Sleep is fascinating. Everybody does it, every day, and yet it still has an elusive quality for so many people. In fact, the American Sleep Association (via many studies and sources) reports alarming statistics:
- 50-70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder
- 48% of adults report snoring
- 37.9% unintentionally fall asleep during the day, at least once in the past month
- 40,000+ annual car accidents can be attributed to drowsy driving
That doesn’t bode well for our collective health—which certainly affects sleep, and vice versa.
Perhaps that’s why the topic of sleep and its connection to our overall wellness is experiencing such a resurgence lately. It’s always been important, but as people gain awareness about their overall health it becomes even more clear that sleep is a factor. Sleep affects our brain and body’s ability to function, and is crucial for recovery time on both fronts; if you don’t get enough sleep, you could be sabotaging all your efforts in the gym and kitchen. (Not to mention, those who are tired often eat more, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. That could lead to excessive eating.)
So what do you do if you’re among the masses experiencing sleep-related issues? First, recognize the problem. Then ask yourself some key questions. If none help, it may be time to consult a physician.
Are you totally comfortable?
It may seem obvious, but your pillow matters. And bedding. And blocking out that subtle house noise that distracts you every night. The basics are important! So before you invest in a car, or trip, or anything else more substantial, make sure you’ve covered your sleep bases first. A couple simple changes may be all you need to reboot your sleep habits. For example: Don’t let the light shine in too early because you haven’t purchased black-out shades—or skimp on sheets or a helpful alarm. You spend every day in bed, and your comfort there will set up the day, for better or worse.
Do you have time to relax?
This is a tough one for many people. It’s hard to put down technology and take extra time to wind down. But it’s what your body needs. Light is a big factor. Your body actually produces a natural hormone called melatonin as night arrives and it gets darker. But if you “trick” your body with lights and other stimulation, your body will stay more alert, pushing sleep farther away. Do what you can to establish a routine, like lowering the lights, sipping some tea, and reading a little print rather than anything on a screen.
Evening workouts are another consideration. While PM sessions may work best with your schedule, recognize it will affect your sleep patterns and you can’t be expect to fall asleep immediately afterward; your body still needs some time to chill—literally and figuratively.
Are you hydrated?
Yes, water is the answer, again! Hydration helps with sleep because it cools your core temperature and makes it easier for you to fall asleep faster. So try drinking 8-16 ounces of water a couple hours before bedtime. (You don’t want to drink too much, or too closely to bed-time, and defeat the purpose of aiding sleep by having to get up to pee!) Your body will thank you.
Are you hot?
You may be hydrated, but other factors can affect your body temperature and ability to sleep soundly. Make sure your bedroom isn’t too warm, and that your bedding fits the season. You can even try lowering your thermostat slowly over time, to see how it affects your comfort level.
Are you eating enough?
If you’re ramping up your activity level but not feeding your body enough fuel, you can actually have trouble sleeping. So evening snacks are OK. Really. Think small, “good” snacks, like a few protein-rich bites of greek yogurt and granola, or cottage cheese. Just like water though, go for that snack a couple hours before bedtime so your body has some time to digest.
Are you avoiding stimulants before bed?
A glass of wine may give you a sense of zen after a hard day, but it doesn’t help your sleep! (The struggle is real.) If you’re having issues sleeping—and especially if you’re trying to lose weight—see if you can find another relaxation tool or treat, like a warm bath. Pre-bed caffeine or alcohol isn’t the way to go.
Do you snore?
Most likely you have a loved one who can answer this for you! But if you want literal proof, plus more information about the quality of your sleep throughout the night, check out some of the best sleep apps. While they can track your movements and general sleep cycle, some can even take audio clips! If regular snoring is captured, it may be time to do something about it.
Do you toss and turn?
See above. Those same sleep trackers will come in handy! They may even point out that your “restless” night was not so restless after all, and you slept like a log. If so, there’s a different reason you’re feeling so sluggish throughout the day.
Do you really know how much sleep you need?
Yes, the National Sleep Foundation still recommends 7-9 hours for adults, but that doesn’t apply to everyone—nor get specific enough about where you are best suited within that spectrum. While this can be tricky to determine, you can in time. Use a sleep tracker to test your bed-time, from how long it takes you to fall asleep to whether you’re waking up at the “right” time. You may be in bed for nine hours, but if two are regularly “wasted” by thinking or rolling around, try moving to seven and see what happens. You can also find some days to test getting up without an alarm clock, to see what happens. Consistency is still king, but it may indicate you need more sleep more consistently.
Are you healthy, otherwise?
In the end, there may be something bigger going on that setting up the optimum surroundings or fueling your sleep can’t solve. That’s when a doctor can come in. Other health factors may be the cause for your sluggishness, so you don’t need to fight this battle alone.
Good luck. And sweet dreams!
Learn more about sleep and how it affects fitness:
- Which Should I Choose: Sleep vs. Workout
- Why You Need to Pay More Attention to Sleep When Race Training
- Is It Better to Exercise In the Morning?
- 5 Unexpected Ways to Wake Up Easier