The cats nestle close to their kittens,
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You are cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
Please go the fuck to sleep.
The cubs and the lions are snoring
Wrapped in a big, snuggly heap.
How come you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?
– Adam Mansbach
If you have a child, you can probably relate to the brilliance of Adam Mansbach’s book, Go The Fuck To Sleep. Almost anybody can relate to nights where you lie awake watching the hours of rest slip by, asking yourself “how come I can do all this other great shit, but I can’t lie the fuck down and SLEEP?”
This month I’m going to be focusing on Sleep & Stress Reduction. I chose November because:
- It’s a nice time to build some calm before the December craziness
- It integrates nicely with the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means that everyone in my part of the world is already making some adjustments to their body clock.
So let’s make those adjustments count towards getting more and better sleep. Sleep is a big deal these days. Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame rocked the business world by recommending that executives prioritize sleep over working more. The Dalai Lama claims that sleep is the best meditation there is. When I mentioned my sleep focus to my clients and Bootcampers, I was astonished by the response and how many people are struggling with this. But I shouldn’t have been. Since 1960, chronic sleep deprivation has more than doubled in North America. What’s that? If you are regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night, you (like 36% of the population) are in a chronic state of sleep deprivation.
What does sleep have to do with my fitness?
A lot, my friend:
1. Sleep is when you reap the benefits of your workout:
When you exercise, you put stress on the body. But it’s the good stress, the what-doesn’t-kill-me-makes-me-stronger stress. And when it makes you stronger is during your sleep. Deep sleep releases growth hormone, which not only builds and repairs muscles and tissue, but prevents premature aging.
2. Lack of sleep produces cortisol
As I’m sure you’ve heard, cortisol is the hormone that our body produces when it’s stressed – the fight or flight one. Cortisol thinks you are stressed because there is a saber toothed tiger chasing you or a famine or something so it goes into lock down mode; slows down your metabolism and stores fat around your middle to see you through the plague or Mongolian raiders or whatever. You’re lying awake in bed, stressing about whether you are going to make it to Costco tomorrow before it gets too busy and your body thinks you are stressed that the continents have shifted so there aren’t enough Mammoth to go around so it should probably make you fatter. Thanks, cortisol.
2. A lack of sleep makes you basically drunk:
Check it: Being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, which is legally drunk (and leaves you at equal risk for a crash, btw.)
…and when you are drunk, do you eat lots of vegetables and make fantastic decisions for your health? No you do not. You eat poutine and watch Netflix HARD.
3. Lack of sleep gives you the crazy munchies:
When you sleep, the body balances two hunger-controlling hormones, ghrelin (makes you hungry) and leptin (makes you feel satisfied). If you get less than 6 hours of sleep, your ghrelin levels rise and your leptin is repressed. Meaning you are going to want that second piece of cake. And maybe the third. And then you might have trouble metabolizing that cake due to a sleep-deprived overproduction of insulin, which can lead to body fat storage and increased risk of diabetes.
4. A good sleep boosts your immune system and keeps you ready to workout.
A lack of sleep can make you prone to getting colds and the flu, which is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to prevent you from being consistent with your training program. When you are well rested and healthy, you are good to go for a wicked workout, which is in turn going to help you sleep better later on, inducing a positive cycle.
Ok, so YEAH – no one needs to be sold on sleep. Sleep is awesome. How exactly should I get that done?
1. Stay regular.
Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Even on weekends. (Twenty year olds are shaking their heads like hell no – and all the parents are shrugging.) Establish a routine to wind yourself down and stick to it so the body starts to recognize when it’s night-night time.
2.. Keep your workouts and your caffeine early.
We all know that a great workout will give you an energy and endorphin boost. This is awesome at 9am (like after one of my Early Risers Bootcamps,) but not so welcome at 9pm. You want your workout to end at least two hours before it’s time to start your bedtime routine. And while you are establishing curfews, let’s have the last cup of coffee before 2pm. Don’t fall for that treat receipt business from Starbucks. That’s just The Man fucking with you.
3. If you can’t sleep, get up.
Give yourself 20 mins of restlessness and contemplating global warming and wondering what your high school boyfriend is doing and then get up, change the scenery and do something quiet like read a book (no screens please – see below) or have a magnesium-rich snack like a banana (that’s not random; magnesium helps you sleep. Spinach is also full of magnesium but no one is getting out of bed for spinach, amiright?)
4. Get outside.
I’m a huge believer in getting outside as often as possible, which is why I’m always dragging my clients to run around muddy parks at dawn. Studies show that exposure to sunlight can help regulate circadian rhythms – the internal body clock that decides when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to party. If your workplace is a cubical cave of florescent light, you need to be especially careful to get outdoors during your breaks (tip: follow the smokers. They are so outdoorsy!).
5. Back away from the phone an hour before lights out.
The artificial light and clicky clicky temptations of your screens are not telling your body it’s time to wind down. Get old school with a book or a magazine… or another pleasant bedroom activity.
6. Lay off the booze
If a nice glass of wine helps you unwind after a long day, have at ‘er. If your glass of wine looks like this
(you know who you are) you might find yourself easily falling asleep but then have trouble staying asleep. Worst.
Ok. So on the one hand you are telling me to get up at 6am to run around a park and on the other hand you are freaking me out that I’m not getting enough sleep. What’s more important? Should I sacrifice sleep for an early morning workout?
This is a fantastic question that I’ve definitely been asked by my beautiful bleary-eyed Bootcampers more than once. Here’s the deal:
1. You should be averaging between 7-8 hours of sleep every night, with minimal fluctuations between weekdays and weekends.
2. If you are in that zone, it’s ok to rise 30 mins earlier or so to get your workout in, 3 days a week.
3. If you are having trouble getting those 7-8 hours in regularly, you need to re-evaluate your schedule in order to fit in BOTH adequate sleep and exercise.
4. However, if you are not getting enough sleep because of insomnia or restlessness at night (ie, not your scheduling), it may be worth sacrificing some sleep in the short term in order to start waking up at the same time every day and maintaining a regular exercise program. Both of these habits will eventually contribute to better quantity and quality of sleep.
So…how much sleep are you getting? Is it something you prioritize as much as working out and eating your veggies? Got a tip on getting to sleep when you are staring at the ceiling in the wee hours? Leave a comment below. And if you know of anyone who could use an extra hour or two, feel free to share this post.