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Want Tips for Better Sleep?


Ready, Set…Sleep??

I can count on one hand the number of clients, friends and colleagues that get a good night’s sleep. In fact I read somewhere that many people cling to the fact that they cannot sleep, they mention it in conversation, they claim it as a part of who they are, they actually brag on it and don’t want to give it up. In my experience this does ring true. I lead workshops on peak performance, stress management and weight loss and each workshop contains the proponent of sleep/rest. When I mention it everyone sighs as if that could never happen for them. No way can they get to sleep early enough to sleep for 7-8 hours, which is what I recommend. And then when I mention suggestions for getting enough sleep, most folks shake their head, they could NEVER do those things…I am hoping 2014 will be YOUR YEAR OF SLEEP. Sleep can be the component you need to:

  • Lose weight

  • Learn new behaviors

  • Improve your athletic performance

  • Enhance your energy

  • Keep you happy and healthy

Looking at the stages of sleep helps to understand why more sleep is better. 

Stage 1 is light sleep, where the body begins to lose muscle tone, muscles twitch and there’s a loss of self-awareness. This transition phase, in which we drift into sleep, lasts approximately 5-10 minutes (National Sleep Foundation 2013). It is an important phase because it allows the body to slow down and muscles to relax.

Stage 2 is where muscle tone is lost and is a light dreamless sleep. We spend half our sleep in this stage. Brain activity, heart rate and breathing slow down. Body temperature falls (a cooler temperature in the bedroom helps sleep), and the body reaches a state of total relaxation in preparation for deeper stages of sleep. So far though, you have not gotten hardly any of the best benefits of sleep. These happen NEXT…

Stage 3 marks the beginning of deep slow-wave sleep. This is when Human Growth Hormone (HGH) starts to be released. HGH tells the body to burn fat and helps maintain and repair muscles and cells, and it is key to improving athletic performance.

Stage 4, the deepest slow-wave sleep, helps to replenish physical and mental energy. During this stage, the body does most of its repair and regeneration work, thanks primarily to a continual release of HGH.

Stage 5 is when Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep takes place. People who experience healthy sleep spend 25% of the night in this stage (National Sleep Foundation 2013). It is when dreaming occurs, which is important for healthy brain function. Dreaming also provides energy to the brain and body and helps create long-term memories. The arms and legs experience periods of paralysis, which is thought to protect us from acting out our dreams. REM sleep also stimulates brain regions used in learning.

So stages 3, 4, & 5 possess the restorative powers that we need to be our best.

According to the national sleep foundation we need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. But, according to a 2008 study most adults get about 6.5 hours of sleep per night. You may think that decreasing your sleep by only 30 – 90 minutes a night is ok but sleep loss accumulates into sleep debt. Over a 5-day workweek, a nightly sleep loss of 90 minutes builds into a 7.5-hour sleep debt by the weekend. This equates to losing one full night of sleep during the workweek. Wow, no wonder we cannot lose weight, make good decisions, build muscle and have all the energy we need in a day. Study after study of athletes also proves that a lack of sleep impedes performance. Here are just a couple of examples.

  • In 2008, Mah, Mah and Dement studied college swimmers who, for the first 2 weeks of the study, maintained their usual sleep-wake patterns and were tested on 15-meter swim sprint time, reaction time off start blocks, turn time and number of kick strokes. The athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for 6-7 weeks. They were tested again, and results showed that the swimmers swam the 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds sooner off the start blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.

  • Mah and colleagues also studied seven Stanford University football players. For 2 weeks the football players kept to their normal sleeping schedules. The players then aimed for a minimum of 10 hours of sleep each night. They were tested before and after the sleep extension, and their 20-yard shuttle run times decreased by 0.10 seconds on the second round of tests. Forty-yard dash times also decreased by 0.10 seconds, and daytime sleepiness and fatigue scores fell significantly. Vigor scores dramatically improved (AASM 2010).

Now here are my suggestions for getting in your 7-8 or more hours of sleep each night.

  1. Use your bed only for sleeping and sex and maybe a small amount of reading

  2. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning

  3. Limit caffeine, particularly in the afternoon and evening.

  4. Limit alcohol. Especially avoid excessive consumption before bed.

  5. Lower the temperature in the house or bedroom before and during sleep

  6. Take a hot bath 90-120 minutes before bed

  7. Keep a sleep diary to track patterns.

  8. Eat 3-4 hours before bed and avoid heavy meals.

  9. If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until your body and mind feel tired.

  10. Create a bedtime de-stressing ritual

I drink a hot “bedtime” tea, watch about 30 minutes of TV on the couch then get into bed and write in my journal

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