10 Habits for Improved Sleep Hygiene
“Sleep dispenses a multitude of health ensuring benefits, yours to pick-up in repeat prescription every 24 hours, should you choose.” — Matthew Walker
I find it fascinating to learn about the scientific and physiological impacts of our daily behaviours. How our actions affect our health and performance will always be a deep curiosity of mine. Something I find interesting though, is our desire to consume this knowledge, understanding it’s benefits, while not changing our behaviour for the better.
Knowing is different than doing.
This article was written to hopefully help spark the inspiration you need to improve your sleep. Something we naturally require one-third of our lives for is the same thing most of tend to push away. We want to grind more, hustle, and “sleep when we’re dead.”
The number of people who have told me “Yeah, but I function well with less than seven hours of sleep” is scary. Especially when you consider that the population with the genetic variant that actually allows such an amazing feat is so small that it’s not even worth mentioning.
Here’s the thing: Take sleep away and your health, performance, well-being, and body composition will all suffer. You can count on it. Sleep in this sense is less of another “pillar” of health such as diet and exercise are. Rather, sleep is the foundation that will allow all of your daily behaviours (diet, exercise, thoughts, etc) to flourish.
There is irony here too, of course: If you keep putting off high-quality sleep, you’ll be “sleeping while you’re dead” much sooner than I bet you’d hope.
I once read from a popular fitness author Lou Schuler — the man behind the books series New Rules for Lifting — that a lot of people would soon rather pay $200 for a one-page action list highlighting all the key points in a $20 book which they could read themselves. That may seem a little extreme, but the principle is that most people just want to be told what to do.
So consider this a curated, actionable article of Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep — one of the best books I’ve ever read on sleep and it’s impacts on our health.
Don’t worry, you can keep your $200.
Benefits of a Good Nights Rest
I’m sure there’s more, but here are a few things that really stood out to me. Get ready for this.
Improves ability to learn.
Boosts memory by transferring short-term memories into long-term.
Aids in making logical decisions and choices.
Recalibrates emotional brain circuits. Lower perceived daily stress.
Removes toxins from the brain.
Helps to bolster a strong immune system which fights of disease, infection, and sickness.
Balances insulin and glucose.
Controls body weight. When we get enough sleep our cravings for sugary, and salty foods drops.
Maintains a vibrant microbiome.
Boosts cardiovascular system, while lowering blood pressure, and keeping our heart strong and healthy — all amazing health, AND performance benefits.
Accelerates physical recovery from inflammation.
Stimulates muscle repair.
Restores cellular energy.
Improves skill development, motor learning, and general physicality.
Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, depression, and many other diseases and disorders.
Lack of sleep effects performance significantly. Regularly sleeping less than 8 hours a night can lead to the following:
Time to exhaustion drops by 10–30%
Aerobic output significantly reduced.
Reduced vertical jump height.
Decreased max strength, and power output.
Impaired cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory capabilities.
Faster lactic acid build up.
Reduced blood oxygen saturation.
Converse increase in blood carbon dioxide levels.
Lesser ability for body to cool.
Significant increase in injury risk.
Sold on getting a better nights rest? I sure hope so!
Now it’s time to quickly self-assess your sleep quality.
Assess Your Sleep
1. After waking up, could you fall asleep again at 10 or 11 am?
If Yes, then you may not be getting enough sleep quantity and/or quality
2. Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon?
If No, then you could quite possibly be self-medicating chronic sleep deprivation.
3. Do you have sleep disturbances like trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep?
If Yes, you may have too much negative stress in your life, leading to a spike in stress hormones at the wrong times.
10 Habits for Improved Sleep Hygiene
Don’t think about sleep as the last thing in your day as it makes it easier for you to push it off. Start to consider sleep as the first thing you do in the day. Honour your sleep!
Try to wake up and get outside within the first hour of sunrise. Even if it’s just for 15, 10, or even five minutes. This will help to reset your circadian rhythm, boost your energy throughout the day, and help you sleep at night.
Try to consume coffee only prior to noon if needed. Stick to one to two cups per day. It is beneficial to caffeine cycle by going periods of time (days or weeks) without it.
Try not to snack before bed, especially sugary foods. After dinner, floss and brush your teeth to help you reconsider reaching for that sweet, or salty snack!
Aim to get to bed around 10–11 pm every night. Every hour of sleep before midnight is said to be worth double.
Turn lights down in your home as the sun starts to set and it gets closer to bedtime. Around 9 p.m. works well for most.
Eliminate exposure to electronics 45–60 minutes prior to bed. No television, computer, and cellphones. Electronics suppress the release of a powerful sleep hormone which follows our circadian rhythm — melatonin.
Leave electronics outside of bedroom. Use a normal alarm clock, not your phone.
Make sure your room is as dark as possible. When your arm is stretched out in front of you, you should not be able to see your hand. An eye mask works, as well as black out blinds.
Keep your bedroom cool and sleep in loose fitted clothing, underwear, or naked.
Bonus: Consider the addition of exogenous sleep boosters such as lavender essential oil in a diffuser, and supplements such as melatonin, and magnesium. Make sure to seek advice from your health care provider before ingesting any supplement.
Effects of Sleep on Weight and Body Composition
Does sleeping play a big part into your quest for looking better? You better believe it. In fact, it is so important that usually I won’t make any other lifestyle recommendations until a client starts to see some improvement in their sleep habits.
Shortened sleep will result in an increase of hunger and appetite (via increased ghrelin), compromised impulse control within the brain, increased likely of poor food choices (i.e., high-calorie, sugary, processed foods), decreased feelings of food satisfaction after eating (via decreased leptin), and prevent effective weight loss when dieting.
When sleeping less that 8 hours a night on a calorie restricted diet, most weight loss will come from lean muscle mass, not fat!
Insufficient sleep will also lead to a growth of bad bacteria in our gut microbiomes, resulting in poor food absorption, and can cause gastrointestinal problems.
Healthy individuals sleeping an average of four hours a night are 40% less effective at absorbing glucose after only one week of these sleeping patterns. Blood sugar readings done at this point would have these individuals classified as pre-diabetic at this point!
What to Do Next
Assess your current sleep habits. Use the sleep self-assessment above to get a glimpse of your sleep health. Addressing issues such as sleep apnea, or upper respiratory airway syndrome can be next to impossible to diagnose by yourself. If you are concerned about your sleep, seek a referral from your doctor to see a sleep therapist or specialist.
Create and follow a sleep ritual. You don’t have to wait for your doctor to tell you what’s wrong before you start building better sleep habits. These habits will only help you, so control what you can control. Pick a couple of the strategies above to introduce into your sleep ritual. Remember: This is your ritual. Find what works best for you! Commit to your new sleep ritual for at least two weeks.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.