10 Tips for Restful Sleep
By Steve Edwards
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
a lot about the importance of
from exercise and how vital it is for our body transformation goals. Today
we'll address the most important of these recovery modalities, sleep. Dreamland
is where we make the most dramatic changes in our body's physiology. Those
changes are directly related to what we do when we're awake but, if we don't
take the precautions to ensure we get a good night's rest, our hard work can
get sidetracked. So let's take a brief look at what happens to us when we sleep
and how our daily lifestyle can improve this fitness process.
Approximately 70 million people in the
U.S. suffer from sleep-related problems, according to the National Academy of
Sleep. They also conclude that we lose around $100 billion annually in lost
productivity and damages as a result of this. Lack of sleep affects
concentration, memory, stress levels, alertness, and physical ability. It also
affects our fitness results.
While we're at rest
When we're awake, our body is
constantly wearing down. During sleep, our body varies its behavior to rebuild
itself even more efficiently. Among other things, we make more proteins and
release hormones at different rates. So while we tend to think of sleep as a
passive process, it's actually very active.
begins with our brain. Instead of shutting down for the night, our brain
signals our body about what to do during the various stages of sleep. In short,
neurotransmitters (one you've probably heard of is serotonin) signal the body
that it's time to switch modes. Once this occurs, our body begins a five-stage
rebuilding process that we call sleep.
- Stage 1 is light
sleep. You've probably experienced this during boring classes in school. Your
body is barely asleep, your eyes move slightly, and you're easily awakened,
usually with a startled "jump." During this stage, you'll often have dream-like
Stage 2 is
when the eye movements stop and your brain waves begin to slow down.
Stage 3 begins deep sleep, as very slow brain
waves, called delta waves, take over the more rapid brain waves, called sleep
Stage 4 is a
deep state where all muscle movements stop. It's hard to be woken during this
state, and when you are, you're often in a groggy, disoriented condition.
Stage 5 is
called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In this stage, your breathing becomes
shallow, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your eyes jerk rapidly in
all directions, and you have your wildest dreams.
We sleep in cycles wherein all five
stages are completed in around one-and-a-half to two hours. As the cycles
increase, we spend less time in deep sleep and more in stages 1, 2, and REM.
We tend to be more interested in
studying our dreams and how they affect our psyche than in what else goes on
during sleep. But all five stages of sleep are vital for maximum recovery.
Furthermore, since each stage duration tends to vary during the night,
subsequent cycles are also important. In each stage, some functions get shut
down in order to funnel more resources to others. Since we can't do this while
awake, sleep is the most efficient state of recovery.
While we're awake
things that affect our sleep are food, exercise, medications, chemicals, and
temperature. The neurotransmitters that tell us to sleep are all influenced by
these factors and can be misled. Some of the more obvious examples of things
that affect our sleep are caffeine, which we often consume when we want to stay
awake, and medications, which usually provide warnings on their labels. But
what's also important to consider here is how some of these things affect our
sleep cycles. Certainly "sleep aids," such as alcohol, make it easier to fall
asleep but harder to get into deep sleep. Let's take a look at 10 ways we can
improve our lifestyle to promote more thorough and restful sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Like we
weren't going to say this! But, really, nothing promotes sleepiness like bodily
damage, and exercise is an efficient way of breaking down your system in such a
way that it can easily repair itself and grow stronger. Regular exercise puts
your body into a habit of wanting to recover at night. If you exercise enough,
your body will protest and fall asleep on the spot.
The only downside
to exercise can be if it's done before bed. This is a response that varies with
each individual. Some people can fall asleep immediately after a workout (a
great recovery aid is a midday nap), but many are affected by the endorphin
rush and can't get to sleep right away. It's something you should experiment
with before slotting your workout into the evening hours.
better. Like we weren't going to say this too. But your
overall diet also plays an important role in your sleep patterns. Many "bad"
foods, as well as gorging yourself, will make you tired, but don't be swayed by
this illusion. Swooning energy levels due to bad food may help you fall asleep
but, a lot like alcohol, it will affect your sleep cycle and you won't sleep as
well or as long as you should. A diet consisting of mainly whole foods will
keep your energy levels constant and help your body swing toward more natural
cycles and sleep patterns. You can follow these "5 Rules for
a Healthy Diet."
- Stay hydrated. The downside of drinking too
much water may be waking up in the night to go to the bathroom, but this is
offset by the upside, which is heat regulation as your body goes through its
various sleep stages. A dehydrated body can't sleep or recover well, and
dehydration is one of the major factors involved in the hung-over state you may
find yourself in after a bout of drinking.
- Sleep in a cool, dark
place. Each person's tolerance levels vary, but most
everyone sleeps better in an environment that's both cool and dark. Turn your
bedroom into a peaceful place that's designed for sleep.
down in the evening. A nighttime ritual can greatly
increase your chances for restful sleep. A light stretching session along with
some calming reading and herb tea is a common recipe for sleepy time. Do keep
in mind that watching the latest UFC match or reading provocative literature
may have the opposite effect on your brain.
- Learn to not use an
alarm. While this isn't always possible, if you get your
lifestyle in order, your sleep pattern shouldn't require an alarm. Even if you
wake up at a crazy hour to go to work, your body will get used to it if you get
into a schedule. The only time you should need to use an alarm is for special
drink or smoke at night. I realize that this is when most
of you will drink and smoke if that's what you do. Since it may be difficult to
change, perhaps consider changing your patterns. Habitual smokers tend to sleep
only three to four hours at a time, which is also the case when you're
intoxicated. To offset this, begin to cut back as the evening progresses and
hydrate. Just taking enough time to begin the restorative processes prior to
bed can greatly lessen the effects of drinking and smoking and help you sleep
- Don't go to bed at a
certain time. Go to bed when you're tired. Forcing
yourself to stay awake creates the wrong brain signals, as can going to bed too
early. There are times we all force ourselves to stay awake or sleep early, but
try not to make this your default mode. By listening and responding to your
body's signals you're creating habits that you should live by. You'll probably
end up going to bed around the same time anywayyou'll just have less
- Use sleep medications only as a last resort. Most sleeping medications are habit forming and have side
effects. Of course, most doctors will tell you this, but you must also consider
that the companies that make these drugs offer incentives for those who
prescribe them. Be wary of the information you get. There are times when sleep
medication can be handy, but it should always only be an option. It should
never be a lifestyle.
- Supplement your diet. Besides
herb teas, such as valerian root, you can use supplements to further ensure
that your body has the nutrients it needs to get a full night's rest. A
multivitamin, like Beachbody's ActiVit® Multivitamins or
P90X® Peak Health Formula, will
help ensure that you have the high-quality vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
your body needs to stay healthy. Ensuring that your mineral balance is correct
will further enable you to sleep through the night. You can make a good sleep
aid with some calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C (which helps your
body absorb minerals). Three hundred to 500 mg of potassium and magnesium, 500
to 750 mg of calcium, and 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C are amounts with which
you'll want to experiment.