Sleep is positively correlated with everything - mental clarity, hormonal balance, fat loss, muscle gain, and more. It is free and, barring some unfortunate living and medical conditions, universally available to all. Yet it is often a low priority for many athletes. And they suffer for it.
City living can be a challenge to reasonable bed times. Late night events such as concerts and dinners might keep us out late. Living in an urban area often means traffic late into the evening. And in our homes, we have our TVs, tablets, and smartphones buzzing late into the evening with business and social notifications.
Optimally, we want our sleep pattern to mirror the sun. As the sun goes down, we wind down. Sun comes up, we get up! Not too difficult. If you have to wake up exceptionally early, then guess what? You get to go to bed early!
Optimum sleep times for most individuals is 9/10pm sleep time and 5:30/6:30 am wake time. This is going to vary from individual to individual. Some people do great on 6 hours of sleep per night. Others need 10-11. Most people thrive on 8.5 hours. You are going to have to find out what works for you. But generally, if you (1) wake up and completely hate life and want NOTHING but to go back to bed or (2) feel tired ALL THE TIME you need to sleep more. If you wake up every day, kill it all day and feeling great, you’re probably sleeping right for you.
So what can we do to help normalize our sleep patterns?
1. First thing is first – you need to prioritize your sleep!
If you were working out to improve your physique, would you go down the street and eat a big fat ice cream sundae after each training session? Probably not. So WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU STAY UP UNTIL 1 AM BROWSING Facebook/Reddit/NYTimes/whatever. Staying up late is going to increase your stress hormones, and make it literally harder to do EVERYTHING. Do you want to negatively impact your sex drive? Your ability to lose fat and retain muscle? Do you want less patience and reduced mental clarity? Prioritize a better you.
2. Put down the smartphone!
Many of our athletes claim they cannot sleep, but they are on their electronic devices literally up until the minute they close their eyes. This is not optimal. You can put it on silent and set your alarm 15 minutes before you intend to sleep, and the world won’t explode. The first thing tomorrow morning, you will be able to resume the rat race. Give yourself 15 minutes. After you graduate from the 15-minute program, try 30. I promise you will thank yourself!
3. Minimize light exposure.
As the evening begins, try to reduce the lighting accordingly. There are really awesome features built into Android and Apple iOS that allow you to reduce the brightness of the phones and tablets in the evening. For the computer, you can download f.lux. It will reduce the brightness of your laptop screen in the evening. As for house lighting – less is more! Try using a lower watt light bulbs in a lamp that gives more indirect light (versus using an overhead light). Personally, I use a Himalayan salt lamp by my bed. They are about $25 online and they give off a soothing warm light that is much less rich in the blue light that our body associates with day time. You can read more on the dangers of blue light in this Harvard Health letter.
4. It takes time, but it's worth it.
Don’t try to start going to bed tonight at 10 pm if you go to bed at 1 am. I wouldn’t expect someone eating Twinkies for breakfast to immediately start cooking for themselves – I’d probably switch them from Twinkies to Pop Tarts, Pop Tarts to Lucky Charms, and maybe Lucky Charms to actual food. Likewise, we do not do interval training on our first day out of knee surgery. What time do you go to bed, on average? Write that time down! Good job! Is that time 10 pm? If not, then proceed to next step: take that time and subtract 30 minutes. Congrats! You have your new sleeping assignment! Go get em!