These essential sleep habits and nutrients can improve your sleep quality.
Experts and research tell us that the quantity and quality of last night’s sleep help determine who we are today. Sleep influences our demeanor, our choices and how others perceive us. It shapes our waking hours, leaving us alert, calm, focused and joyful or tired, grumpy, distracted and unhappy.
That makes sleep a crucial concern for our harried clientele and for ourselves, as busy fitness professionals. We all try to sneak by without enough sleep, and we all pay the price for sleep deprivation. Read on for tips on helping your clients (and you) get the sleep they need.
Building Good Sleep Habits
The consensus of sleep experts and research studies suggests that optimal outcomes depend on these essential sleep habits:
- Use a consistent sleep schedule to set the body’s internal clock. Avoid sleeping in and changing bedtime nightly.
- Establish a soothing presleep routine with reduced stimulation.
- Create a sleep-friendly bedroom environment. Make it dark, cool, quiet, comfortable and gadget-free.
- Dim all house lights before bedtime.
- When truly tired, go to sleep—don’t override sleep cues.
- Expose yourself to natural morning and/or daytime light. Get outside for at least 30 minutes daily.
- Avoid caffeine after 10 a.m.
- Eliminate alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals/herbs before bedtime.
- Avoid medications in the evening (unless required by a prescription).
- Nap early (before 5 p.m.) and for under 30 minutes.
- Eat dinner early. Keep food and beverages light.
- Don’t watch the clock or lie in bed awake. Do something relaxing and screen/light-free.
- Follow through—make sleep a priority and part of your routine.
Insomnia can result from obsessing over lack of sleep. Implement sleep changes gradually, emphasizing the goal of committing to a regular bedtime and a regular rising time. Without this commitment, efforts to achieve the needed 7–9 hours nightly can be frustrating.
See also: Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
Food, Beverages and Supplements for Sleep
Foods thought to help with sleep include turkey, fish, oatmeal, eggs, kiwi, cherry juice and walnuts. Nutrients in these foods do have connections to sleep mechanisms such as muscle relaxation and melatonin release. Keep in mind, however, that there’s no specific research supporting recommendations for these or other foods. Note that candy, cookies and chips are not on any list of sleep-friendly food.
Research on caffeine and alcohol, meanwhile, is clear: Both interfere with sleep. Caffeine stays in your system for up to 12 hours, potentially delaying sleep, and alcohol affects the quality of sleep. Cutting out these two beloved substances can drastically improve sleep and may eliminate the need for them altogether once you experience the alert, calm existence that can result from better sleep.
Supplements such as ginkgo biloba, glycine, valerian root, magnesium, chamomile and lavender are common sleep aids. While they may help you relax, they won’t necessarily overcome erratic sleep habits—and, if consumed as tea, the herbs may send you to the bathroom at night.
Melatonin is a popular sleep supplement. In natural form, it is the hormone that is secreted at dusk each day to signal your body about nighttime. With a regular routine you shouldn’t need to consume it, although it can be beneficial for circadian rhythm disorders and time zone travel; it may also benefit the elderly.
In a recent study of melatonin supplements, content was found to range from -83% to +478% of the labeled content (Erland & Saxena 2017). In addition, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), which is used for neurological disorders, was identified in eight of the 31 supplements at levels of 1–75 micrograms. As with all supplements and drugs, use caution and do your research.
A 2017 meta-analysis by Sateia et al. on individual drugs commonly used to treat insomnia came up with a rating of “weak” for all 14 drugs. Sleep medicine may help you to fall asleep, but it doesn’t fill the need for sleep quantity and quality.
For an in-depth discussion on sleep health, see “You Are How You Sleep: The Cost of Sleep Deprivation” from the April 2018 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.