If there’s one thing I have learned about performance in the last 8 years of being a CrossFit athlete it's that so much of it is in your head. I have been able to hit PRs after having a bottle of wine the night before, or eating late night pizza. The first time I did a sub-three minute Fran, I was cripplingly sore from a long week of training and was mildly hungover. Mind over matter.
That said, there’s one thing I have discovered I can’t overcome, no matter how hard I try: Poor sleep.
After a bad night’s sleep, you're usually functional the next day, but after two bad sleeps in a row, good luck getting anything accomplished. Imagine not sleeping for 48 hours: You would become a basically useless human being, both physically and mentally. Certainly much more usleless than two nights of drinking.
The point: Sleep is generally underrated in terms of how we prioritize it. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults sleep fewer than six hours a night. In other words, more than one thirds of us aren't getting nearly enough sleep.
Better sleep leads to better heart health, less stress, improved memory, and even weight loss. Check out this 2012 peer-reviewed article about how sleep is connected to metabolism. Despite the experts constantly warning us about the importance of sleep, it still seems so many athletes I speak with find themselves stuck on Instagram or watching Netflix way later than they should. Going to bed on time, and getting enough sleep, are just never treated with as much importance or precision as we treat our training, rehabilitation and nutrition.
10 useful tips to help you prioritize your sleep!
10. Consistent Sleep Schedule
Though it’s tempting to sleep in on your days off, this only disrupts your biological clock and leads to more sleep problems. Going to bed at the same time—and waking up at the same time—as often as possible helps your body establish an internal sleep/wake clock, allowing your to fall asleep and wake up more easily.
Check. We got that one covered!
Studies show this supplement—Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6 (or ZMA)—helps the body achieve deeper levels of REM sleep. ZMA has been a miracle for me. While I don’t like using it every night, as I don’t want to become dependent, if I feel a bit sleep deprived and know I need a good night’s rest to get back on track, I take two of these and sleep like a baby.
7. Limit the booze
Many people like to have a drink before bed, as it helps them doze off, but science shows it disrupts sleep patterns and stops you from feeling refreshed in the morning. If you’re in this drink-before-bed boat, experiment for a couple weeks and see what happens to your sleep without your nightly glass of wine. Pay close attention to how your feel in the morning.
6. Get off your device and pick up a book!
A study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that screen time—TV, computers, phones—before bed make falling asleep harder. At the very least, get off your device an hour before bed, have a bath, meditate, or read a book.
5. Kick the dog out of your bed!
This one might crush some of you a bit, but A Mayo Clinic study showed the vast majority of pet owners, who sleep with their pets in their bed, experience more disruptive sleep than they otherwise would.
4. Turn the heat down and open a window
If you’re one of those “always cold” people, who likes to crank the heat up at night, it could be negatively affecting your sleep. Experts recommend keeping the temperature around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If your core temperature is too high, you’ll have a harder time getting into a deep sleep.
3. Pitch Black
If your room is too light, it tells your brain to wake up, so you’re better off making your room as dark as possible. Even light from your cellphone or computer can disrupt the production of melatonin—the hormone that aids in regulating sleep.
Shift worker tips:
Time and time again, studies show shift workers suffer many negative health consequences due to irratic sleep-work schedules.
2. Give your body a three-day warning
Meaning, if your usual shift is, for example from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m., and you normally sleep from 3 a.m. until 11 a.m. (but you’re switching to an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift) take three days to shift your body:
Day 1: Move your bedtime to 5:00 a.m. and sleep until 1:00 p.m.
Day 2: Move your sleep to 7:00 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Day 3: Move your sleep to 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
The shock to your system on the first day of your new shift time will be more manageable with a three-day transition.
1. Get Outside
If you’re having trouble becoming alert when you first wak up, get up and immediately go for a walk outside. The natural light, and the sun, will cue your body to be more alert.