You've got fitness and health goals. You're exercising. You're eating lots of vegetables and making way fewer trips to the drive through. You've made all these positive changes--so why do you feel so lousy and why hasn't the scale budged?
How's your sleep?
Poor sleep has such a tremendous impact on our health, and is a key part of the weight loss puzzle. A body deprived of sleep experiences changes in the levels of hormones that determine hunger and satiety. That means lousy sleep—less than 7 hours per night consistently—can make you hungrier, and you're more likely crave crappy food. It can also impact the way we store and lose fat, so you’re getting hit in every direction.
And don’t forget: Your body adapts to all those tough workouts as you sleep. No sleep, no gainz, friends.
(Read more about the impact of sleep—or lack thereof--on your body HERE and HERE.)
Hours before you pull back the covers, you can create a relaxing environment to ease into a great night of sleep:
Make it a routine. Going to bed at the same time(-ish) nightly makes it easier for your body and brain. If your bedtimes vary wildly, your body may not respond when you hit the pillow earlier.
Screens off an hour before bed. The powerful artificial light coming from our TVs, laptops, phones and tablets interferes with our natural sleep/wake cycle, likely because it suppresses the production melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Give yourself at least one screen-free hour before heading to bed, and keep those screens out of the bedroom—including your smart phone. Use the alarm on your phone if need be to set a one-hour warning before bedtime.
In addition to the light your phone emits (not to mention the dinging and buzzing), just having the phone within reach creates a tension that can interfere with sleep as you it tempts you to check email or game scores just one more time.
Dim those lights. While we’re talking about disruptive light, scan your bedroom with the lights out and look for other electronics that emit a light, including overly bright digital clocks, and power switches to fans, dehumidifiers and other gadgets. Either remove those items from the bedroom or cover those lights (a small piece of electrical tape works wonders).
Listen up and slow down. Make a habit of listening to quiet music or comforting recorded sound (like rain storms, beach sounds or other white noise) in the hour before bed. As you listen nightly, your brain will make a Pavlovian connection, learning this sound is the cue you’re settling in for the night and preparing for sleep.
Strike a pose. Several studies—including this one by Harvard—demonstrate regular yoga practice leads to better sleep. Don’t have time? One pose that’s especially gentle and effective for relaxing before bed is Viparita Karani, aka legs up the wall. Begin moving into the pose by sitting sideways against the wall with your legs out straight in front of you, then as you lie down with your back perpendicular to the wall, gently place your legs up against the wall. If you feel any tightness in the back of your legs, simply move your backside farther away from the wall. This inversion releases tension in your lower back and recirculates the blood, and with your phone already put away for the evening, you can take a few moments to just breathe and relax. Start with a minute or two in this pose and work your way up to several minutes. Those with high blood pressure or serious neck and back issues will want to talk to a doctor before trying this or any inversion.
Your bedroom should be…your bedroom. When your bedroom also serves as a TV room, an office or a makeshift dining room, it’s no longer a restful sanctuary with all the important cues that invite sleep. Your bedroom is for rest, sex and that’s it. Leave work, bright light and distractions out of the bedroom so your body and brain make the connection this is a place of relaxation.
Breathe easy. As you settle into bed, take a few deep, slow breaths, or practice a simple breathing exercise like the 4-7-8 breath: Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4, hold that breath in for a count of 7, then push out the breath forcefully for a count of 8. Repeat the exercise four times. Your focus on counting and breathing means you’re not focused on your to-do list, and you’ll drift off to sleep.
Need support in adapting healthful habits to achieve your health and fitness goals? Get in touch for a consult!