Five Simple Strategies: #3 Get More Sleep!

For the next several weeks, every Wednesday, Never Buff Enough 2.0 will post on the topic of weight loss and living more healthfully and well-fully.  This is the third entry in a series called “Five simple strategies you can try RIGHT NOW to achieve your fitness goals” 

When I was just a little girl, my parents used to have to practically drag me out of bed in the morning.  I seemed to be someone who just required more sleep than my older sister, or anybody else in my family for that matter.

But when you’re a kid, needing that much sleep isn’t as frowned upon as it is when you’re an adult.  By the time we reach adulthood, we’re expected to go, go, go and achieve, achieve, achieve, and we come to believe that we don’t have time for sleep; that we’ll sleep when we’re dead.

But here’s the thing: without adequate sleep, you may as well be dead because you are probably walking around like a zombie anyway, and you are likely not performing in your daily life at your best.

We spend a lot of the time beating up our bodies, and unfortunately, we don’t spend much time allowing our bodies to recover.  Sleep is recovery.  And we all so desperately need more of it.

Here’s some things you might not have known about sleep that are relevant to your health and fitness goals:

Getting Adequate Sleep Will Get You Into the Gym

I recently started a new job that has totally wrecked my normal sleeping schedule.  I’m getting to bed much later than I’d like, but I’m still waking up at my normal time.  Instead of my normal 8-9 hours of sleep (hey– I already confessed to needing more sleep than most people.  Don’t judge!), I’m clocking in about 6.  The other day, I was so whooped from a lack of sleep that I decided to blow off going to the gym.  I was just too tired and couldn’t imagine getting up off the couch, so I sacrificed a workout.

Contrast that with when I’m able to get in my full 8-9 hours, I’m a fireplug in the gym!

Getting Adequate Sleep Will Decrease Your Daytime Stress Levels

According to Dr. Robert Portman, a world-renowned sports scientist and co-founder of PacificHealth Laboratories, if we get enough sleep, we can lower our daily stress levels.  Cortisol, the stress hormone, is said to be a key culprit in causing obesity.  When we are stressed out (i.e. our cortisol levels are heightened), our appetite is turned on.  Simultaneously, high cortisol levels also reduce lean body mass (muscle).  So high stress levels can make us fat as well as contribute to muscle loss.  Cortisol levels are going to be high upon awakening, but they reduce rapidly after breakfast (another reason to not skip breakfast).  However, if we don’t get adequate sleep, those levels remain high throughout the day, thus contributing to over-eating throughout the day. (Read more of what Dr. Portman says about sleep here.)

Getting Adequate Sleep Will Increase Your HGH Levels

Maybe you’re wondering what HGH is and why it matters.  HGH is Human Growth Hormone.  We all produce natural levels of HGH.  It’s responsible for regulating body composition, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, as well as a variety of other things.  Also produced synthetically and found in prescription form as well as on the black market, it has been dubbed “the fountain of youth,” although there is quite some controversy on the authenticity of that moniker.  Regardless, you want HGH in your life.  HGH makes you feel good.  Sleeping is anabolic. Deep sleep releases HGH, which stimulates the recovery and growth of muscle.  Since you’re probably working out to reduce fat and increase muscle, it probably makes good sense to get adequate rest, then, doesn’t it?  (Read more about HGH and sleep here.)

There are many other benefits to getting more sleep, but it isn’t always easy to get all that rest, is it?

I’ve tried to be more mindful of my sleeping habits and here are a few things I’ve tried that have been successful for me:

1.  Set a routine 

I head for the bedroom every night that I am able by 9:30 PM.  This is my official “wind-down” time.  I fill this time with washing my face, brushing my teeth, and putting on pajamas.  I crawl into bed shortly after that, but not to sleep.  Instead, I…

2.  Deactivate my mind

I write in my journal.  I write about how my day went, what I’m most grateful for, and the things I need to accomplish the next day.  By reflecting on my day, I am able to see what good I was able to accomplish.  By writing down what I need to do the next day, I lessen the risk of me forgetting about it the next day, and I also relieve myself of the burden of trying to remember what I have to do the next day as I try to fall asleep.  If I don’t write it down, I try to commit it to memory while I’m trying to fall asleep, which usually leads to bouts of insomnia because I can’t deactivate my mind.

3.  I charge my phone overnight, across the room from me, out of arm’s reach.  

I prefer to have my phone in my room in case of an emergency, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be on the nightstand beside me.  I place it across the room from me because once I’m in bed, I’m less likely to want to get up out of it to go retrieve my phone unless it’s a dire emergency.

4.  I invested in room darkening drapes and I crank the air conditioner.  

A darkened, cool room provides the best sleeping environment.  A darkened room also provides the best kind of environment for increased melatonin production, too.  If you don’t know why that’s important, Google it.  I can’t tell you EVERYTHING in this post.  Geez.  I also prefer a cooler room because otherwise, I sweat.  And when I sweat, I get uncomfortable under all those blankets.  And I wake up, a soaking mess.  And remember– the goal is to have total rest; no wakey-wakey in the middle of the night.

This sleeping routine didn’t happen for me overnight (see what I did there?  Punny).  Instead, it was gradual.  I used to be a night owl, staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning, and attempting to awaken by 7 every day.  That didn’t work so well.  So I started dialing back my bed time– I did it in half hour increments over the course of a few nights until I finally was crawling into bed between 9:30 and 9:45 and then turning out the lights by 10:30.

The result: I’m up earlier and feeling more energized throughout the day.  I’m less irritable, and I’m finding that my workouts are getting better and better the more sleep I get.

There’s something to be said for those habits that I had when I was a little girl.  I guess I’ve always known that I require lots and lots of sleep; I’ve just been living most of my adult life in denial, I suppose.

In part four of the series, Never Buff Enough 2.0 will post on the importance of getting more MOVEMENT in your life!  Stay tuned!

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