.

Sleep and recovery are one of the major pillars of health and wellness. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete everything we want to do, but if you want to get the most out of the hours we do have…don’t skip out on your sleep!

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