Written by Gail Mitch, Health & Lifestyle Expert, CPT, GFI, YTT200, PN L1
Photography by Paul Buceta
Hair & Makeup by 
Monica Kalra

If you want to improve your life, simply starting with the often snubbed yet transformative power of quality sleep can do wonders! Especially when you put the latest sleep science into effect.

Most people are familiar with the common recommendation of getting eight hours of sleep per night, but current sleep science challenges this notion, deeming it a myth. Before diving into what’s new, though, here’s a reminder as to why we need to prioritize getting zzz’s—there’s a profound connection between sleep and our ability to reach our goals and lead fulfilling lives.

Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy body for several reasons:

1. Hormonal Regulation

Sleep influences hormones that control appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin. Lack of sleep can disrupt these hormones, leading to increased feelings of hunger and a higher likelihood of overeating.

2. Metabolism

Quality sleep is linked to a well-functioning metabolism. Poor sleep may affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, potentially contributing to weight gain.

3. Energy Balance

Adequate sleep supports energy balance, helping individuals make better food choices and engage in physical activity, both essential for maintaining a healthy weight. (Reminder: a healthy weight can look different for each of us.)

4. Physical and Mental Recovery

Quality sleep aids in muscle recovery after exercise and promotes mental health. When well-rested, individuals are more likely to engage in regular physical activity.

Sleep is the cornerstone for overall health and well-being—impacting everything including physical health, mental function, and emotional welfare. But maybe you suffer from common sleep challenges?

Among the prevalent obstacles are stress (a universal experience), irregular sleep schedules (the weekend culprit), and excessive screen time. Additionally, medical hurdles such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders require consultation and treatment from a healthcare professional. Stress emerges as a formidable disruptor of sleep, often manifesting as hyperarousal—an inability to quiet the mind, making relaxation and sleep elusive. Elevated stress levels can lead to insomnia, fragmented sleep, or frequent awakenings, setting off a cycle that perpetuates poor sleep, further intensifying stress—an unfortunate downward spiral affecting overall sleep quality and recovery. Fear not, as science will help guide us in breaking free from this challenging loop!

You have likely heard of having a consistent bedtime. But did you know that the current research by Nick Littlehouse, leading Elite Sport Sleep Coach and author of the book SLEEP1, shows that a consistent wake time is more important? I like this for two reasons. First, it takes the pressure off daily trials that might pop up and have us staying up later than normal. Second, it allows for a social life and quality time with loved ones that sometimes only happens in the evenings. The flip side of this is needing to figure out a wake time that works for your weekdays and weekends. Don’t worry, naps come into the picture and can help with the earlier wake time on the weekends. To come up with your consistent wake time, figure out what the latest possible time you can get up on weekdays is and then keep it consistent on the weekends. For example, if you need to be at work at 9 am Monday through Friday, and you workout in the mornings (60 mins), and you need to commute to work (30 mins), plus giving yourself some time for kids or other responsibilities (60 mins), you can set your alarm for 6:30 am seven days a week.

Like workouts and nutrition, it is more about the weekly average (28-35 sleep cycles) than a single day to get results.

Next, we need to understand sleep cycles. A typical sleep cycle is 90 minutes long. During a sleep cycle we experience different stages including light sleep, deep sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each of these stages is important for different aspects of recovery. We need to complete full cycles for optimal health, everything from physical repair and immune support to mental well-being and emotional resilience. Instead of thinking of eight hours per night, the most up to date science says we need five sleep cycles per night, approximately seven and a half hours (90 mins x 5), on average for peak recovery and performance.

To take it one step further you can look at this on a weekly basis. It is recommended to get 28-35 sleep cycles per week to stay in the optimal range. I like this idea because it takes the pressure off one single night of sleep (remember the stress/sleep loop). For example, you could have one poor night of sleep and only get three sleep cycles and still be alright by the end of the week getting four to five sleep cycles the other nights. You can easily track this with a fitness device like a Whoop band or an Oura ring, or the old-fashioned way by keeping a notebook on your nightstand and recording your sleep length in cycles each morning.

Let’s break this down and refer to the 6:30 am wake time. To get five sleep cycles, you would need to be asleep by 11 pm. Considering it takes about 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, you would need to be in bed by 10:40pm. Here is where naps come in. Suppose you have a bad night and only get two or three sleep cycles. You can make up for a sleep cycle by taking a nap. Make sure you still wake up at your consistent wake time and stay awake for at least 90 minutes (length of a sleep cycle) and then take a nap for 30-90 minutes. This strategy works great on the weekends especially if you are getting used to waking up at your new consistent wake time. During busy weekdays, you can opt to take a nap between 1-3 pm for 30-90 minutes or from 4-7 pm for 30 minutes. If your daytime schedule does not allow for naps you can make up for missed sleep cycles by going to bed 90 minutes earlier the next night. This gives you flexibility in your sleep routine and takes off the pressure and stress of a bad night or two of sleep and the burden of thinking you need eight hours every night. Like workouts and nutrition, it is more about the weekly average (28-35 sleep cycles) than a single day to get results.

“One restful night can leave you feeling rejuvenated; consistently ensuring a good night’s sleep can empower you to conquer the world!”

Establishing why we need good quality sleep to achieve and maintain our health and fitness goals and understanding how sleep works seems simple enough, but wondering what to do to create the environment to get good sleep? It is important to establish a pre-sleep routine. This helps our stress response by separating the busyness of the day into a calm and relaxed body and mind before getting into bed.

1. Create a comfortable sleep environment 

with a supportive mattress and pillows, breathable sheets and blankets. More importantly, the optimal room temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees F or 18.3 degrees C.

2. Manage your blue light exposure time 

by shutting all screens down at least 30 minutes before bed. The darker the room, the better. In our example of a 10:45 pm bedtime with a 6:30 am wake time, devices would be off by 10:15 pm at the latest. Pro tip: Get all screens out of the bedroom. Charge your phone elsewhere so it’s not next to your bed.

3. Once you are in your room and ready for bed 

it is important to get yourself into a restful state. Although there are many ways to do this, here are my favorites:

» Keep a notebook next to your bed and make a gratitude list for the day and/or do a brain dump and write down anything from the day that you need to process or get out of your head.

» Read a book in soft light or listen to an audio book set on a sleep timer.

» Find a calming guided meditation or breathwork to help transition you into a restful state. 

Explore various schedules and routines to tailor your sleep habits to your individual needs and lifestyle. Keep in mind, while one restful night can leave you feeling rejuvenated, consistently ensuring a good night’s sleep can empower you to conquer the world!

STRONG Fitness
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