Are you getting enough?

Sleep, that is.

Sleep is of utmost importance to both general health and fat loss specifically; it is the time that our body undergoes regeneration and repair, both physically and psychologically.

Each week, I meet people who are struggling to exercise or prepare healthy meals because they feel too tired when they get home from work.  They feel like they aren’t getting enough rest and don’t sleep very well.

Setting a regular sleep pattern is something that parents of young children stick to almost religiously and instinctually but it is something we forget to follow ourselves.  “Bath, burp and bed” is something one of my clients used as her ditty for a bed time routine.  Yet, as adults we often put our health to one side to watch the end of a movie or finish some work on the laptop instead of going to bed on time.

The human body has been designed to work with the earth’s natural light and dark cycle and thrives when we manage to have a regular pattern to our sleep.

Here are some tips to set up a regular sleep routine that will help you to get a better night’s sleep.

Before heading up the “apples and pears” (stairs)

  1. Start early – Don’t leave your sleep routine until you get in to the bedroom.  When you get home for the evening start then, get changed into comfortable clothes, take your make up off (if you wear it) and anything else that you usually leave until you are getting ready for bed.
    Lots of people I know can take up to 20 minutes to get into bed from the time they have decided to go to bed because of the amount they have to do before actually lying down.
    Ideally you want to simply brush your teeth and then lie down, if you can brush your teeth following dinner that would be a bonus.
  2. Eat your evening meal earlier rather than later – If you have your main meal in the evening, have it a little earlier allowing time for your body to digest it before you lie down to sleep.  Allow at least 2 hours.  If you feel hungry later in the evening, a small snack will be enough.  A small banana and a few nuts can actually help you sleep more soundly.
  3. Workout – If you exercise in the evenings, try to have your main meal during the daytime on workout days.  Try to finish your workout at least 2 hours before bed to allow your body to wind down.  Exercise has many benefits and promoting better sleep is one of them, if you do high intensity exercise in the evenings try to add a 10 – 15 minute light stretch session on to the end to slow your system down and help your body relax.
  4. Dim the lights – this goes back to the light dark cycle that we naturally follow.  Bright lights stimulate the hormones that can keep us awake and prevent the release of the hormones that give us a good nights sleep.
    Ideally use floor lamps or candles rather than overhead lights during the evening, this simulates the sun setting.
  5. Avoid chemical stimulation – we all know that drinking caffeine gives you a bit of a buzz but the effects on the body can last much longer than that initial kick.  Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks from midday at the latest, replace them with herbal teas or plain water.  Tulsi and chamomile drank in the evening have a relaxing effect on the body and can promote a better night’s sleep.
  6. Ditch the booze – You may feel like you need a glass of wine to help you relax in the evening but if you are struggling to sleep through the night you really need to avoid it.  Alcohol puts a massive strain on the liver which already works hard when you are asleep, overloading it may cause you to wake up or have a restless nights sleep.
  7. Eat real food – for the same reason as the booze, processed foods are full of crap that the human body is not designed to eat.  They are generally produced using the cheapest sources of ingredients; this has been highlighted recently with the horse meat scandal. The poor quality ingredients coupled with the flavour enhancing chemicals and e numbers all put a strain on your system and particularly your liver, which has to work out how to process them.  Stick with freshly prepared meals made with ingredients you recognise.  You may need to up your kitchen skills from pressing buttons on a microwave but the benefits to your health are worth the investment.
  8. Stop working – The wonders of modern technology have made us available 24hrs per day.  Set a limit on when you can be contacted and stick to it.  I no longer use my phone for work and won’t check emails after 8pm.  If you have an iPhone, there is a “do not disturb setting” which only allows contact from people in your favourites list.
  9. Switch off – Give yourself to chill out before heading up to bed.  Switch off the TV and anything with a backlit screen at least 30 minutes before you head to bed; this follows on from the light dark cycles that our hormones follow.  Ideally, avoid watching action movies and the news late in the evening. News programmes very rarely have the light-hearted snippet at the end anymore and can leave you feeling depressed about the state of the world.  Action movies can ramp up your adrenaline and leave you feeling wired before bed.
    Something funny is a much better option.
  10. Plan for tomorrow – Before heading up the stairs write a list of things that you need to get done tomorrow.  Writing tasks down allows you to relax and not worry about everything you have to get done the following day.  My wife Fran has a “get things done” notepad that she uses throughout the day but the same principle applies.
  11. Early to bed – Ideally be in bed by 10pm with lights out by 10.30pm at least 5 nights per week. It is thought that physical repair and regeneration is at it’s peak when you are asleep between 10pm and 2am.  Chinese medicine states that every hour of sleep prior to midnight is worth 2hrs after.

Using any of the above tips to increase your chances of a better nights sleep.  By setting a regular pattern and sticking with it for at least a week you should notice a big difference in the quality of sleep that you get and also the amount of energy you have during the day.  This blog only takes you up to making it up the stairs, later in the week I’ll post bedroom tips for getting better sleep.

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