We all know that sleep is one of the most important practices in our lives, but many people simply don’t have great sleep habits. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well if you’re exercising, while also trying to lead a busy life outside of the gym.
Regardless, it’s important to attempt to at least improve your sleep quality, through whichever means you deem appropriate.
In this article, I’ll discuss some of my favorite tips and strategies for really optimizing your sleep habits.
Adjust When You Exercise
Surprisingly, the time of day that you exercise may have a significant impact on how well you sleep; furthermore, the time you exercise may influence different aspects of sleep, such as how long it takes to fall asleep and how well you stay asleep throughout the night.
Recently, a team of researchers recruited young college-age students and had them exercise at different times throughout the day.
Then, on the night of the study, the students slept in a laboratory setting and were evaluated throughout the night by researchers to understand the effect the exercising had on sleep.
As it turns out, exercise does in fact improve different sleep attributes and apparently, depending on the issue you have with sleep, the time of day when you train might actually make a difference (1).
Overall, the researchers determined that when subjects exercised in the morning, they had less trouble falling asleep. Interestingly, regardless of the training time, exercise reduced the number of times the subjects woke up at night.
Essentially, this information leads us to conclude that exercise does in fact positively influence sleep. Furthermore, depending on your sleep issue, the time when you exercise may or may not have a significant impact.
Go To Bed Satisfied
One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you have difficulty sleeping is going to bed when you’re hungry. While you might think it’s beneficial to not consume calories before bed, you won’t be doing your sleep ability any favors by abstaining.
First of all, avoiding food triggers the release of the hormone, Ghrelin, which is considered to be one of the major signals to feeling hungry.
However, it’s important to point out that ghrelin, biologically speaking, was extremely important for survival, since it causes us to seek and forage for food. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what you want to be happening if you’re trying to get a peaceful night’s rest.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution which is simply to eat or drink something.
The reason that eating hinders the release of this hormone is largely because it is secreted by cells in the stomach, which happen to be sensitive to stretch. So, when your stomach is empty, these cells are allowed to release ghrelin into circulation, making you hungry. However, when your stomach becomes full and is stretched, secretion ends, telling your brain to stop craving food (2, 3, 4).
I suggest having some form of protein, such as Greek yogurt and a fiber-rich piece of fruit, like an apple. This is a winning combination for filling up and staying full throughout the night for a peaceful night’s rest.
Avoid Intense Training Before Bed
Even though training at night might wear you out and make you sleepy, training very intensely just before bedtime may actually significantly hamper sleep.
The reason that intense exercise can negatively influence sleep is actually similar to that of caffeine. Both intense exercise and caffeine stimulate the release of catecholamines, hormones including cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine (5).
These catecholamines are typically stimulatory since they’re actually related to stress. Unfortunately, since high intensity exercise has been shown to release these hormones, late night exercise around bedtime may not be a wise move as it elevates their release.
I suggest attempting to have your workouts end no later than 2 hours before bedtime if at all possible. If you happen to require working out close to bedtime, I suggest reducing the intensity a bit to ensure that stress hormones are not elevated significantly.
Take Melatonin And Limit Light Exposure
One of the biggest culprits behind poor sleep is, believe it or not, light exposure.
Amazingly, we are intricately connected with our environment, in particular the sun. In early times, the sun acted as what is known as a Zeitgeber or an environmental cue to wake up. Before our modern times, the sun was the only alarm clock we needed.
Even though we don’t exactly require the sun’s exposure to wake up in the morning, the hardware inside our heads that controls this process still functions, largely because of our exposure to LCD screens.
See, the part of the sun that acted to wake us up in early times was actually due to the blue spectrum of light emitted from its surface. Unfortunately, that same spectrum of light is emitted from just about all of our modern day electronic devices including smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
What makes this so important for sleep is that when exposed to this light, it acts on photoreceptors in our retinas, directly impeding the release of melatonin into the bloodstream (6, 7).
Melatonin is a hormone, released by the pituitary gland, which when elevated, causes us to fall asleep. Really, melatonin acts to regulate our sleep-wake cycle, but regardless, elevation of this hormone is necessary for actually getting restful sleep.
