Welcome to Day 6 of Kenzai Shift! So far we've covered the right way to think about nutrition, cardio, and muscle building. Today we'll explore a crucial part of the equation that so many people miss, and which can undermine all your efforts.
Imagine you're building your dream house. You recruit the best architects and builders and splurge on the finest building materials available. In a few months your house is complete and you're ready to move in.
But there's a problem. No one thought to check the ground on which the house was constructed. It turns out you've built on marshland, and day by day your house sags and sinks.
At this point, it doesn't matter that you have gleaming hardwood floors and Italian marble countertops. The foundation isn't solid, and so the house will never be the quality you wanted.
For the human body, the equivalent to your house's foundation is sleep. If you're not getting enough good quality sleep, it doesn't matter how well you eat or how hard you exercise, your results will be subpar. It's during sleep that your body takes stock of the energy deficits and minor muscular tears that your cardio and workout have created.
Having surveyed the damage, it gets busy building stronger tissue, shoring up cardiovascular function, and lubricating tired joints. Where does it get all the energy and materials to do this? From your healthy, nutrient rich diet! Sleep is the part of the day when all your hard work comes together to make a better YOU.
Building a better human is energy-intensive business. The body only releases the growth hormones and proteins required in the deepest stages of sleep. This means that part of your job when you want to get in shape isn't just to be in bed, but to get high quality rest, going through the entire sleep cycle three or four times a night. If you manage to do that you're going to feel AMAZING the next morning, as you're living in newly renovated body sporting all the latest upgrades!
However, this is where things get tricky.
You can decide to stick to your nutrition plan and have a clean day of eating.
You can decide to go out for a nice long cardio session that burns a lot of energy.
You can decide to have a great workout with good form and nice muscle burns.
But you can't just decide to have a good night's sleep! In fact, the more you try to force yourself to sleep well, the more your mind seems to fight you. This leads us to today's wellness myth.
This leads us to today's misconception:
GETTING A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP IS SOMETHING YOU DO.
A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP IS A DYNAMIC PROCESS THAT YOU GET OUT OF THE WAY OF.
If you want to have birds visit your backyard, you won't make much progress running around trying to grab them. Instead you put out some seed, set up a birdbath, and keep the cats away. And even then birds may not always come!
Sleep is the same. You can't guarantee good, deep sleep every night, but you can create the environment which promotes good sleep. These best practices are called sleep hygiene, and they're just as important as the other types of daily hygiene you work hard at.
Here's how to create the conditions for consistently deep, quality sleep:
NEGATIVE HABITS TO AVOID
- Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine in the hours before sleep. A simple way to do this is to adopt the rule of "no coffee past lunch." This gives your systems a full 10 hours to cycle out caffeine. Don't forget that chocolate has caffeine in it too!
- Avoid alcohol in the few hours before sleep as well. Drinking can help you fall asleep (hence the idea of a nightcap), but it disrupts the normal stages of sleep, sending you into a dead, deep sleep quickly and leaving the second half of your night with shallow, unhelpful sleep. No one has ever woken up after a night of drinking feeling rested and restored! When you're on a training program already avoiding alcohol your sleep gets a huge boost.
- Avoid spicy foods, highly acidic citrus foods, and carbonated drinks before sleep. These foods are tough for the stomach to deal with when it's trying to power down for the night. You'll either feel more awake as your stomach calls on more resources, or have indigestion as you lay in bed.
- Avoid naps that take you all the way into deep sleep. A short, 20 minute catnap is a healthy break for the brain, but going through a full sleep cycle in the daytime will leave you feeling groggy and make getting to sleep more difficult that night.
- Avoid strong light, especially light in the blue spectrum in the hours before sleep. Melatonin relies on receptors in the back of the eye that tell it how much blue light is in the environment. When the brain senses blue light has dropped to nighttime levels the melatonin starts to flow. Unfortunately, smartphones, computer screens, and TVs all emit a lot of light at the blue end of the spectrum. When you see a person using a phone in the dark it's immediately apparent how blue-shifted the light is! A lot of computers and phones offer a "night shift" mode which reduces blue light. Be sure to turn these on and better yet, have as little screen time as possible, especially in the two hours before bed.
- Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep and sex. You want your brain to have a Pavlovian response to the bed - this is a place where sleep happens. If you want to read before bed, do it in a chair next to bed. If you want to watch something on the TV or phone, go to another room.
- Avoid topics that get you wound up in the few hours before bed. Save the Coronavirus news, political arguments and relationship disputes for the morning. The stress response that heavy-duty topics bring out will keep you tossing and turning for hours
Looking at your phone in bed could be a triple threat. You're blasting your eyes with bright light that confuses your internal clock, you're using your bed for something other than sleep, and you're potentially viewing news articles, videos, or texts that could rile you up just when you're trying to wind down. Use your technology responsibly!
POSITIVE HABITS TO PROMOTE
- Get plenty of natural light in the daytime. Your brain is always trying to calibrate itself to the natural world. When possible, spend some time in direct sunlight throughout the day. When your eyes can perceive the light shift from bright to dark you have a much better chance of sleep hormones firing off correctly.
- A well exercised body craves deep sleep and will make it happen. Your body is smart, it knows quite well that if it doesn't get some good sleep it won't be able to rest and repair itself to fight another day.
- Make your bed and bedroom as comfortable as you can. You're going to spend 1/3rd of your day in this place, invest in a quality mattress and bedding, nice pillows, and good curtains to keep light out. Try and keep your bedroom cool, as one of the body's signals to sleep comes from having a low body temperature.
- Take a shower or bath before bed. The process of your body getting warmed by the water, then cooling off in the air stimulates melatonin release as body temperature drops. Plus, sliding into bed feeling fresh and clean is a great feeling.
- Have a nighttime routine. Your brain craves repetition and patterns. It doesn't matter what it is, but try and do the same things in the few hours before bed. Maybe it's a cup of herbal tea and a book. Maybe it's doing the dishes an listening to music. If you're doing it consistently, you'll get that Pavlovian sleep response that sets you up for a good night.
Just as you don't have good dental health after brushing your teeth once, you won't suddenly have great sleep by following these guidelines for a day or two. You need to make them a normal part of life and gradually bend the curve towards better sleep. Don't get discouraged when you follow all the sleep hygiene rules and still have a bad night's sleep. The outcome of sleep hygiene isn't flawless sleep but a higher chance that on any given night you have more successful sleep cycles than you would otherwise. Over time it makes a big difference.
For the rest of this program, try instituting good sleep hygiene and feel the difference for yourself. Your body is the house you and only you have to live in. Don't build it on a weak foundation of poor sleep!