Whether you have physical, health, or performance goals, sleep is really the glue that holds everything health & fitness together. And with the following tips to fall asleep, you too are going to be able to get the most out of your nights.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Why getting enough sleep is so important.
- How sleep deprivation impacts physical goals
- Understanding circadian rhythm.
- THE best tips to fall asleep
- How to create your own perfect bedtime and morning routines.
- Bedtime carbs for better sleep.
- Science-based supplements for improved sleep.
* Before we dive into this article.. If you have a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia, please get additional help from your healthcare provider.
Why getting enough sleep is so important
Adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. (1)
Sleep is your way to recharge, both physically and mentally. It’s when you produce hormones, heal and repair. Most processes in your body run on their own body clocks, and your body thrives on a solid circadian rhythm.
Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of weight gain and obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, heart disease, and impacts your:
- Immune system
- Hormone production and balance (e.g. Testosterone ↓, Leptin↓, Ghrelin ↑)
- Cognitive performance (brain function)
- Decision making
- Energy levels
- And more..
Long story short: When sleep suffers, everything else suffers.
How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Physical Goals
Sleep deprivation negatively affects both fat loss and muscle growth.
This 2010 study (2) compared two groups, both in an equal caloric deficit. One group spent 8.5 hours in bed per night, the other 5.5 hours. Even though both groups lost an equal amount of total weight, the sleep restricted group lost more lean mass, and less fat mass. The sleep restricted group also experienced increased hunger and showed a more significant decrease in resting metabolic rate.
Also when it comes to muscle protein synthesis (aka muscle growth), sleep is essential. A more recent study (3) found that acute sleep deprivation seems to lead to a decrease in muscle protein synthesis and promoted a more ‘catabolic hormonal environment’, meaning more in favor of breaking down tissue rather than building it up (anabolic).
Understanding circadian rhythm, cortisol & melatonin
Hormones are chemical ‘messengers’ that act on tissues all throughout the body. There are many different hormones, but let’s focus on the two main hormones related to your circadian rhythm.
- Cortisol: Often called the ‘stress hormone’.
- Melatonin: The hormone that prepares your body to get ready to sleep.
Typically – and this goes for an otherwise healthy individual who isn’t overly stressed all day – Cortisol and Melatonin go through opposite cycles. Cortisol peaks in the morning and then gradually decreases throughout the day. In the afternoon, Melatonin starts to creep up and increases as it gets darker. Late at night, melatonin starts to decrease, Cortisol rises again, you wake up in the morning and the cycle repeats.
Cortisol first needs to decrease in order for Melatonin to increase. When stress (Cortisol) is high, it’s going to be difficult to fall asleep, as melatonin production can not happen. Any form of stress can lead to an increase in Cortisol and put you in a sympathetic (also called fight/flight) state, including intense exercise. This is why you may struggle to fall asleep after an intense evening session.
Now, regular exercise is still better than no exercise at all. So don’t worry if your schedule doesn’t allow for earlier workouts. Keep reading to find out what you can do to improve sleep and put your body back in a parasympathetic (also called rest/digest) state.
Tips to fall asleep: best sleep habits
Just how you can’t keep using your phone without charging it, you can only push it so far until your body says “That’s enough!”. You probably have a good idea of what drains your batteries, and I can imagine that it can be quite a bit sometimes. So let’s try and do more of the things that recharge your batteries. Let’s also create the perfect sleeping environment, to improve your chances of a solid night of zzzz’s.
Keep it dark
Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Invest in blackout curtains or wear a sleep mask when needed. Blue light – which comes from both the sun, as well as phones, tv’s, etc. – blunts melatonin production (4). So try to minimize or completely eliminate screen use before going to bed. When you do need or choose to use technology, consider wearing blue light blocking glasses.
Keep It Cold
Higher temperatures can keep you from falling asleep and seem to negatively affect sleep quality (5). On the other hand, a lower core body temperature seems to positively affect both sleep latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep), as well as deeper stages of sleep (6).
Keep your room nice and cold. Depending on where you live, set the temperature or simply keep a window open. Alternatively, you could invest in a cooling pad.
Keep It Quiet
Other than the obvious fact that noise can keep you up, sleep quality also seems to be affected by noise (7). Now, you can’t necessarily turn down the volume of traffic, or people in the streets. But if noise is an issue, consider wearing earplugs or using a white noise machine to wash out some of that noise.
Bonus tip: turn those annoying phone notifications off!
Caffeine And Alcohol
Yes, we’re going to talk about those two things you might hold oh so dear: Caffeine and alcohol. Sorry! Both seem to have a big effect on sleep, so I have to mention them.
Caffeine, first of all, can keep you from falling asleep. Though even for the experienced drinker, who has zero problem falling asleep after consuming caffeine, it can still impact sleep quality. Cutting caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bedtime is recommended (8).
Even though alcohol has much more of a relaxing effect, and is often consumed in the evening, it can be a good idea to lower intake towards the end of the evening, as it also seems to impact sleep quality (9,10).
