I think we can all agree that sleep is an important component to good health. However, I think it is much more important than most people realize. I’ve found that I’m a much better and different person in all areas of my life when I get a good night’s rest. I’m calmer, think clearer, get sick less often, feel awesome during my runs, relate to others better, just to name a few of the benefits of being optimally rested. Yes, diet and exercise are also very important, but if you lack adequate sleep and rest, the effort to eat nutritious food and the hours spent each week at the gym are sub-optimized if you compromise sleep. In fact, I would argue that sleep is as important as any other pillar of good health and should get the same attention as eating well and exercising.
How much sleep you need is probably dependent on the individual. However, I subscribe to the early to bed, early to rise philosophy. Obtaining about 8 hours of sleep each night seems to be about right for me personally. Some may get by with less and others may need more, it’s just trial and error to determine your sweet spot. However, I am skeptical of people who say they need 6 hours or less of sleep each night. Normally, I try to be in bed no later than 8 pm each night and wake up around 4:15 am each morning. Because I like to workout early in the morning and have to be at work by 7 am, it requires me to go to bed relatively early. I’m also in the habit of taking a quick 20 to 30 minute nap during the afternoons, usually right after lunch. Although I could probably skip the nap, I just feel much more energized when I get that quick rest mid-day.
I recently got a fitness tracker to monitor my sleep and found it very insightful. On most nights, although I’m in bed for 8 hours, I may only be getting 5 to 6 hours of good deep sleep. I often wake up throughout the night and sometimes it may take 30 minutes to an hour to get back to sleep. But the point is, now that I can monitor and track my sleep each night, I can begin finding correlations of daily habits and routines that contribute to a good night’s or bad night’s sleep. One thing I did find out is when I eat dinner after 6 pm, I usually have a restless night of sleep.
There are some good books out there regarding sleep, but the best one I’ve read recently is titled Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success by Shawn Stevenson. The author also has a podcast called the Model Health Show, which I also find very informative.
There are a lot of things that can impact your sleep. I won’t get into all of them on this post, but the top five things that seemed to have worked (and I’m still working on it) for me are as follows:
1. Blackout Curtains: I recently installed some blackout curtains in my bedroom and it has made a huge difference. Not only is the room very dark, but the curtains have noticeably reduced the outside noise. I live relatively close to a major street and would often be awoken by loud cars, trucks and thumping car stereos, but it now happens much less often.
2. Avoid Television and Internet after 6 pm: I try and stay away from the television and Internet after 6 pm. This seems to calm the mind and helps the wind-down process.
3. Routine and Consistency: My body loves routine and I find when I stay relatively consistent on my evening routine and go to bed at the same time each night, I can fall asleep much faster.
4. Avoiding Caffeine after 12 pm: I usually have one cup of coffee in the morning before I head to work and that is the extent of my caffeine intake for the day. I may have some dark chocolate during the day, but avoid it in the evening.
5. Stretch, Pray and Read 1 hour Before Turning Out the Lights: The hour before I turn out the lights, I have a routine of stretching for 15 to 20 minutes, praying, then reading a book before getting my sleep on. This process seems to tell my body that we are winding down and chemicals are beginning to be released for a restful night sleep.
I’m sure there are a number of other things that can help with a good night sleep, but found these are some of my core principles that seem to work for me. I’ve come to realize that sleep can’t be compromised if you want to become the best all around person you want to aspire to be.