Nearly half of the adults polled in a 2011 National Sleep Foundation survey admitted to rarely, if ever, getting a good night’s rest. That could explain why handfuls of people you run into at the gym are so cranky, as well as why those sleep-deprived zombies might have trouble powering through and recovering from hellish training sessions.
“You give your body the chance to repair, recharge, and regrow during sleep,” says wellness expert Dr. Felecia Stoler, D.C.N., M.S., R.D., A.C.S.M. “It’s the ideal time to replenish nutrients, and, since your body isn’t moving, it allows the muscles to repair themselves.”
Along with inhibiting the production of growth hormone (GH), which increases during deep stages of sleep, sleep deficiency can curb energy levels, diminish alertness, weaken the immune system, and cause you to be more…uh…forgetful.
So how much sack time should you be getting? There’s no hard-and-fast rule; aim for seven to eight hours per night. And despite certain sleep issues like sleep apnea requiring a polysomnogram to detect—polysomnogram is the fancy word for sleep study—others can be corrected with simple tweaks like these.
#1. Don't Exercise Too Close to Bedtime
Yes, exercise can help you fall asleep and achieve better sleep quality. But hitting the weights too close to bedtime can elevate your body temperature and leave your mind too wired to drift off. We know you’re busy and have to squeeze in workouts whenever you have time, but look to end your exercise sessions about three to four hours before you turn in for the night if insomnia has become a problem. That should give your body temperature adequate time to cool down.
#2: Cut Out the P.M. Booze
Your overall beer and booze intake is (hopefully) already limited because you know alcohol hinders muscle growth and lowers testosterone. Thing is, a nightcap can also disrupt sleep cycles. “Alcohol can mess with your circadian rhythm [our preprogrammed sleep/wake cycle] and dehydrate you,” Stoler says. And as your body metabolizes the alcohol, it might wake you more during the night and cause you to feel less rested in the morning.
#3. Turn Electronic Devices Off
An Ohio State University study using hamsters found that four weeks of exposure to artificial light—the kind that stems from smartphones, laptops, tablets, and television screens—left the furballs more lethargic and depressed than hamsters* that slept in total darkness. One reason could be that the light exposure suppresses the natural release of melatonin, a hormone that helps the body maintain its circadian rhythm. Shut down light-emitting devices about 30 minutes before bed. Our recommendation: Read. We know an excellent fitness magazine you can sift through.
(*No need to worry about the depressed hamsters; they went back to their usual chipper selves shortly after the artificial lights were removed.)
#4. Regulate Caffeine Intake
Caffeine does numerous beneficial things for you, including giving your metabolic rate a boost and improving alertness and energy. But if you’re consuming it too late in evening and you feel jittery when it’s time for bed, cut out the caffeine about mid-afternoon. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in anyway, so if it's the 3 o'clock lull you're trying to avoid, get your last cup at around 2:30 and you'll be fine by bedtime.
#5. Choose the Right Sleep Meds
Ambien, Lunesta, and other doctor-prescribed remedies are highly effective sleep inducers, but they can also be habit-forming. Unisom and other OTC meds that contain the sedating antihistamine doxylamine can help in the short term, but can also cause you to feel groggy when you wake up. Taking 0.3-1 mg of melatonin 60 to 90 minutes before bed can help induce sleep if the conditions are optimal—meaning the room is dark and quiet. Fon’t expect to take it and have it knock you out like something that’s prescription strength.
Another option: Suntheanine. “[Suntheanine] is an amino acid that’ll help you sleep but won’t cause you to feel drowsy,” Stoler advises. “You’ll feel alert, but relaxed.”
#6. Get Out of Bed
If you’re tossing and turning, get out of bed for a bit. It sounds counterintuitive, but all the pressure and concentration you’re exerting trying to drift off may actually be keeping you awake.