So we’ve established that sleep is a vital part to our health, but maybe you're thinking, that information is all good and well, but it doesn't change the fact that I still have a hard time falling asleep; or I still wake up a ton in the middle of the night; or I’m not getting nearly enough sleep and I'm exhausted. If those thoughts are crossing your mind, then this post is for you! We’re going to go through a variety of ways that you can get more, and better, sleep in order to reap the benefits that it provides (as well as avoid the risks that go along with not getting enough of it). It turns out there are a lot of choices we make during the day that impact the rest we get at night, so if we can address those, we can hopefully make some positive changes. Preparation and intention matter in the realm of health and wellness, and sleep is no exception. So let’s dive into some ways we can set ourselves up for a successful night’s sleep.
Because this is our “Exercise AND” series, a significant place to start when figuring out how to get more sleep is to consider how exercise and sleep are intertwined. Most significantly they are connected by the body’s core temperature. Exercise is going to increase the body’s temperature, which then increases alertness and communicates to the body’s internal clock that it is time to be awake. When the body slowly lowers back to its normal temperature range, it is triggered to feel drowsy, which of course is intended to help you fall asleep. When timed out right, then, exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and hopefully give you a better night’s sleep.
Another connection between the two are those feel-good hormones - endorphins. Among their many physiological functions, endorphins create a level of activity in the brain that can help keep you awake. Then, about an hour or two after exercising, the endorphins will clear out and give the brain a chance to wind down into a more restful state. How often do you have trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing with thoughts? Perhaps exercising can help.
One thing to note, though, is that there is still some debate on what time of day, and what duration, is best to exercise in order to best impact your sleep. There are arguments that say it doesn’t matter when, as long as you do. But considering the impacts that exercise can have on the body, it can very well affect your sleep patterns. This is where it is important to listen to your body. Everyone responds a little differently, so if you are having some trouble sleeping, try to work out at different times of the day to experiment and figure out when might be the best time for you. If working out in the morning makes you crash by mid-afternoon, try an afternoon workout to see if that crash falls more in line with your bedtime. Or if you work out in the evening and feel wired by the time you lay in bed, try doing an earlier workout to see if you feel the same. It might take a little time to find your best rhythm, but doing so can help maximize the quality of sleep you get.
As for duration, studies have shown that even 10-30 minutes of intentional movement a day can make a difference in your sleep quality. Like we recommend in general here at Worth the Work Fitness, consistency is what matters. So find an exercise routine that you enjoy so you are more prone to stick with it.
Just like you budget your money, I’d encourage you to budget your time (in all areas of life, but especially with sleep). By going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, you can set your biological clock and train your body to expect when it needs sleep. So, if you have to wake up by a certain time, calculate 7-9 hours back to determine what time you need to try to go to sleep by, and then stick to it. Do your best to not compromise those hours for more work, studying, socializing, or even exercising. And adults should also try to avoid long naps during the day, especially after 3 p.m. Setting up a sleep schedule might take some trial and error, so approach it with intention to find out what your body needs.
So you set a bedtime for yourself, and stick to it, only to find yourself lying awake in bed because you’re not exactly tired yet; or your mind is still racing with thoughts. To avoid this dilemma, especially if you are trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule, it’s important to take some time to prepare yourself for your entrance into dreamland. By establishing a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine, you can train your body and mind to wind down and enter a better state of calm as you get ready for bed. I’d suggest giving yourself anywhere between 20-60 minutes to wind down for the night. Fill that time with relaxing activities like taking a bath, reading instead of scrolling, listening to calming music, doing some restorative stretching, or practicing meditation. Dimming your lights also cues your body to start melatonin production. But probably the most significant tip we can give: PUT AWAY ELECTRONICS. I say that in all caps, because I often need that reminder myself. I know I’ve given the excuse before that scrolling on my phone helps me wind down, but biologically speaking, it actually keeps us wound up. Both the mental stimulation and the blue light (which decreases melatonin production) can be major blockers for good rest. So it’s best to avoid using your phone, tablet, or television 30-60 minutes before bed.
If you follow a soothing bedtime routine, and you still end up lying awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing to briefly re-stimulate that rest. Just be careful to avoid anything that will busy the mind. If you are still struggling beyond that, look into taking a melatonin supplement to help support your sleep (just consult with your doctor first to determine if this will be a good approach for you).
Tranquil Sleep Environment
It’s not just HOW you go to sleep that matters, it’s also WHERE you sleep. If your bedroom does not foster a place of calm and rest, odds are you are going to have a harder time sleeping. For starters, make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable for you, and use bedding that feels nice to the touch and keeps you at a comfortable temperature (this varies from person to person, but most people sleep better at a cooler temperature - around 65 degrees). You also want to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Block light with heavier curtains, an eye mask, or simply by turning off lights in your home that shine into your bedroom. Also, if sounds tend to wake you up or keep you awake, drown out noise with a white noise machine, fan, or even ear plugs if you find them comfortable. One more thing you can do is have calming scents in your room, like lavender, which is commonly known for its calm inducing properties. You can diffuse essential oils, or have a spray that you put on your pillow each night.
Healthy Daily Habits
Apart from exercise, there are many other healthy habits that you can practice throughout your day (or avoid) that will support your sleep at night. Getting exposure to sunlight is a key contributor to your circadian rhythm, which ultimately impacts your quality of sleep, so get outside for some sunshine during the day when you can. Cutting down on caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening, will prevent stimulating the brain too late in the day. (Note: As much as you might love coffee, be aware of how much you are relying on it for energy. If you need an entire pot to make it through the day, try cutting back and implementing some of these other recommended tactics to improve your sleep). Try to eat dinner early enough in the evening so that you are done digesting your food by the time you’re ready for bed. And if you must, keep snacks before bed on the lighter side. Reduce your alcohol consumption, especially before bed, to avoid sleep disruptions. While alcohol might make it easier for you to fall asleep, it’s not always the best at keeping you asleep. Similarly, nicotine stimulates the body in a way that disrupts sleep. Smoking is actually correlated with numerous sleeping problems, among many other health issues, so ditching that habit should be a top priority for your sleep and your health.
So all in all, between exercise and practicing other healthy daily habits, setting a sleep schedule, establishing a bedtime routine, and giving yourself a tranquil sleep environment, there are many things you can do to get more and better sleep at night. While there are a lot of tips mentioned here, just like we do with everything in Worth the Work Fitness, we want to help you make small, sustainable changes that lead to a lasting impact. So you don’t have to change everything all at once. Just pick one or two new habits to start with and see how they impact your sleep - both in quality AND quantity.
One final, and significant, thing to note: the topic of sleep is a big one, and it’s too broad to cover everything about it in one blog post. Things like having newborns or young children, being a shift worker, or having a legitimate sleep disorder can all significantly impact all of the approaches mentioned here. So for more information, check out the Sleep Foundation (which is where the majority of this information came from anyways!). And if you try to implement some of these methods and you still have trouble sleeping, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor to explore some options. Like all of the aspects of health, it all comes down to what works best for YOU. So be sure to give your sleep, and yourself, the attention and care that you need.
Sources:      
Written by Kelly Pruim