Sleep is one of the most underestimated components of healthy living and success in life as well as exercise performance. In today’s world we are suffering from a sleep loss epidemic. We are now, more than ever, surrounded by countless distractions, technology, thoughts, worries and stressors that make sleep challenging. Maybe you are having trouble getting into bed because you just had to send one last email, or finish one last episode of the show you were binge watching. Or maybe you are more like me and make it a habit to get physically into bed at a reasonable hour, but can’t shut your mind off from the day’s activities or tomorrow’s worries.
Many things can contribute to poor sleep quality:
Stress in general being the biggest factor. This includes mental and emotional stress from work, family or financial situations…but also,
Physical stress we put on our bodies through poor postures and positions throughout the day (or when we are sleeping)
Blue light from screens we are exposed to at all hours of the day which prevents our brains from producing melatonin…our main sleep hormone
Environmental toxins (including old mattresses and pillows that can aggravate allergies!)
The food we are putting into our bodies (I’m looking at you late night snacks, sugar, and caffeine.)
Let’s dive deeper into some of these sleep culprits:
Breathing exercises can be very helpful in reducing stress, improving mood, managing emotions, and allowing for good sleep quality! One technique used includes “box breathing” for 5 minutes. You breathe in for a count of four, thinking of the breath going up the left side of a box, then hold at the top for a count of four imagining the top of the box working your way over to the right side, then breathe out for a count of four making your way down the right side of the box, holding at the bottom for a final count of four along the bottom border of the box as you make your way back to the left bottom corner. Repeat in this manner for five minutes in bed at night. This helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the rest and digestion action responsible for allowing good sleep.
Poor Sleeping Position:
Best positioning when sleeping on your back is a very thin pillow that does not push your head too far forwards. If you are a side sleeper, double the pillow up to keep your neck in good alignment with your spine and try putting a pillow in between your knees to keep your hips and spine in a neutral position. Kanuda makes a wonderful pillow designed by a physical therapist that has a shallow center for back sleeping and a thick outer edge for side sleeping.
If you struggle with any form of autoimmune disorder or allergies, the volatile organic compounds in your mattress and pillows can also play a big role in your sleep quality. Intellibed uses a gel matrix that has been quality tested overtime to prevent sagging and allergens over time.
Food itself is ALWAYS important to consider. Is it processed? High in sugars, gluten or dairy? These can all trigger inflammation in the body. But also (my personal biggest struggle) what time are you eating? It is important to give your body adequate time to digest the food you eat before you try to sleep, at least 1-2 hours. My husband and I are busy bees so we often don’t eat dinner until 9:00PM. By this time we are so hungry that we scarf our food down in minutes and then attempt to get into bed shortly after. No wonder we have trouble sleeping! If you give your body time to digest before sleeping, you may sleep better, as well as experience a normal bowel movement in the morning indicating your hormones are in good balance!
If fat loss or high exercise performance is your goal, then sleep should be too. Try running a marathon with one leg. You can, it’s just far more difficult. That’s what trying to perform without quality sleep is like. When you get less than seven hours of sleep, your hormones that are responsible for making you feel full or have cravings are affected and it makes you more susceptible to making poor food choices the next day. Getting good sleep sets you up for nutritional success.
I hope these tips help set you up for sleep success, as well as success in your life, work, and exercise performance. Whatever your goals may be, sleep is a FOUNDATION to help you achieve them!
Author: Dr. Sarah Kingsley PT, DPT, RYT
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.