Welcome to the first ever Tips for an Active Lifestyle! This feature is for anyone who wants to be a better athlete – or even just make it a little easier to walk up your stairs on a daily basis. I’m Lacy, and I’ll be your guide to feeling great and staying healthy. Need some help staying hydrated? Trying to figure out how to work daily exercise into your schedule? Want to be more flexible? Deciding on a new gym? All these topics and more are coming up.
Today, let’s talk about sleep.
Sleep is a wonderful thing. It’s great for your body and your mind, can reduce stress, allow your muscles to repair themselves after exercise, and give your body the opportunity to fight off germs and viruses to keep you healthy. Beyond it being something your body needs to stay in top working order, sleep is a necessary step in staying motivated and active. It’s a lot more difficult to get up for an early workout if you still feel exhausted when your alarm goes off at 5AM.
As a Masters swimmer, I find myself getting up (or attempting to get up) at 4:50AM three days a week. Five years ago I could fall into bed at 11:00PM, be asleep in ten minutes, wake up with my alarm and make it to practice at 5:45 with almost no trouble. On my last birthday I turned thirty-five, and the older I get, the harder it seems to be to fall asleep quickly, to stay asleep through the night, and to feel rested when the alarm goes off. When my alarm wakes me up at ten-to-five, I’m much more likely to turn it off in favor of 90 more minutes of rest rather than to get up and swim.
But I love swimming. Missing my practices makes me feel guilty and disappointed in myself, my speed and performance suffers, and I tell myself every day that I’m going to try harder next time. I’m sure a lot of you have had similar experiences yourselves.
So sleep is something we know we need, but can often be difficult to come by. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it may be due to one of these Enemies of Sleep.
Enemies of Sleep:
- Caffeine – Having a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is an essential pick-me-up for a lot of us. Caffeine blocks the chemical adenosine in our brains, which allows for an increased number of neurons to fire. The firing of those neurons triggers the pituitary gland to release hormones that in turn cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. The result is basically a manufactured fight or flight response, causing you to feel more alert and ready for action. As such, drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day can make it more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. To avoid being kept awake by the buzz, don’t ingest any caffeine after 2PM. It’s also good to taper the amount of caffeine you consume throughout the day. For instance, if you drink coffee in the morning, perhaps stick to tea in the early afternoon.
- Stress – Any kind of stress can set your mind racing when you lay down to sleep. Work deadlines, friendship drama, or anxiety can keep your brain busy when you should be resting. Taking some time to pinpoint the cause of your stress and talking it out with someone, exercising to get your mind off things, or meditating can make for an easier time letting go enough at bedtime to get a good night’s sleep (which is itself a good way to reduce stress).
- Exercising – While exercising in general is great for you (and can help tire you out so you’re sleepier at bedtime), overdoing it can cause aches and pains that can keep you up (or wake you up) at night. Make sure to listen to your body and take a day off if your muscles and joints are feeling particularly sore. It takes 72 hours for your muscles to fully recover from a workout, and the more strain you put on your body, the more soreness can linger. Also be sure not to workout too late in the evening; it can take up to six hours for your body temperature to go completely back to normal after exercise, and elevated body temperature can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Eating and Drinking – Having a snack right before bed means you’ll be digesting while you’re asleep, which can cause you to be more restless and wake up more often in the night. Similarly drinking even a moderate amount of liquid before you turn in can result in needing to get up mid-sleep to use the bathroom. Try not to eat or drink less than two hours before turning in. At the same time, going to bed hungry can also cause sleeplessness. If you are going to eat before bed, eating things containing both carbohydrates and protein are a good bet as they promote calmness.
- Uncomfortable Sleeping Environment – Trying to sleep on an old, broken down mattress or a flat pillow can affect your quality of sleep. If you wake up with sore muscles, a stiff neck, or an aching back it might be time to look into replacing some of your bedding. Also be sure to find the right combination of blankets and pajamas to keep you from overheating or getting cold at night. Maintaining a nice, comfortable temperature will make it easier to sleep through the night and get better rest.
These five tips are, of course, not an exhaustive list of things that can cause disruptions on the road to a good night’s sleep, but avoiding them is a good place to start on your path to dreamland. If you find that you have persistent problems getting enough sleep you may need to seek the advice of a medical professional to be sure you don’t have a sleep disorder or other problem that needs to be treated. As with everything, listening to your body’s needs is the most important part to maintaining a healthy, happy, active life.
I’ll see you next week, and we’ll talk about getting up, getting active, and how to do it without over doing it. Take care, be kind to yourself, and have sweet dreams.