As fitness professionals, we know that our clients' success isn't just determined by the one hour training session they have with us. Instead, it's what they do the other 23 hours of the day when we're not coaching them that matters. One of the most important - and difficult to enforce - lifestyle habits is sleep quality.
The sad fact is, most people see a good night of sleep as a luxury; some even wear their tiredness with a badge of honor, "I was up late last night working, so I only slept a few hours. Nothing some more coffee can't fix!"
You and I, however, know that a good night of sleep - at least 7 hours per night - is a necessity. Sleep improves muscle-growth, speeds up fat loss, and carries a ton of healthy benefits that will help our clients to look and feel better.
A good night’s sleep:
- Is crucial for adequate production of GH and testosterone - hormones that give both men and women more strength, vitality, and muscle.
- Helps us stay lean due to maintaining good insulin sensitivity.
- Cuts risks of common colds and increases resilience to stress.
- Improves memory and performance.
But how can you help your clients get better sleep? Start by showing them "The 10 Steps to Improved Sleep."
10 Steps to Improve Sleep
1. Make the room cold.
For most people, the ideal temperature for sleep is somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees fahrenheit. Your clients will have to experiment to find what feels best for them, but the first sign of good sleep is a chilly bed. If they shiver when they get underneath the sheets, they're good to go.
- Set your thermostat to somewhere in the mid-sixties. If you can’t control the temperature of your room, aim a portable fan directly at your bed and avoid sleeping with a heavy comforter.
2. Make your room as quiet as possible.
White noise like a fan can help with sleep, but exposure to things like traffic noise has been shown to decrease overall sleep quality. It’s difficult to drift off to sleep when people are loud and blaring their horns outside your place.
- Drown out or muffle unwanted noises as best as you can. Use a fan for white noise. Grab some earplugs if it is really noisy. If you live with roommates or family, tell everyone to keep it down.
3. Make your room dark. Really dark.
Even a tiny amount of light can interfere with melatonin production and impair your sleep.
- Turn off all devices and seal all light out of your room. Turn off any electronic devices with LED’s or cover the lights with a small piece of electrical tape. Hang a blanket or towel over your bedroom window if light creeps in.
4. Ditch the cell phone.
Radiation emitted from cell phones can increase the amount of time required to reach deep sleep cycles and decrease the amount of time spent in those cycles.
- Stop using your cell phone as an alarm clock. Replace it with a normal battery powered clock and turn your phone off. You’ll get the added benefit of not being distracted by the buzz of an incoming text or email.
5. Control red and blue light.
Quick science lesson: Light waves exist along a spectrum of color.
Wakefulness is triggered primarily by blue light, like midday sunshine or what’s emanating from your computer screen right now. A warm red glow, say, from a fireplace, does almost nothing to impair sleep. That’s a good thing.
- Download F.lux F.lix is a free program that alters the color spectrum of your computer to mimic the patterns of sunlight in your region, allowing for healthier sleep rhythms. (It makes your computer and table screens softer and less bright as the day goes on.)
6. Improve the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR).
A good way to improve your sleep quality is to strengthen the initial spike in wakefulness that occurs in the morning. In other words, the more awake you feel in the morning, the more tired you’ll feel in the evening.
The best way to do this is to expose your body to natural sunlight shortly after waking for as little as ten minutes. Sunlight brings the bonus of increased vitamin D production, which is important for overall health. If natural sunlight exposure is unrealistic or you’re waking up before the sun rises, artificially simulated sunlight can work, too. For example, there are alarm clocks available that emit light gradually in order to prepare your body to wake up. Finally, remember that vitamin D is what your body normally produces in response to sunlight and it's tied into your wakefulness patterns. So if you’re supplementing vitamin D, try taking it in the morning.
- Get some sunlight — or something resembling sunlight — first thing when you wake up.
7. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it.
This one requires some discipline, but it’s worth asking your clients to try it: Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body can’t establish an effective rhythm if you don’t allow it to normalize to a pattern.
If you stay up late, don’t sleep in. Instead, plan on going to bed a little earlier the next night. The sleep you get before midnight will be more valuable than the sleep you get after midnight, so always think in terms of making up for lost sleep by going to bed early the next night rather than sleeping in.
- Select a time to go to bed and a time to wake up. Stick to this schedule for at least 2 weeks before altering.
8. Establish a sleep ritual.
Once you find out what helps you sleep the most consistently, make it a consistent ritual so that as soon as you’re an hour away from bedtime you’re already on a reliable path to good sleep.
- Try the other steps in this article and select the ones that work for you. Then practice these every night for the next two weeks.
9. Read for 15 minutes before bed.
Avoid intellectually stimulating fare and use this time for “candy” reading. It will reduce mental chatter and allow you to relax and let go of the day’s preoccupations. “Candy” reading, by the way, is whatever you normally wouldn’t read. So if you normally read non-fiction, try reading fiction. If you prefer to read fiction, try reading some history.
- Pick up a book you wouldn’t normally read and read for 15 minutes before bed.
10. Sleep on a good mattress.
A quality bed is one of the best investments you’ll ever make and it doesn’t have to be ludicrously expensive to work. Whatever you do, don’t put up with a lumpy mattress or an uncomfortable futon.
- A good mattress is money well-spent. If you’re sleeping on something that’s thin, lumpy, or too small, take a look at your finances and see if you can set aside some money each month to purchase a new mattress. It’s worth it!"
Good Sleep is All about Cycles
Have you ever felt tired in the morning even if you slept for 7 hours or more? Blame your sleep cycle.
Your body has hundreds of different cycles fluctuating in various rhythms. From nervous system shifts that occur with every heartbeat to daily and monthly hormonal fluctuations, almost everything in your body ebbs and flows. It’s when something becomes fixed in a flat-line pattern that we run into problems.
Healthy sleep results from a robust up and down cycle of various hormones. Ideally, our heart rate, body temperature and cortisol (an energy mobilizing hormone which responds to stress) are at their lowest in the second half of our time asleep. Towards morning, cortisol begins to rise rapidly in what is known as the “cortisol awakening response” (CAR), heart rate and body temperature elevate, and our body naturally primes us to wake up and face the day.
This spike in cortisol tapers off throughout the day, assuming you don’t get chased by a lion or yelled at by your boss at closing time (both of which will induce a huge stress response). Toward evening, your body ramps up production of a rest-promoting neurotransmitter called adenosine and, triggered by the absence of sunlight, begins producing a hormone known as melatonin, which helps to trigger the sleep cycle.
(Unless your client is really into science, you could probably skip telling them all that, sticking with the suggested habits above.)
An Extra 7 Hours of Influence Per Night
As a fitness professional, you're already making a huge difference in the lives of your clients, but you can only do so much with them in the gym. Helping your clients improve their sleep quality and enables you to exercise your positive influence over them for another 7 hours per day, while helping them to increase their opportunities to gain more muscle, lose more fat, and become even healthier.
Co-written by Craig Weller