By Dr. Michael Grandner
What if I told you that I had a workout that could guarantee to make you 10–30% faster, stronger, and more agile. Among its side effects, it also improves your metabolism, reduces cravings for unhealthy foods, gives more energy for training and exercise, improves healing and recovery, promotes better overall physical and mental health, and can even improve your relationships. The best part of this workout is that it’s pretty much free and you can do it in your own home. The only downside is that to get the benefits, you have to do it every day. Would you do it?
If you want those benefits, let’s get you sleeping better.
Sleep loss affects the brain in many ways. Some of the most obvious ways that daytime tiredness due to sleep loss affects us is through slowed reaction time and poor decision-making. In fact, the effects of sleep loss have been shown in the laboratory to be equal to or greater than the effects of being drunk!
In addition, your ability to learn and form new memories is dependent on sleep. As is your ability to regulate emotions, so if you notice that you’re extra depressed, or stressed, or short-fused, consider that your lack of sleep is not letting your brain process emotions properly. When you deprive yourself of sleep, you are sabotaging your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. You are also sacrificing your ability to multitask and be effective.
If you are looking to maximize your energy and performance, here are 7 sleep strategies for improving mental and physical fitness:
- Keep a regular schedule. Imagine you eat lunch at noon, every day. Sunday, lunch is at noon. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday, Saturday, lunch is at noon. Every day. Over and over and over. What’s going to happen? You will start getting hungry at noon. The time will become a signal to your body that it is time to eat. So at 11:00 you’ll start getting hungry, and by 11:45 you’ll be starving. That’s what you want to do for sleep. If you sleep all over the clock your body never trains itself to get sleepy at a certain time. So it never knows when to get ready to sleep. That will make it harder to get good quality sleep.
- Give yourself enough time to wind down. Ever get in bed and have your mind start racing? Replaying every bad decision you ever made? Worrying about not forgetting that thing tomorrow? People will say that they can’t help it, their mind is just very active. Sorry to say that it’s not about you. You spent your whole day working, busy, and distracted and this may be the first opportunity your mind has had to have some alone time with you. So if you’re going to do that anyway, might as well not do it in bed. Pick a time during the day (maybe in the evening but it doesn’t have to be) and make all your lists for tomorrow. Get it all out, so that by the time you’re in bed, your thoughts have already said their piece.
- Get plenty of light during the daytime, especially the morning. The biological clocks that control your sleep-wake cycle run on 24-hour rhythms. Sometimes, though, they need some help. If you don’t have a very strong daytime signal in the system, you might have a weaker nighttime signal. In other words, if your brain wasn’t exactly sure where in the 24 hours daytime was, it won’t be optimized to prepare your body for the night. The way to address this is to make sure your body gets plenty of light during the day — especially in the morning. And not just room light — regular sunlight is about 50–100 times brighter than indoor light, even on a cloudy day. That’s the kind of light your brain is looking for.
- Avoid excessive liquids at night. This is not rocket science. If you drink a lot of water at night, you’re more likely to have to get up more often to have to go to the bathroom. So restrict water intake 2–3 hours before bed.
- Practice active relaxation. Many people consider sitting and watching TV to be relaxing. It’s not. Watching TV is distracting, not relaxing. Distraction just puts a pause button on your mind and doesn’t relax you at all. Relaxation is an active process. There are two different types of relaxation: mental and physical. And they both skills that require practice. Physical relaxation helps you identify and reduce tension in your muscles and mental relaxation can help slow down your thoughts. There are a number of techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenic training which relax the body, and visual imagery exercises and meditations that can relax the mind.
- Get rid of your clock. What’s the first thing that everyone does as soon as they wake up during the night? Look at the clock, right? OK. What’s the SECOND thing? Think about it for a minute… It’s math. Right? How much time was I asleep? How much time do I have left to sleep? For most people, doing math is not really relaxing or soothing. If anything, it can be quite disruptive, especially if you don’t like the answer. If you need to wake up at a specific time, set an alarm. If the alarm hasn’t gone off yet, just get back to sleep. Stop obsessing over the clock. If anything, it will just keep you up longer.
- Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. This is probably the best advice I can give you. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. It turns out that persistent insomnia really only has one main cause: staying in bed when you can’t sleep. You see, normally, most of the time we spend in bed we are asleep. When something happens that causes us to lose sleep, it can leave us tossing and turning and worrying and thinking while we are in bed. So we are not able to sleep. What do we do to make up for that? Why, try harder, and spend lots of time in bed. Awake. This is the problem. The more time you spend in bed awake, the more you program your brain to wake up in bed. And that’s what creates a long-term insomnia. The best way to avoid this is to NOT spend extra time awake in bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed!