“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Old Irish Proverb

Recovery is a topic that is hot right now in the world of fitness. Without it, the results we strive for in our fitness routines may not happen. Recovery can happen for us in many ways. Percussion devices for sore or overworked muscles, meditative practices to help control stress levels, a cold plunge or maybe even a massage. All of these can be very useful tools to help care for our minds and bodies, but they all pale in comparison to this week’s main topic.

Sleep

In our culture it is common to look at those who go without sleep in the name of hard work as noble, heroic and the standard that we should all follow. We tend to praise people for putting in ungodly hours at work and we live by mantras such as "I'll sleep when I'm dead" or "no one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep". Hard work is a good thing and a trait that separates the great from the good. Additionally, having great experiences in life that keep us up past our bedtime is part of what makes life great.

What we must do is ask ourselves how we define success in our lives. If part of that definition does not include how we care for ourselves, we are missing a huge component of really living. If you are interested in fortifying your immune system, balancing your hormones, boosting your metabolism, increasing physical energy, and improving the function of your brain then you must consider addressing your sleep situation. We all have experienced what it can be like to feel energized, focused, positive, and rested. Sleep can help us achieve all those feelings. Not just any sleep though. It must be good quality sleep and, currently it is becoming harder to come by.

Some rules to sleep by for some quality sleep:

1. Go outside and get some sun.

Without getting too scientific, natural sunlight allows our body to understand (hormonally) that it is daytime and can therefore allow the body to better understand (hormonally) when it is nighttime and therefore bedtime. This is important for those of us that spend all our time indoors. Getting a dose of morning sunlight is a great way to start the day and set your rhythm for a good night of sleep.

2. Turn off the technology.

This is a difficult one. The artificial blue light that illuminates our lives from our televisions, phones, computers, and tablets confuses our bodies. It is this spectrum of light that alerts our bodies that it is daytime and prioritizes alertness and wakefulness. Using this technology and exposing ourselves to this blue light at night does not allow our bodies to start making the transition to quality sleep. Generally, the best recommendation is to shut down technology about 90 minutes prior to going to sleep. There are apps for some of your tech that can block out the blue light which may be helpful, but it won't quite measure up to just shutting things down.

3. Caffeine in the morning...Yes. Caffeine in the afternoon and evening...No.

Caffeine is a strong stimulant of the CNS (Central Nervous System). It is a major ingredient in many popular beverages. One thing to know about caffeine is that it has a half-life of about 5-8 hours. One Grande brewed coffee from Starbucks gives us 330 mg of caffeine. 5-8 hours later there will still be 165mg that are active in your system and 82.5 after another 5-8 hours. That's if you just have one. Imagine having several coffees (or other caffeinated drinks) and drinking them later into the day. By the way the Mayo clinic says that about 400mg a day is where most of us should top out.

Examples of how much different energey drink sources have:

5-hour energy shot- 422mg

16 oz Monster Energy Drink- 160mg

16 oz Peet's Brewed Coffee- 265mg

4. Exercise...Do it

Exercise can help with a good night’s sleep. This I think many of us intuitively know. We must be smart about how we choose to exercise though so that it gives us positive benefit. We recognize stress in the form of all the things in life that cause us anxiety. Bills, relationships, deadlines and watching the news can cause all of us to be a little stressed out. Exercise is also a form of stress. Something to know about the physiology of the human body is that it does not distinguish from physical or mental stress in terms of its response via the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) systems. What this could mean for the exerciser is that if they overdo it the result may be piling stress on top of stress.

Exercise in the morning as opposed to later in the day seems to result in more quality sleep.

Lifting weights (the heavy kind) cause us to produce anabolic hormones. These hormones help us look good, feel good and sleep good.

More is NOT better. Exercising more may just be piling stress on top of stress and if we are not recovering properly then we are just digging a deeper and deeper hole. Remember that sleep is when results happen. This is assuming that you are getting some quality sleep which just is not going to happen if your body is overly stressed. You'll just be constantly playing catch up.

When making these changes to your lifestyle just know to take it one step at a time. Any progress you make toward turning off the technology earlier or exercising more frequently will help you in your quest for better quality sleep. Go to bed!