Why (& How) To Prioritise Healthy Sleep Habits
Sleep can affect how you feel, physically and mentally. While getting a good night’s sleep might seem out of reach at times, there are things that you can do to improve the quality of your rest.
Getting solid shut-eye starts with your daily habits. By adjusting your daytime routine, you can improve your sleep at night.
Learn why prioritising a good sleep every night is important for your health and fitness and some healthy habits you can develop to improve your sleep.
Why is sleep important?
The quality of your sleep can affect your health and fitness — from your appetite hormones to your immune system and cardiovascular health. Even just one night of inadequate sleep can impact your mood and mental wellbeing.
A recent five-year study published in March 2020 and partly funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in the USA found that an irregular sleep pattern may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). It also suggests that maintaining regular sleep patterns could help prevent heart disease, the same as physical activity and a healthy diet.
Without enough rest (most people need between seven and nine hours each night) you’ll likely feel irritable, unmotivated and sluggish throughout the following day — but when you sleep well, you’ll notice an increase in energy, you will think more clearly, and you’ll even perform better during your workouts!
Sleep is also essential for muscle recovery after a tough workout.
Benefits of quality sleep
Get enough sleep and you’ll experience the benefits instantly. Some of the best benefits of sleep include:
When you sleep well, your body works to regulate hormone levels, strengthen your immune system, support healthy brain function, restore temperature regulation and maintain your physical health.
These factors can all contribute to increased energy levels and greater stamina throughout the day.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins Medicine in the USA, “...healthy women and men whose sleep was interrupted throughout the night had a 31 percent reduction in positive moods the next day.”
But your mood can also affect your ability to sleep, says Patrick H. Finan, Ph.D., a sleep researcher at John Hopkins Medicine. Daily stresses or “...depression itself is associated with sleep difficulties such as shortening the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep a person gets each night.”
Quality sleep equals better moods, and that alone can be reason enough to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
Greater focus and concentration
Sleep helps to improve how your brain functions. When you get enough sleep, you think more clearly and can concentrate for longer. You’ll also notice your coordination and athletic performance improve when you sleep well.
Reduced stress levels
Get to bed earlier and you’ll soon begin to stress less.
How does sleep impact fitness?
Poor sleep will affect your energy levels. This might make it harder to train, especially if you’re doing an energy-burning HIIT workout.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, your muscle recovery post-workout can also suffer, which can lead to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or a compromised immune system.
Sleep and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
You’re probably familiar with delayed-onset muscle soreness, which can occur when you work out harder than usual or complete a strenuous or unfamiliar exercise.
You typically experience DOMS about 24–48 hours after your workout which can leave you feeling sore and stiff as a result of micro-tears in your muscles.
DOMS can be significantly worse if you don’t get enough sleep, so if you find yourself suffering from DOMS, prioritising sleep can be a simple way to speed up your recovery.
Sleep can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight
A number of observational studies suggest if you’re not sleeping well you are more likely to gain weight and be at risk of obesity.
When you don’t get enough sleep, hormone levels of Ghrelin (which increases appetite) and Leptin (which signals that you’re full) become imbalanced. The result? You tend to feel more hungry and eat more food than those who get enough quality sleep. Lack of sleep can also make your workouts feel more challenging, and therefore may prevent you from getting the most out of them.
While there are still ongoing trials to support the link between sleep and obesity, there is enough evidence that suggests prioritising sleep each night can make all the difference in getting closer to your health and fitness goals, including maintaining a healthy weight.
Daily habits that can improve your sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep can be influenced by a number of external factors — sometimes these are out of your control but the good news is there are some habits that you can include in your day to improve your nightly rest.
Here are some changes you can make to your daily routine to improve your chances of getting quality sleep.
Take the time to unwind
Create a bedtime routine that takes you away from the computer screen or TV. This might include lighting candles, taking the time for a warm shower or skincare routine or writing in a gratitude journal before bed.
While vigorous exercise like a HIIT workout can have a powerful impact on your sleep, low-intensity exercise like a walk or slow jog can also help to improve the quality of your rest — just ensure you allow a few hours between your workout and bedtime so that your core body temperature can return to a comfortable level for optimal sleep.
Make sure you get some sunlight
If you spend a lot of time indoors, making sure you are exposed to as much natural light as possible throughout the day can help to regulate your sleep patterns.
Exposure to sunlight helps to regulate the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, which in turn regulates your circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle.
Limit daytime napping
Napping is a good way to make up for lost sleep, especially for shift workers or new parents — but a long nap may prevent you from getting the rest you need during your next sleep.
Try to keep naps under half an hour in the early afternoon to maximise your chances of resting well that night.
Eat healthy meals regularly
It can be difficult to get to sleep if your stomach is rumbling or if you’ve eaten a large meal close to bedtime.
Preparing healthy meals at home can help to ensure that your body has the nutrition it needs throughout the day and reduce nighttime snacking, which can contribute to sub-optimal sleep.
When eating your evening meal, eat mindfully to ensure that you are satisfied. Paying attention to what and how much you eat in the evening will ensure that you stay full until breakfast, which will help you get a good night’s rest.
Keep a regular schedule
It’s not always possible to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, but try to follow a similar wake and sleep pattern across your weekdays and weekends.
Doing this will help to stabilise your circadian rhythm and allow your body to fully rest after each day.
Use relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation
Your state of mind has a huge impact on your ability to unwind at the end of the day.
Using meditation and mindfulness techniques can help to reduce any feelings of anxiety throughout the day, which can help you to sleep better at night.
Limit screen time
In the hour leading up to your bedtime, limit — or better, cut out — screens that emit blue light like phones, laptops, computers and iPads. This type of light is very similar to sunlight which can make you more alert and trick your body into thinking it is daylight.
Instead, try practising gratitude, meditating, journaling or reading a book.
Sleeping in a dark room or using a sleep mask to block out light if your blinds or curtains don’t completely darken the room are other effective ways to help you get a sound sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it increases activity in the brain and central nervous system.
If you can, avoid caffeine at least six hours before you go to bed. Doing this will give you a better chance of falling asleep with ease.
Adopt these habits to care for yourself with better sleep
Sleeping well isn’t always easy to do, especially when you are experiencing changes in your life — but it’s during these times prioritising rest each night is most important.
When you adopt healthy habits during stressful times, you will increase your resilience and be able to maximise your energy each day.
What are your best tips and tricks for getting a good night’s rest? Share them in the comments!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.