The Cleary Theory

Your Sleep Sucks? Here's 10 Ways to Fix It.

March 10, 2015

Pug-asleep-on-the-ground

I enjoy sleeping.

No really, I freakin’ LOVE sleeping.

If you don’t mind me saying so, I think I’m pretty good at it too. And that’s a large part of the reason why…

As soon as I hit the sheets, I’m out cold for the count. No tossing and turning, no waking up in the middle of the night. I have no problem waking up without a snooze alarm at 5.30am.

More often than not, this is succeeded by boundless amount of mental and physical energy throughout the day.

Yup, it’s pretty awesome.

I know what you’re thinking, you love sleeping too. Who doesn’t?

But that doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. I didn’t use to be. I had to work hard to get this damn good.

It’s only been the past year or so that I’ve gotten a handle of this.

For most of my life I struggled with sleep and would often be reminsicent of a half-zombie like-being throughout the day. Not exactly the image I wanted to portray as a fitness and health professional.

This is the article where I tell you how I fixed this.

I’ll explain why you need more sleep and why you need to get better at it. I’ll also teach how you too, can sleep like the epitome of the proverbial log.

I’ll keep this short and sweet so I don’t put you to sleep. (pun definitely intended)

In the pursuit of optimum health and fitness, we often place a heavy emphasis on our exercise and nutrition, such as counting our calories, grams of protein and religiously maintaining a training journal for our exercise programmes. Unfortunately, the quantity and quality of our sleep is more often than not, left to little more than an afterthought.

This is most unwise seeing as our sleep can have more of an effect upon our bodies than any other lifestyle factor. Luckily, professional athletes, coaches and smart science people are acutely aware of this.

What makes a good sleep and why do we need it?

Sleep is our minds’ and bodies’ primary method of recovery. Time and time again, research has shown that for the vast majority of us, 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is the optimal amount. Even if we convince ourselves otherwise.

While a small handful of us may need less, the odds are that you’re not one of the special ones.

Sorry.

Roger Federer is well known for sleeping at least 11 hours each night and we could all do with being more like Rog.

Good sleep is crucial to firmly establish memories, it helps our body physically repair itself and it sets our metabolism and hormonal processes in order.

Poor sleep is without a doubt one of the bad guys when it comes to fat gain, muscle loss, poor memory and lack of creativity. This is largely due to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.

When we sleep, our body goes through several sleep cycles, each lasting approximately 90 mins. In each cycle we go through several stages of sleep, each one doing its own thing. For example, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the last and lightest stage of sleep.

It’s also responsible for the majority of our dreams. Only by experiencing each stage of sleep in its totality can we enjoy the full recovery effect of our mind and bodies. To do this we need uninterrupted sleep. If you’ve ever tried napping and woken up and felt even worse than before then chances are you’ve just woken up mid-cycle.

No, not THIS R.E.M.

No. Not THIS R.E.M.

How to fix it:

1. Make sure your room is DARK. Melatonin, is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. To help release it, do yourself a favour and shut your curtains tightly, turn off the lights and turns off all screens when sleeping. An hour before bed, aim to reduce your exposure to sources of blue light such as computer, tablet and mobile phone screens as these lights inhibit the release of melatonin. Our eyes and brains treat blue light as daylight, which arouses our minds, leading to us feeling more awake.

If you lack the ability to see in the dark like a cat, use a yellow or red bulb as you primary light source. Red light waves do nothing to inhibit your sleep. There’s a reason most digital alarm clocks are red.

2. Eat a meal with complex carbohydrates a few hours before bed. Busting the myth of avoiding carbs at night is not within the scope of this article. However, know that a meal with a good source of carbohydrates will spike your blood sugar, resulting in an energy crash. This will greatly improve your ability to fall asleep quick. For sources, I love potatoes and white jasmine rice.

3. Read something. Reading for just 10-15 minutes before sleep can improve your sleep quality by allowing your mind to drift off and to encourage dreaming. Pick something either boring or perhaps a vaguely interesting novel.

Find something that allows you to think about something else aside from money, kids or that really important work project with the urgent deadline. The one that you haven’t even started yet.

4. Splash out and buy a decent mattress, bed sheets and pillows. Yes you can afford it. You spend a third of your life getting to sleep or being in it. Just do it.

5. Have a cold shower. I know what you’re thinking. This will wake you up. No it won’t. When getting to sleep, the first thing your body does is attempt to lower your heart rate and body temperature. Give it a head start with a cold shower and bath. A warm shower is going to do the opposite and only make it harder.

6. On the same note, aim to make your room cold. Put your room temperature to around 19 to 21 degrees.

7. Get a routine and stick to it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each night will do wonders for your sleep length and quality.Your circadian rhythm (body clock) is sensitive. Keep it in check and quit throwing it off.

Aim to go to bed and wake up each day/night at the same time. It’s okay to let this fluctuate an hour either side but do your best, even on the weekend.

8. Supplement with mangnesium. A dose of this mineral can help induce muscle relaxation and the formation of dreams leading to a deeper, higher quality sleep.

9. Limit caffeine consumption to before midday. Caffeine wakes you up, if you don’t sleep well, have less of it and keep it earlier in the day.

10. Eliminate distractions. Turn the phone off, keep the dog out, kick the wife out…..

BONUS TIP!!!Something I’ve been experimenting with recently is a mobile app called’ Sleep Cycle’. This is designed to assist you in waking up during your lightest cycle of sleep. This supposedly allows you to wake up when you fill most refreshed. It even gives you a report based on your past nights ‘performance’. Sleep that is.

Whether or not this is purely a placebo effect is currently unknown to me but I’m liking it so far. Check it out in the app store.

Just keep your phone on airplane mode so you don’t get woken by drunken prank calls from your brother.

Pick just a couple of these tips for now and put them to work and go from there.

Sweet dreams.

Any questions? Tweet me.

Perhaps share it with some people you care about too.

Cheers


Matt Cleary

Matt Cleary's musings on fitness, startups and tryin' to live the good life. You should follow him on Twitter