Imagine flying down the highway at 60mph. You’re cruising, with your destination 16 hrs away. The journey is long, but getting there quick is the main focus. That means choosing only the most efficient route possible. No sight seeing, no time for detours.
Then, out of nowhere, a loud pop precedes the sound of a tire that begins to rapidly deflate. You could keep driving, but it’s about to get bumpy….
Even if you make it to your destination, the vehicle that got you there is going to be a wreck.
Now imagine if that vehicle was your body. The damaged tire represented sleep and the other three tires are food, exercise and stress management. Getting to your destination - less body fat, more muscle, improved health, is going to require 4 working tires.
If you suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, it’s similar to attempting a road trip with a blown out tire. Eventually, the journey is going to come to a grinding halt. The choice is yours to keep pushing through, but there’s no telling how wrecked your body will be.
Sleep deprivation also causes a steep decline in cognitive function, the inability to regulate healthy hormone levels along with impaired blood sugar management - carbohydrates, fat storage and mood swings become a more challenging issue.
Alternatively, prioritizing sleep and improving the quality of one’s sleep will not only accelerate your journey to health, but will also ensure it’s a smooth ride. From start to finish and beyond - you’ll feel refreshed, energized, recovered and ready to take on the world!
Use this easy to implement check list to not only help you fall asleep faster, but to improve sleep quality. The main points are that reducing blue lights at night, getting our environment cold, going blacked out, detaching from devices, supplementing smart and basking in the morning light are the keys to restorative, therapeutic sleep.
1. The reduction of blue light exposure at night is a major key to quality sleep. Our modern environments fill our homes with plenty of light from LEDs, fluorescent bulbs, TV, computer screens and more. These screens emit light so bright our brains think it’s still daytime and our bodies have difficulty falling into our normal sleep cascade.
Reclaim your natural night time environment and effectively eliminate blue light.
- stay away from screens 2 hrs prior to bedtime. This means computers, tablets, phones and tv. Possibly, read a good ole fashioned book instead?
- If screens must be on, at least use night mode features. Dim the phones and tablets, use an app like Flux for computers to match day/night light cycles for your specific geographic location. Keep in mind that even though these dimming features are nice, our bodies and brains are still in a heightened and stimulated state with screens - it’s not as good as simply winding down without them.
- If you must watch TV, consider blue blockers, or if you’re home has bright lights, especially fluorescents or LEDS. Any light at night, minus candles and firelight, are far from what our ancestors experienced. It disrupts our biology and impairs our bodies ability to regulate it’s circadian clock. Goofy shades are a small price to pay for a healthier existence.
- Ultimately, the more lights you can turn out within several hours pre-bedtime the better, even if it means using lamps and candles.
- To help the body cool down at night, get the thermostat to 69 degrees or below.
- If you workout late in the evening, the body has trouble cooling itself down in time for sleep. Consider experimenting with a cold shower before bed. If you’re not ready for full on cold water, do a contrast shower: bouts of 10-20 seconds alternating hot and cold water, ending on cold to see if it helps you sleep like a baby.
- But wait…won’t the AC bill go through the roof? Not really, even here in Texas. It’s much cooler at night, without radiant heat from the sun. Plus, the AC is going to run in Texas regardless of whether it’s at 70 or 66. Change your filters often, use fans and get better sleep with a colder night time temp.
3. Get blacked out….it’s not what you think! Alcohol before bed is a bad idea, even if you do pass out. The body is awake and working hard to process and expel the alcohol. We’re talking about blacking out the room!
- another not so stylish, yet oh so effective sleeping strategy is black out curtains. This effectively reduces any light creeping in from street lights, headlights and more.
- watch out for computer power cords, AC head units with a bright display or digital alarm clocks. Studies show even these tiny little lights on a computer plug disrupt sleep - it’s thought that our skin can detect this “light pollution.”!? Crazy...
- Be especially aware in hotels! I often put a dark shirt over the AC unit in the room, unplug the clock, and build a wall of decorative pillows or sheets over any other light emitting devices - total darkness is the goal!
4. Unplug and detach from your devices when night falls. Making a conscious effort to eliminate wifi signals while sleeping can result in a more recuperative sleep.
- Wifi signals disrupt the brainwaves that give us our deep, restful sleep cycles. Go hardcore bio hacker and unplug the wifi at night - it’s a simple choice. We don’t need these devices at night anyways, and the technology is so new, why not play it safe?!…and give our bodies and brain a break from getting zapped.
- Put phones on airplane mode, and keep them away from the bed - preferably in the next room over. Airplane mode reduces the emission of electronic signals that disrupt sleep cycles while keeping it in the next room over reduces the urge to look at a screen at night - it’s a built in barrier to check email and social in bed.
- Ditch the smart apps at night. If anything, use these for only short periods of testing out new strategies for sleep. Except, there’s really no control group in any self study if these devices and their wifi signals are blasting your brain and body all night.
- Some people even shut their breaker off in the bedroom at night - why not?!
5. Supplement smart. Know the right supplements to take, and avoid these common sleep disruptors. It’s a wise choice for maximizing shut eye. Of course, a nutrient dense, whole and unprocessed food diet comes first.
- Consider a magnesium supplement. 80% of Americans are below optimal levels, and a lack of this crucial nutrient makes it difficult for the body to secrete melatonin - the body’s built in sleep aid.
- Practice regular, but safe, sun exposure for optimal vitamin D production. Or supplement as needed per your blood work for optimal levels. Being short on this crucial nutrient decreases sleep quality.
- Avoid supplementing with melatonin - especially high doses. It’s a hormone and taking it regularly has the potential to down regulate your bodies own natural production over time. Plus, it’s a crutch for more foundational issues that ought to be addressed.
- Practice a caffeine cut off time. Avoid pre-workouts or caffeine based products after 2-4pm daily. This cut off may need to be even sooner if you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
- Use chamomile tea or other herbal teas to help calm the body and mind while supporting natural, restorative sleep.
6. Bathe, bask or soak in the morning light. A major factor for setting our body’s circadian clock revolves around light cycles - especially the wavelengths experienced first thing in the morning.
- Have a dog? Take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He’ll appreciate both the territory marking adventure and exercise while you’ll be effortlessly helping yourself fall asleep easier at night. The morning sun anchors down a set point for your circadian clock.
- Love going for a run? Consider a sunrise session outside to start jumpstart your day - even better if your surrounded by the company of others for community! Or make it a jog on the trails - compounding the benefits of morning sun with the health effects of time in nature.
- A simply way to benefit from morning sun is to enjoy a cup of coffee outside on the patio. Integrate this as part of a productive morning routine!
- or simply go for a 15-20 minute walk around the block - as long as your outside, without shades, that’s what matters.
- Driving to work in your car with the tinted windows up and sunglasses pulled down doesn’t count. You can’t fool biology.
If you can check the box on as many of these 6 strategies as possible each night, you’ll effectively be prioritizing sleep - one of our most important assets for healthy living, mentally sharpness, improved body composition and increased performance.
And if it seems overwhelming at first, just pick one of these steps to practice for a week or more before moving on and trying the others on the list. My hope is that it helps you avoid a flat tire on your health and fitness journey by making sure the fundamental pillar of sleep is protected!
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.