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7 Useful Sleep Tips

Posted June 6, 2014

We all know the feeling after waking from a long, deep sleep. We're rested, relaxed, and feel like a million bucks.

But for too many folks, this feeling is as elusive as a forgotten dream. Their restlessness prevents them from getting the quality rest their body needs for proper physical and mental recovery.

What can you do to ensure adequate quality sleep? It doesn't have to cost money, and might take but a few minutes of your time.

Try these proven methods to prime your body and mind before hitting the sack.
 1. EMBRACE THE DARK

Turn the temperature down in your home and dim the lights or use less light as you prepare for bed.

The lower light and temperature combine to create a relaxing environment and help set off the release of the sleep-promoting hormonemelatonin. In contrast, exposure to artificial light suppresses melatonin release and increases alertness.

Turn off the electronics one hour before bed. We're so connected in this day and age that technology has become second nature.

In a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2011, more than half of respondents experienced a sleep problem every night.

Of those people, nearly 95 percent watched TV, used their computer, played video games, or were on their cell phone at least a few nights each week in the hour before bed.

2. GET PHYSICAL

Try an evening flow. Wait, flow? Yes. An evening flow—a style of yoga—always seems to help calm my muscles and mind after a long day. It can be as brief as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. You can find peace and calm while enjoying a series of movements designed to help you sleep.
 

3. PRACTICE BREATHING

Breathing—or deep breathing, rather—oxygenates your blood. This simple involuntary act can also be the center of your focus to help calm your body and calm your mind for a restful night's sleep. By making it voluntary, you can enhance your calm and lower a stressed mind.

According to the Sleep Disorders Center from the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), concentrating on slow, elaborate breathing allows the rest of the body to relax.4
 

4.CONSIDER A NIGHTCAP

Not that kind of nightcap! Consider an evening "mocktail" of BCAAs and glutamine or aZMA supplement. I know, I know—folks like to pooh-pooh glutamine, but taken on an empty stomach and just before bed, the glutamine alone can hone in on brain and GI function without interrupting the BCAAs path to the muscle for recovery.

An alternative would be ZMA—a natural supplement comprising zinc and magnesium aspartate, which can be found in capsule or powder form. Zinc plays a critical role in cell growth and protein synthesis; magnesium is responsible for bone strength, immunity, and supports a healthy nervous system. A deficiency in either can disrupt sleep.

What to avoid? Alcohol can actually disrupt sleep patterns and make it difficult to resume sleep after waking. Try to also avoid consuming caffeine 2-4 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant which can disrupt sleep and remain active in your system hours after consumption.

You can also sip on hot herbal tea. If you're not a fan of the earthy, green tea; try its estranged brother and opt for an herbal tea or herbal blend—decaf of course. The hot beverage increases natural body temperature, which decreases naturally as we sleep. This temperature spike can kickstart a cool-down and lead to a deeper sleep. The herbal notes and smell can help soothe tension and stress. Chamomile is a popular evening tea. No wonder it's called "sleepy time" tea.

5. BE CONSISTENT

Maintain a regular sleep schedule—wake and bed time—even on the weekends. Our circadian rhythm thrives on consistency. Most of us can already relate to the power of consistency in our lives in the weight room, so take that lesson home with you.

A fave relaxation exercise of mine comes from UW Health Sleep Scientist and Psychologist, Dr. Shilagh Mirgain; it's called "progressive muscle relaxation." This can also be a helpful exercise to return to sleep after waking in the middle of the night.

Another mind-fulfillment technique is to simply take a hot bath with Epsom salts or a hot shower. Body temperature naturally dips at night, so, much like sipping on a hot beverage, the hot water from either a shower or bath will not only help soothe sore muscles but also kickstart the body's cool-down process, helping you sleep.

If your imagination runs wild before bed, pick up a good read. Reading a story can help take your mind away from the stressors of the day.

Alternatively, organize your thoughts by writing them down. Journaling can allow you to release stressful thoughts.

6. GET YOUR 8 HOURS!

This cannot be stressed enough. Give your body enough time to rest and repair. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the brain needs sleep to learn and memorize new skills.

No, this doesn't mean you're going to lose those sweet, new curling skills or forget how to squat. But a balanced nightly sleep window will help preserve and enhance your brain health and overall function over time.

We make time to exercise and eat healthy, as well as manage our stress, but if we do not get a solid eight hours each night, we undermine all these efforts.

7. LEAVE "THE BABY" ALONE

Like trying to soothe a crying baby in the middle of the night, supporting or reinforcing bad sleep behavior will only perpetuate the problem. Avoid getting out of bed for that drink of water. Never look at the clock. Creating habits like this reinforces poor sleep. Correct it.

Stay in bed. Turn your clock away from you before falling asleep. Break the cycle. Most people can return to regular sleep after 1-2 weeks with this reverse strategy.

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