Updated: Jan 21
I’ve been delving into sleep as part of the Mind and Body session in the Master your Mindset course* I’m running at the moment, so I thought I’d share a few of the top learnings here.
Firstly sleep is MASSIVELY important for all aspects of health and training.
Sleep impacts your mood (one study found that after a night without sleep your amygdala, the part of brain that looks out for threats is 60% more reactive and anxiety levels 30% higher).
Sleep impacts aging - There’s a big growing body of evidence linking lack of sleep to age related dementia and cognitive decline (one of the leading causes of death), as well as mental illness.
Sleep impacts performance – remember, you don’t get fitter from training, you get fitter from recovery from training, and your body recovers from training when you sleep.
Sleep also impacts your diet, hormones are released when your tired that mean you are more likely to make lower quality food choices (more sugar and fat), with health and training impacts if sustained.
So how do we improve sleep?
Firstly, there is a difference between sleep quantity and quality. You may get 8 hours, but if it’s not good quality, you still wont feel refreshed or be performing to your potential (and before you turn to your Garmin etc to check how may hours you got, or say ‘I’m fine on less than 8 hours’ how about just asking, ‘how do I feel? Could I feel better?’)
Traditionally we think about the sleep hygiene measures before we go to bed, but we need to shift the focus to look at the whole day to get the best quality and quantity sleep.
Here’s my top tips:
Consistent wake time - The temptation is to bank sleep at the weekends/ when we can but try and limit this - your body’s circadian rhythm prefers consistency (Yes, some of us are larks, and some are owls, but if you have to do a job requiring you to be at work at a certain time, then get your circadian rhythm in sync with this and don’t try and reverse it every weekend)
Light - Get some light as soon as possible when you wake up to reinforce that circadian rhythm and tell your body it’s morning, daylight is far more effective than artificial light, even 5 mins (or 10 mins when its overcast like the UK right now) can make a massive difference
Temperature - Warm the body up (a morning mobility workout is great or, counterintuitively, a short cold shower will help (because body heat is drawn to the core)
Aim to cut caffeine out after around midday. Even if you think you sleep fine after it, the evidence on sleep quality says otherwise
Reduce stress through out the day, if we’ve been telling our body to get ready to deal with a stressful situation all day it will be pumped full of hormones meaning it’s ready to go into battle with a tiger, not settle down for a restful nights sleep. Learning both how to deal with situations so they don’t stress you and how to reset the nervous system (breathing, meditation, mindful walks etc) are key. (We cover both on my Master your Mindset course, sign up here if you want me to let you know the details when my 2023 course is confirmed)
Time - Don’t go to bed before you are ready to, trying to go to bed early will just lead to more time not sleeping and your brain will associate the bed with tossing and turning rather than sleeping
Temperature - Keep the room temperature low (around 18 degrees).
Light - This is the biggie - Avoid exposure to bright, especially overhead (ie where the sun would be) light for a few hours before bed. Even blue light filters aren’t a panacea. No tvs and phones or laptops in the bedroom. Motion sensor lights at floor level were a complete game changer for me.
Alcohol - Hands up who has a drink at night because it helps them sleep? You’re kidding yourself I’m afraid. Alcohol helps you get to sleep but it’s a sedative, that’s not the same as sleeping, and alcohol will reduce your sleep quality drastically (especially if its then followed by more caffeine and anxiety the next day).
Exercise - Try and avoid high intensity exercise before bed (to avoid the release of adrenaline and cortisol). If you do exercise pre bed, have a short, hot shower to lower body temperature (again, conversely, a hot shower means the heat is drawn to the surface and the body core is cooled).
And probably the most important - Mindset – are you going to bed saying ‘I wont sleep’, ‘oh god, I really need to sleep’ etc. If you needed to do a presentation and just before you went up I said ‘I reckon you’ll be crap at this, oh and by the way, it’s really, really important you do this really well otherwise you’ll get the sack. Oh, I see you’ve not stood up yet. Yes, I reckon that means you’re really going to mess this up’ would I be helping you? Taking the pressure off ourselves and having practices to relax and calm mind (again, we cover this in my course), as well as practical things like making sure we’re not working or on social media before bed, can make a big difference.
And if you cant sleep, just get up, don’t let your mind start to associate the bedroom with a place to be awake.
And a note on Menopause – As well as anxiety potentially getting worse, night sweats can leave you in a swimming pool of sweat. So take all the above and times by 10! Mindset work such as CBT and tools we cover on the course can be particularly useful.
Further listening (I know most of you don't have time to be reading extra stuff here's a podcast listening list rather than reading list)
* If you want to know more about my 2023 Master your Mindset course, sign up here and I'll let you know the details when my 2023 course is confirmed.