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health & fitness journey, it simply can’t be neglected. This is why we always consider our clients’ sleep, and suggest sleep-promoting habits and practices mentioned in this article. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as aiming to put their phone away at a certain time, and tracking their consistency in our Habit Tracker (Click here to download for free). Read what my friend had to say after finally improving her sleep.
How to create your own routines – tips to fall asleep and wake up more energized
Before getting super specific, start off by consistently going to bed and waking up at the same time (within about a 30 min window) every day to support your circadian rhythm. That goes for both week and weekend days. Once that’s taken care of, you can start to expand your morning and bedtime routines. As you do so, I highly suggest tracking your sleep with a wearable like a Fitbit, Whoop (Click here to get a free Whoop 4.0 and a free month) or Oura ring. Tracking your sleep can help you point out what does and doesn’t help you sleep more and better.
If you need to choose between fine tuning your morning routine and getting more sleep, choose more sleep.
How to create your own perfect bedtime and morning routines:
- Start off with the amount of actual sleep you’re aiming to get.
- Because it’s normal to lose some sleep, add 1 hour to find out your ‘time in bed’ goal.
- Now think about when you need to wake up and how much time you want to give yourself in the morning (30-60 minutes?).
- Subtract your time in bed to find out what time you want to be asleep.
- Lastly, decide how much time you want to spend winding down and what you want to do. Consider practices like reading, meditation, breath work, journaling, listening to music, podcast or sleep cast, and more.
- Bonus tip: Going for a morning walk supports melatonin production in the evening (11). I highly recommend a morning walk for that reason as well as the fresh air, possible vitamin D, ‘me-time’, and the additional steps you’ll get in.
Bedtime Carbs For Better Sleep
Ever heard you shouldn’t eat (carbs) in the evening? Don’t worry, carbs don’t look at the clock and go “It’s 8PM! Time to get evil and make you fat!”. Now, before we get into why you might actually want to consider including a bedtime meal in your routine, let’s talk about another important hormone: insulin.
Insulin: An anabolic hormone that regulates the metabolism of nutrients, controls blood sugar levels and more. Insulin works counter-regulatory to cortisol, it can bring cortisol levels down. When you eat carbohydrates, insulin increases.
So here’s the ‘trick’ to including bedtime carbs for better sleep. Eating carbs leads to an increase in insulin levels, which leads to a decrease in cortisol, which then allows for melatonin production to happen.
The cortisol-blunting effect insulin has can also be a great reason to aim for a higher-carb approach when overall stress is high. And remember we talked about evening workouts possibly keeping you up? Lots of carbs post-workout can help you get back into that parasympathetic (rest/digest) state.
*If you consider including a bedtime meal, give yourself at least an 45-60 minutes to digest your food.
Science-based supplements for improved sleep
I know that changing your habits is much more work compared to taking a sleep supplement, and in most cases I’d even recommend doing both. But without addressing your evenings, mornings, time in bed and sleep consistency, supplements aren’t going to do a whole lot. When you do decide to go with a supplement, look into quality brands with the right forms and dosing.
Down below you’ll find some science-based supplements worth looking into. I’ll provide you with links to Examine.com down below, so that you have all the science-based information you need to make an educated decision. If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
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‘Best Tips To Fall Asleep: Your Definitive Guide To A Good Night’s Rest‘
Personally, I’ve been playing with different approaches for years now. Out of everything I’ve tried, nothing beats going to bed and waking up at the same time, and reading a book in bed 30 minutes before bedtime.
You see, also when it comes to sleep, there are no ‘hacks’. Go ahead and try different habits, maybe consider some supplements when you feel the need to. Track your sleep (Whoop) to get measurable data to confirm what works for you.
Just like with nutrition, you’ll see that it’s often the most basic stuff that makes the biggest difference.
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- Watson, Nathaniel F et al. “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.” Sleep vol. 38,6 843-4. 1 Jun. 2015, doi:10.5665/sleep.4716
- Nedeltcheva, Arlet V et al. “Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.” Annals of internal medicine vol. 153,7 (2010): 435-41. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006
- Lamon, Séverine et al. “The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment.” Physiological reports vol. 9,1 (2021): e14660. doi:10.14814/phy2.14660
- Bedrosian, T A, and R J Nelson. “Timing of light exposure affects mood and brain circuits.” Translational psychiatry vol. 7,1 e1017. 31 Jan. 2017, doi:10.1038/tp.2016.262
- Fujii, Hisako et al. “Fatigue and sleep under large summer temperature differences.” Environmental research vol. 138 (2015): 17-21. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2015.02.006
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- Drake, Christopher et al. “Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 9,11 1195-200. 15 Nov. 2013, doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Park, Soon-Yeob et al. “The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep.” Korean journal of family medicine vol. 36,6 (2015): 294-9. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294
- Zheng, Dandan et al. “Alcohol consumption and sleep quality: a community-based study.” Public health nutrition vol. 24,15 (2021): 4851-4858. doi:10.1017/S1368980020004553
- Wright, Helen R et al. “Differential effects of light wavelength in phase advancing the melatonin rhythm.” Journal of pineal research vol. 36,2 (2004): 140-4. doi:10.1046/j.1600-079x.2003.00108.x