If you ask any of the women in my family how we slept, the answer is always the same: I didn’t. From my grandmother to my mother, myself to my aunts, none of us are good sleepers. We stay up later than we need and wake before everyone else.
As a teenager, I couldn’t understand how my peers would snooze in bed well into the afternoon. It’s not that it wasn’t allowed – though I imagine it would’ve been frowned upon – I just couldn’t physically stay in bed that long. I’ve always woken up by 7 am at the latest, regardless of how late I went to bed the night before.
In college, I was an editor at my school newspaper. On publishing nights, we’d stay in the office into the wee hours of the morning, usually getting back to my dorm room around 5. Unlike the others, who thought I was crazy for booking Friday morning classes, I’d be back up and ready for an 8 am class. I never missed it.
Sleep is where the magic happens
It didn’t much matter to me how much I slept. I loved coffee and used to pride myself on my ability to drink it black, as black as possible, as black as the night.
The more I trained, the more I felt it when I didn’t sleep. My FitBit would berate me. Coffee didn’t do anything anymore. Overall, I felt terrible.
It may go without saying, but the science supports this. Insufficient sleep can affect reaction times, immunity, and injury levels. Sleep is a time when your body recovers. When actively working out to build muscle or increase strength/explosiveness, this recovery time is critical.
Over the past year, I’ve come to evaluate not only my training methods but my recovery methods. I’ve spent a lot of time really working to improve my sleep. As someone who used to get around 5 hours of sleep a night with a scant 20 minutes or so of deep sleep, I’m now meeting my goal of 7 hours a night and about 20% deep sleep.
I feel so much better.
Cut down on caffeine
My first unsurprising step in improving my sleep involved cutting back on caffeine. For a while, I went completely caffeine-free to kill my dependence on the stuff. Slowly, I’ve added in matcha and green tea, as well as some coffee with milk, when I feel like I absolutely need it. I take it slowly and take note of how it affects me. Cutting back on coffee meant that I was waking up fewer times in the night, allowing me to get more rest.
I originally bought my LadyBoss glasses because I was experiencing some eyestrain and thought the blue-light blocking glasses were at least worth a shot. While I do notice a bit of an improvement when it comes to my eye health, I’ve also noticed that I tend to sleep better when I wear them. It may be a placebo effect, but on the days I forget or “don’t feel like” putting them on, I tend to have noticeably less deep sleep.
I started doing acupuncture to help with muscle tightness and pain. Almost immediately, though, I noticed a huge improvement in my sleep. Part of it is due to the fact that my muscles are extremely responsive to the treatment, so with the added muscle relaxation, it becomes easier for me to fall – and stay – asleep. We also trigger different stress release points during my treatment, as well, and I tend to notice an overall feeling of calmness and balance after an acupuncture session. (If acupuncture is an option, there are some acupressure points that supposedly help with sleep, too.)
Where you hit the hay
Gustavo’s been talking to me about buying a Purple mattress when we move for ages. For the longest time, I would write the idea off – “Oh, just get a bed from Ikea or something.” About six months ago, I finally decided to give the Purple pillow a try (it’s like an advanced memory foam, so to speak) and love it. Only after skeptically giving it a try, I realized: it matters where you sleep. A mattress is a big investment, but making small changes, like a pillow or different bedding that helps keep you cool at night, can make a big difference.
Ditch the alarm (when possible)
While I’d love to get eight solid hours of sleep every night, I know it’s not realistic most days. Between work, errands, hobbies, and so on, there’s literally not enough time in the day – er, night. To make up for it, I try to give myself at least one or two days per week where I wake up naturally. No alarms (unless you count my dog). Allowing myself to wake up on my own, even if I only wake up a few minutes later than I normally would, always makes me feel more rested.
Sleep is a funny thing. For something we do so often, you think we’d all be good at it. While I still struggle pretty often, experimenting with some different habits and options has helped me quite a bit. I’ve also instituted some new rules, i.e. I won’t train if I didn’t get at least 6-7 hours of sleep.
Recovery is just as important as training. Making sure you get enough of it is crucial. For me – and my creaky joints – it’s become a non-negotiable. Sleep is part of my training.