By Kevin M. DuPrey, D.O.
For my first entry, I was tempted to write about running a 5K or how to strengthen your [insert muscle group here], but I decided to write about something applicable to everyone: sleep. Recovery is an important and often forgotten part of any fitness program. Whether your goal is to recover from your workout or avoid face planting during your 3 p.m. meeting, here are some tips to catch some Zzz’s.
1. Establish a Routine
The circadian rhythm, also known as your biological clock, is a powerful thing deeply ingrained in our neurophysiology. Starting two hours before your regular bedtime, your brain releases increasing levels of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone. If you don’t have a regular bedtime, or fall into the habit of staying up too late and watching Netflix, you might miss out on your body’s natural way of tucking you in. To help with this, pick a designated bedtime and stick with it. You can even try setting an alarm that reminds you it’s time to start getting ready for bed.
2. Move More
Studies have shown that exercise can make it easier to fall and stay asleep. No need to run a marathon, you can benefit from a 20-minute walk.
3. Skip the Nightcap, Afternoon Latte and Cigarettes Altogether
Alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, but reduces the amount of deep sleep in your cycle. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine can stay in your system up to 14 hours, and nicotine for over a week.
4. Snack Smarter
I’m pretty certain peanut butter before bed gives me nightmares. While I haven’t been able to find any scientific studies to prove my theory, I do know that protein and fat take twice as long to digest as carbohydrates. So, if you need a bedtime snack, stick with just a jelly sandwich.
5. Be a Vampire
Bright light can inhibit the release of melatonin. So turn off your TV, cell phone and computer…unless you’re reading this blog. If you can’t avoid the electronics, try adjusting the brightness. If you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, avoid turning on a bright light by getting a night light for your bedroom, hallway or bathroom.
6. Keep it Down
Here’s a simple trick: use earplugs. I’ve found the silicone kind seem to work best. You can also try using a fan or white noise machine.
7. Say “Adios!” to Your Pets
Let’s face it: cats are nocturnal and dogs can be fidgety. If you feel bad for kicking your furry friend out of your bed, consider getting them a fancy pet bed. Still scratching at the door? Please refer to tip number six.
8. Bore Yourself
This is my favorite trick for falling asleep. Many people can’t fall asleep because they have too many thoughts running through their head. While awake, your brain waves resemble a fine-toothed comb on an EEG (see figure below). When you start to fall asleep, your brain waves slow down to a more pancake-like appearance.
To transition from comb to pancake, start by imagining yourself somewhere relaxing, like floating on a raft or lying on a beach. Next, picture the number “one” floating on another raft or up in the clouds. Keep focusing on the number….just the number. Nothing else. If you can do that for at least 20 seconds, then you graduate to number two, then three and so on. Here’s the catch: If you start thinking about other things (which will probably happen), then you have to start back at number one. Personally, I’ve never made it past number eight before dozing off.
Still awake? Please go back to number one.
About the Author
Dr. DuPrey specializes in sports medicine and enjoys working with patients of all ages and abilities to allow them to return to the activities they enjoy in the safest and most effective manner. His holistic approach is to look at the whole picture and help prevent future injuries.