So, unfortunately, our nighttime exposure to our favorite apps on our smartphone is in a sense, ruining our sleep. So what can we do about it?
Obviously, the first line of defense is to avoid using these devices near bedtime. Keeping exposure limited within two hours of bedtime is a great starting point. If you can’t give them up completely, I suggest considering using night mode (on apple devices) or a similar app like Twilight for android and f.lux for Mac and PC.
These apps act in accordance with your geographical location and adjust the blue light emission from your phone according to when the sun is naturally setting. By using this type of app, you can significantly reduce the amount of blue light you’re exposed to.
Additionally, you can also consider directly taking melatonin in supplemental form. Melatonin has been shown to significantly increase melatonin in the blood after ingestion, even after light exposure, which means that using it as a supplement, may actually be quite effective (8).
Overall, many of us underestimate the effect that these devices have on our health. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, yet continue to use devices late into the night, it’s in your best interest to at least minimize the potential impact by filtering out blue light as well as supplementing with melatonin.
Keep in mind that while Melatonin is an over the counter supplement and is widely considered safe, some people do report experiencing vivid and sometimes uncomfortable dreams when using it.
If you’re sensitive to supplements, I suggest starting with 1 milligram of Melatonin per night and increasing as you see fit.
Build A Routine
Lastly, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to build a routine of regularly falling asleep and waking. This is called managing your circadian rhythm.
Interestingly, our bodies have an internal clock, which regulates just about every function in the body, from when you wake and sleep and even to when you get hungry. Additionally, most hormonal output related to these events also happens on a rhythm.
For example, did you know that your body actually releases cortisol in the early morning, which eventually causes you to wake and get ready for the day?
Turns out, this is an integral part of your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin, as I mentioned earlier, is also a regulator of your circadian rhythm. Having sporadic time periods of falling asleep is one of the major issues bombarding our melatonin production.
By creating a regular schedule of sleeping and waking, you can potentially begin to optimize how your body functions and when it secretes critical hormones related to sleep and wakefulness, such as melatonin and cortisol.
Keep in mind though that your body doesn’t stop on the weekends. Whenever possible, I suggest attempting to maintain your schedule of sleeping and waking, whenever possible, even on the weekends.
5 Tips & Strategies For Better Recovery Sleep
Sleep is an integral part not only of life, but adequately recovering from exercise. If you’re training intensely and hoping to actually see progress, finding ways to optimize your sleep is essential.
With these tips and strategies, you’ll be on track to achieving more beneficial and restorative sleep.
- Alley, J. R., Mazzochi, J. W., Smith, C. J., Morris, D. M., & Collier, S. R. (2015). Effects of resistance exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(5), 1378-1385.
- Sakata, I., & Sakai, T. (2010). Ghrelin cells in the gastrointestinal tract. International journal of peptides, 2010.
- Lesauter, J., Hoque, N., Weintraub, M., Pfaff, D. W., & Silver, R. (2009). Stomach ghrelin-secreting cells as food-entrainable circadian clocks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(32), 13582-13587. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906426106
- Cummings, D. E., Purnell, J. Q., Frayo, R. S., Schmidova, K., Wisse, B. E., & Weigle, D. S. (2001). A preprandial rise in plasma ghrelin levels suggests a role in meal initiation in humans. Diabetes, 50(8), 1714-1719.
- Bracken RM, Linnane DM, Brooks S (2009)Plasma catecholamine and epinephrine responses to brief intermittent maximal intensity exercise. Amino Acids. 36: 209-217.
- Gooley, J. J., Chamberlain, K., Smith, K. A., Khalsa, S. B. S., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., Van Reen, E., … Lockley, S. W. (2011). Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96(3), E463–472.
- Lewy, A. J., Wehr, T. A., Goodwin, F. K., Newsome, D. A., & Markey, S. P. (1980). Light suppresses melatonin secretion in humans. Science, 210(4475), 1267-1269.
- Celinski, K., Konturek, P. C., Konturek, S. J., Slomka, M., Cichoz-Lach, H., Brzozowski, T., & Bielanski, W. (2011). Effects of melatonin and tryptophan on healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers with Helicobacter pylori infection in humans. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(5), 521.