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Sleep should be one of the topics that we humans are MOST concerned about. We are literally going to spend about 1/3rd of our lives sleep. And that 1/3rd we spend sleeping is going to affect the remaining 2/3rd of our life and determine how healthy and happy we will be in that time. So with that in mind, we need to make sure our sleep is good. 

 

What Is Sleep?

Sleep is a hot topic when it comes to us humans. Some of us think it's something we can "do when we die". The ironic thing is that the mentality that you can sleep when you're dead can literally cause you to die faster and sooner. 

Some other people think sleep is something that helps you not be too tired to get up the next day. That's a bit closer to the truth, but it's still a vast understatement. 

Sleep is a restorative state we take where our bodies and brains repair from the stress of the day. During sleep, our brains sort memories, organized what we learned, toss out what we didn't need, and help us feel refreshed and ready for the new day. This is why it's so ironic when college students pull "all-nighter" study sessions. You're learning information but you're not going to be able to organize it all because you don't sleep! 

Sleep is also a period of physical recovery. Muscles get bigger and stronger and organs get repaired and restored. It's no surprised that people who sleep well have better physical performance as well as mental performance and that people who don't sleep are often more prone to injury and missing out on the gains from their training sessions!

You know those movies where the hero gets beaten up and someone saves them and stuffs them into some sort of chamber than instantly restores the hero back to health? Sleep is the closest thing we have to that. You know those bros at the gym taking steroids? Sleep is the closest thing we have to that too. 

So when someone tells me that they like making gains but they aren't sleeping well, I know they're lying and they don't actually like making gains. Because people who like making gains and living a healthy life make sleeping well a priority.

 

How Do We Sleep Well?

And how exactly do we make good sleep a priority? There are two main factors to better sleep. One is improving sleep quantity. The other is improving sleep quality. 

 

Quantity:

Improving sleep quantity is simple. We are just going to find ways to get more time in the restorative sleep state. So what can we do? 

  1. Go to bed earlier.

    Yes I know Game Of Thrones is amazing. But record those and watch them later so you can get to sleep earlier. Getting some extra time restoring your body will benefit you more in the long run than staying up late and missing out on sleep. Plus, if you are half asleep, you can't appreciate all of Jon Snow's awesomeness. Get good sleep so you can stay alive long enough to see ALL the seasons. Most people should shoot for around 8 hours of sleep a night. Some people can get away with less (due to genetics) and some people will need more (athletes and people who endure more stress). But try 8 as a baseline for a week or two then adjust based on your energy levels. 

  2. Take Naps.

    These are a great way to add some extra sleep recovery throughout the day. Even 10-20 minutes can be helpful in getting you to recover and feel better between training sessions and work. Every bit counts so if you can nap, add it in. Throw in a 10-20 minute daily nap and see how you feel!

  3. Meditate.

    This isn't exactly sleep but it's pretty similar. It's time where your brain and body get a rest and many studies show the restorative effects of meditation are similar to sleep. So if you need even more recovery, add in 5-20 minutes of mediation a day on top of your sleeping and you'll be feeling better in no time!

 

Quality:

On the other hand, we have sleep quality. Improving the quality of your sleep is ALSO very important. You can have 10 hours of sleep a night but if the sleep is bad, it won't have the same restorative effect as 8 good hours of sleep. So let's see what we can do to improve sleep quality. The main things that affect sleep quality that we have good control over are light, heat, brain activity and electronics. 

  1. Light.

    The light that gets into our eyes and touches our skin has a HUGE effect on the quality of our sleep. Want to ruin someone's sleep quality? Shine a light on their skin as they sleep. Even if it's not on their eyes, their sleep quality will decline. So what can we do here? Focus on dimming the lights in line with the sun. So as the sun is going down, dim the lights. When the sun has set, the house should be as dark as possible. For those of us who still need to have lights on after sunset, we can buy a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. These will help keep blue-light (which wakes us up) out our eyes and will improve our sleep quality. Give these a try and you'll likely feel MUCH deeper sleep. Another thing to do here is to black out your window to your bedroom. You can use black out curtains to keep lights from passing cars or street lamps out your bedroom. A cheaper option is to use aluminum foil and tape on the window. Aluminum foil doesn't pass light so it will keep your room dark while you sleep which will help you get better sleep. As an added bonus, aluminum foil will help keep the aliens from reading your mind. 

  2. Heat.

    The temperature of your room will also affect your sleep levels. Most people sleep better in a slightly cool room. Set the thermostat somewhere around 68 degree to help you get better quality sleep. If you live somewhere hot, consider adding a fan to your room, sleeping naked, or both. Whatever you need to do to cool the room off. As an added tip, if you wake up and it's too hot, try flipping over your pillow. Keeping your head cool has a great effect on helping the rest of you get to sleep. 

  3. Brain activity.

    Are you the type of person to plan tomorrow from bed? If so, make it a habit to make your to-do list BEFORE you get to bed. Or do you review your day once you lay down to sleep? If you're the type to do this, try journaling about your day before bed. Both of these can help you get past the "active brain" keeping you from sleeping. Another tip that can help here is mediation. You can meditate before bed to bring you back to the present and help you get sleeping. Try deep breathing and counting backwards from 300 by 3. Even on my worse sleeping night, I've only ever made it to the 100s before I was out like a light. 

  4. Electronics.

    Things like cell phones and anything with a signal should NOT go under your pillow or anywhere near your head as you sleep. The signals emitted from these  disrupt our ability to sleep. If you want to read more about that topic, I recommend the book "Disconnect" by Devra Davis. To keep electronics from affecting your sleep, before bed, unplug as much as you can. Turn your cellphone to airplane mode or preferably, turn it off and put it in a different room. Same applies to things like televisions or computers in the bedroom. Unplug them if you can and even better, put them in a different room if you can. The same goes for any other electronics in the room. 

And there you have it. Easy ways to improve your sleep quantity AND quality to improve your health and your recovery from your training sessions. Pick one of the tips and focus on implementing it for a week. Then, once it's a habit, add in another one and watch your sleep improve!