‘Muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen and built in bed’
Ever heard that saying? No. Well let me break it down for you, when we train, especially when weight training, the strain we put our bodies under causes tiny tears in the muscle fibres – this is where DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness comes in. Most of you probably know that in order for our muscles to recover we need to re-feed our bodies but I think a lot of fitness fanatics probably forget that rest and more specifically a good nights sleep is actually just as important? And I’m not just talking about getting your 8 hours of sleep, I’m talking good quality sleep.
I used to be one of those people who took hours to nod off. As soon as my head touched the pillow I’d have a million and one thoughts swirling round my head – how much money I had in the bank, how my career was going, the email I hadn’t responded too, that thing I said to someone at work or that embarrassing thing I did when I was a teenager trying to find my place in the world (we’ve all been there). And even when I was asleep I was waking up every couple of hours, tossing and turning before hearing the sound of my piercing alarm for the tenth time since I hit snooze. Yep, it wasn’t a good time. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
So how did I shake it all off and learn how to get a good night’s sleep?
Well firstly, I started to practice the following every night.
Switch off – Various studies show that looking at a bright screen, such as your iPhone or laptop, can promote wakefulness at night as the blue light on these screens has been shown to suppress melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake pattern. A reduction in this can make it much harder to not only fall asleep, but to stay asleep – so make sure you shut down about an hour before you fall asleep or better still, make your bedroom a technology free room. Instead read a book, your favourite fitness magazine or go B.T. (before technology) and spend 30minutes writing down some positive thoughts or a to do list for the next day; you could even go one step further and try your hand at meditation – trust me, you’ll feel great the next morning!
Brew up – There are so many bedtime teas on the market these days, all containing calming and relaxing natural herbs such as Camomile, Lavender and Valerian Root. From my favourites, the Clipper Sleep Easy Tea & Pukka Herbs Night Time Tea, to a simple calming Camomile tea. Or if you have a bit more time on your hands why not try making some Golden Milk or Tumeric Tea which I find helps me to relax whilst giving my immune system a cheeky little boost whilst I sleep.
Make a ritual – Brewing up is actually part of a wider ritual for me. It all starts with mindfully taking my make up off whilst my tea cools, I then switch off my laptop, phone and tv and climb into bed to drink my tea and read a chapter of my book. I finally put some overnight oil & moisturiser on, or my favourite overnight mask by Origins before sinking into my duvet and closing my eyes. Overtime your body will start to associate these things with a good nights sleep meaning that even before your moisturiser has had time to sink into your skin you’ll be deep in the land of nod.
Stick to your bedtime – I’m sorry to sound like your Mum here but it really is past your bed time. Having a decent sleep/wake pattern will help to set your internal body clock and promote a better nights sleep overall. If you already have a good sleep cycle you’ll find that you naturally wake up on weekends at the same time as you do during the week. Unfortunately this means avoiding the snooze button and getting rid of your weekend lie in; but if you’ve ever wondered why you feel even more tired on a Monday morning after a Sunday spent in bed recovering from a late night then that’s why – you’ve thrown your sleep pattern completely out of sync. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time for the next couple of weeks (yes, including weekends) and you’ll be much more awake, alert and productive during the day.
Cut the caffeine – This is often the tough one (I know I struggle), but cutting down on caffeine will certainly help to improve your sleep even if you don’t realise it. Personally I can drink a coffee quite late in the day and still get to sleep at my usual time but I definitely notice a difference in the quality of my sleep when I don’t consume any caffeine after 12noon. Studies even suggest that consuming caffeine as much as 6 hours before you go to bed can have disruptive effects on sleep. So next time you hit that 3pm slump don’t head for the kettle, instead go for a short walk and get the blood flowing or look to your diet – as with most things, a well balanced nutritious diet will really help!
Magnesium – Along with Vitamin B12 this is the one vitamin I religiously take. Magnesium is needed for bone strength and development, and even though (as with most vitamins & minerals) you can get a good source from your diet, if you have an active lifestyle you’ll probably still want to add a supplement. In terms of sleep Magnesium has been shown to decrease the stress hormone cortisol and help muscles to relax and in turn calm the body. If you’re still not sold on taking a magnesium supplement then have a look at your diet and make sure you’re getting enough – you’ll find it in green leafy vegetables, bananas and lots of beans nuts and seeds.
But please don’t think that it will happen overnight – it takes time for your body to get into a solid routine. And don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon, just get back on track as soon as you can and it’ll eventually become the norm.
Do you have any tips for getting a good nights kip? I’d love to hear your routines below…