For many people, the most uncomfortable thing is to lay down and rest.
I'm as guilty of it as anyone — I will push myself through the hardest workouts, wake up to the shock of cold showers, and power through a long work day without a second thought. Sometimes, it seems that the more uncomfortable a daily practice, the more comfortable I am doing it.
And I know that many people, including workaholics, parents, and athletes, are hardwired the exact same way.
Somehow, in today's fast-paced society, things that seem comfortable on the surface — rest, recovery work, stretching, mobility, or turning your laptop off at the end of a long workday — can cause a cringe-worthy reaction in the pit of your stomach. And you have to realize that this is a clear warning sign that these are the things you need most (again — I'm working on it too).
Sleep is one of the most important, yet often disregarded, things you can do for your health. Poor sleep hygiene — including not getting enough of it or irregular sleep patterns — has serious implications for your physical and mental health.
So, consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to place the gentler things in life as a priority. Below, I share why quality sleep matters, and what's happening to your brain and body when you don't get enough of it.
Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. If you truly struggle achieving good sleep hygiene, you may want to seek an appointment with a sleep specialist.
Why Poor Sleep Hygiene Is Unhealthy
In simplest terms, you need healthy sleep habits to perform better in the long run — both physically and mentally.
If you're not getting a good night's sleep, you could be wreaking havoc on your health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared insufficient sleep a "public health problem" in the United States. As I'm sure you're well aware, the constant struggle of getting enough sleep is a problem across the globe, impacting the UK, Japan, Germany, Canada, and other countries.
Sleep deprivation is linked to serious health problems far beyond just a loss of productivity. Consistent poor sleep could lead to hypertension (chronically high blood pressure), diabetes, depression, obesity, and even cancer. In fact, insufficient sleep is linked with seven of the 15 (!) leading causes of death in the United States.
While quality of sleep can certainly be impacted by sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or snoring, lifestyle factors are the most common culprit. The constant go-go-go pressures of modern society encourage us to operate 24/7.
But not only is this impossible, it's unhealthy.
How Do You Practice Good Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a daily routine you can perform to get better sleep.
Implementing sleep hygiene is no different than working at any of the four legs of fitness — at first, you're going to have to work at it. Just as your first run, HIIT workout, or strength-training session was unnerving, implementing a bedtime routine (just like a morning routine) as a full-grown adult might be frustrating, at best. However, the more you stick to your new sleep routine, the more familiar it will become.
Remember, sleep hygiene isn't just about the amount of sleep you get, it's the quality of your sleep. Here are a few tips to get better nighttime sleep.
1. Set an Alarm
And no, I don't mean setting your alarm clock for the break of dawn.
Having a set sleep schedule is one of the best things you can do for your sleep health. If you struggle to wind down at the end of the day, set an evening alarm to remind yourself it's time to go to bed. Set a goal to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day including the weekends.
Remember: You have to make sleep a priority. If you constantly keep pushing back your bedtime to type just one last blog post, read one last chapter, finish one last workout, or watch one last episode (which is the worst reason), you'll never improve your sleep quality.
2. Remove Electronic Devices
If you're someone who constantly finds yourself thinking, "I just need a TV show to wind down in the evenings," you may want to rethink your strategy.
Scrolling through Instagram, reading articles online, watching Netflix, or otherwise exposing yourself to the bright light of electronics can negatively impact sleep. Studies show that the blue light from your computer, smart phone, and television screen not only disrupts your circadian rhythm, but could contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
In addition, exposing your eyes to blue light could cause macular degeneration (although research is still growing as to whether blue UV light from the sun causes the same damage as blue light from computer screens). Consider purchasing a pair of blue light blockers (you can find a pair for around 17,00 on Amazon) to create a barrier between your eyes and the screen.
3. Learn the "Right Way" to Wind Down
Think of your nightly bedtime routine as your cool-down after your workout. Although many people write it off as a nuisance after the "main event," it’s definitely important. And there's a right and wrong way to do it.
Before falling asleep, avoid large meals, caffeine, late workouts, and alcohol (yes, you may have to skip the evening glass of wine). Perform relaxing activities, like reading, rather than trying to cram one last hour of work in. Try to sleep in a dark room, purchasing blackout curtains if necessary. Keep your room at a comfortable temperature, keeping in mind that your body temperature changes when you sleep. Avoid any excess noise or sleep disturbances, wearing earplugs if necessary.
4. Get Exercise During the Day
One of the best ways to achieve a deep sleep is to wear yourself out during the day.
While the exact cause is unknown, exercise has been scientifically shown to be a natural remedy for chronic insomnia. Insomnia is often linked to issues that negatively impact your sleep cycle, such as anxiety, depression, and focus — which exercise can help treat.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends exercise to treat sleep problems and improve your overall quality of life. If you're lost as to how to begin a new exercise routine, consider the Build Bullet-Proof Health program by 4 Legs Fitness.
5. Learn the Right Way To Nap
If you want to truly improve your sleep hygiene, aim for eight hours of sleep — uninterrupted. However, if this isn’t possible, you can “make up” your sleep through short naps.
For the average person, the Mayo Clinic states that short-term naps won't negatively impact sleep quality. If you suffer from poor sleep hygiene, taking a short “power nap” can help you catch-up on insufficient sleep (I would know — I do it all the time!).
Here are a few pro tips for getting the most from your naps:
- Drink an espresso before you catch some ZZZ’s: While it might sound counterintuitive, the caffeine will kick in 20 minutes later, helping you wake up alert from your power nap.
- Keep your naps to 15-30 minutes, max: Taking short naps can help you reinvigorate, while longer naps (lasting an hour or more) can make you feel more drowsy.
- Wake up immediately from your nap: Don’t linger in bed — wake up immediately, and get back to your day.
Poor Sleep Hygiene Is a Detriment to Your Health
Sleep hygiene is the daily practice that impacts your quality of sleep (either positive or negative). Poor sleep hygiene doesn't just lead to daytime sleepiness. It can cause serious implications for your health, including the development of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
At 4 Legs Fitness, I always preach a well-rounded approach to health and well-being — with rest and recovery being one of them. You cannot say you prioritize your health if you constantly deprive yourself of a good night's sleep, even if you’re following a regular workout routine or eating a balanced diet.
To improve your sleep hygiene, go to bed at the same time every night, avoid electronics, exercise, and take brief power naps. If you struggle winding down at night, performing regular exercise will help. Try the Build Bullet-Proof Health program to focus on strength, cardio, nutrition, and recovery. One of the key benefits of the program are our W.I.M.s: Weekly Improvement Moments, which I use to help you build habits. Some of the W.I.M.s address improving sleep hygiene.
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