On Monday you do a very challenging leg workout. On Tuesday, a rest day, you can barely walk up stairs without wincing. By Wednesday your legs feel as fresh as they did prior to Monday’s leg session. What gives? Thanks to a rest day, your body did some recovery work. It repaired damaged tissues and replenished energy stores.
Had you opted out of a rest day and did another leg day, then another, and another, each day your leg workouts would likely get progressively weaker. Form would be sacrificed leading to injury, your legs would be endlessly sore, and your mood would take a downturn because your legs are sore, you’re injured and your workouts feel more difficult. Dramatic? Yes. But all possible if you don’t give your legs time to recover.
Sleep is like taking a rest day between workouts. It gives your body the opportunity to recover from the day’s mental and physical challenges playing a vital role in your quality of life. It protects your mental, emotional and physical well-being, impacts your social relationships and keeps you alert and therefore safe. Sounds important doesn’t it.
So what controls it? Your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your sleep/wake cycle. Think of it as your own personal 24-hour internal clock. It runs in the background of your brain alternating between alertness and sleepiness. The ebbs and flows happen no matter what however you can control how big the dips are. Getting enough sleep is the most impactful factor so let’s dive into simple lifestyle changes to help you achieve a good night’s rest.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, even on weekends. Our bodies like to fall into routines, to know what to expect. Imagine 7 year old you had to relive your first day of school over and over and over again all year long. At first it would be exciting, thrilling, but eventually it would become exhausting and disruptive to the rest of your life to never know who your teacher is going to be, if your friends are going to be in the same class as you and what you would be doing the next day. Similarly, constant shifting of your sleep cycle is disruptive to your circadian rhythm and can cause stress in the form of poor sleep and sharper shifts between energy and exhaustion. It contributes to feeling extra tired on Mondays too. We often attribute a bad sleep on Sundays to stress and worries about the week ahead when in fact you’ve likely disrupted your sleep cycle on the weekend, staying up late and sleeping in, knocking your sleep cycle out of whack.
Wake up and go to bed earlier. Our circadian rhythm is closely tied to light and dark. Our bodies release chemicals when our eyes receive light signals, triggering our bodies to jump into daytime action and similarly, when it becomes dark, our bodies release melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel drowsy, preparing your body for sleep. Consider an earlier wake up time to maximize outdoor light exposure and on the flip side go to bed earlier to take advantage of Mother Nature’s automatic dimmer switch.
Natural light isn’t the only light that triggers chemical and hormonal responses in your body. Light from screens; computers, TVs, and iPhones, all trigger a similar ‘wakefulness’ response in your body. Shut down artificial light sources early in the evening or at the very least shift them to ‘Night Mode’ to encourage your body to naturally become sleepy.
Eat foods rich in vitamin D and try to finish your last meal of the day prior to 7pm. Studies have shown a link between shorter (and therefore insufficient) sleep and vitamin D deficiency. The best way to get your vitamin D fix? Sunlight! Work a 30 minute walk outside in the sun into your daily routine and your sleep will likely thank you. Food sources with good amounts of vitamin D include salmon, fish oils, egg yolks, wild mushrooms, milk and yogurt.
Gut health is important too. Giving your body time ample time to digest, rest and clear out allows it to reset and get ready for the next day. Eating right before lying down can also increase your chances of getting heartburn or acid reflux which nobody wants.
Lastly, find a bedtime habit you can stick to doing 5-10 minutes before you want to hit the pillow. Use it as a trigger to tell your body it’s time to go to sleep. A few relaxing stretches or yoga poses, 5 minutes of meditation or deep breathing exercises can help settle your body and mind.
Like most things, it’s all about getting into a good routine and building and sticking to healthy habits. Check out cozy new pieces from Onzie like the Weekend Crop, Pullover and Joggers to help you set the tone for drifting off into dreamland.