My Top 10 Strategies to Improve Your Sleep and Why it is so Important for Fitness and Longevity.

Updated: Jul 27

Health and fitness goes beyond your daytime activity and doesn't just rely on what you do in the gym or eat on your plate. Sleep quality could be the best place to start if your goals are to be fitter, healthier, lose weight and maximise your mental and physical performance. Having a goods nights sleep will help you manage stressful situations throughout the day, so when your faced with challenges be it physical, mental or environmental, your body and mind are ready to respond positively. However modern life throws many reasons to stay up late, whether its to catch up on social media, finish a project for work, comfort a child whose having nightmares or simply to carry on watching an episode of your favourite series on TV. and sometimes it's your body struggling to relax and your mind to switch off.

So here are my top 10 ways to help you to go to sleep earlier and encourage an improvement on your deep sleep and overall sleep cycle.

1- Avoid Caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant and depending on your genes, you could be more sensitive to it than others. This can make it difficult to fall asleep especially if your last caffeinated beverage was near bed time. Try to cut down on caffeine during the day and avoid it all together after 5pm. Consider herbal teas as a pre-bedtime drink . Some herbal teas contain sleep remedies such as lemon balm, valerian, lavender and passion flower and lime and even a well known sleep aid called Ashwaghanda. Ashwaganda can be taken in supplement form too 30 - 40 mins before sleep.

2- Switch off Devices.

Start to prepare your body and wind down for going to bed. Set an alarm 1 hour before your dedicated time factoring reading etc and switch off all screens such as TVs computers and mobile phones. This will prevent the temptation to keep working or being active on social networks and will limit your blue light exposure which is stimulating the brain. Blue light or artificial light also supresses the bodies natural production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, so at least switch your phone to the blue light blocking filter in the display settings or you can purchase blue light blocking glasses. The next step is to set yourself a bed time routine with the following:

3- Take a Hot Bath followed by a Cold Shower.

As part of a good recovery strategy for an active day, I will often have a hot bath with a good quality Magnesium bath salt, sometimes called Epsom salts. Check the ingredients and make sure its pure Magnesium Sulphate with only Pure essential oils added or add your own. About 80% of people are deficient in magnesium so it could be worth supplementing with Magnesium, but check with your GP first. A cold shower afterwards will cleanse the skin, raise the heart rate a bit to then allow the body to fall in a deep relaxed state for sleeping.

4. Practice Meditation.

There are some amazing relaxation and meditation apps out there to help with this. It does counteract the removal of devices and exposure to EMFs but if there are surrounding noises preventing you from sleeping then popping on some headphones with sounds available to lull you to sleep or help you meditate can be very beneficial. Otherwise if you are able to sit quietly for 5 minutes and meditate then this will really help you wind down and release the days thoughts.

5- Yoga Breathing/ Box breathing.

This can be done whilst meditating to help you focus or lying on your back on your bed with both legs up a wall to help relieve tired legs and blood pressure. By focusing on a breathing technique which includes retention, and counting to slow the breath will help with mind control and anxiety, something which often keeps us from sleeping. I will cover these techniques in a separate article or come along to my Hatha Yoga Class to learn the technique. Details can be found on the Yoga Page of my RIDE personal training website.

6- Set the Scene for Sleep Hygiene.

Your bedroom is should be like a sanctuary to create the correct environment for sleep hygiene. Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and free of clutter; set it to cool temperature of around 65 degrees F. as your body actually cools down to go into a deep sleep. The cold shower will also help your body cool down. Your Duvet and bed sheets should be made of 100% cotton or bamboo which allow for breathability and particularly if you are prone to allergies. See my recommendation link for quality bedding. If you have painful joints which keep you awake at night it maybe time to change your mattress and or pillow. This brings me onto my next tip which is inflammation in the body.

7. Reduce Inflammation.

Inflammation in the body can inhibit not only your ability to exercise and lose weight but also sleep, particularly as your pain threshold tends to be lower at night as your body becomes more sensitive as you tire. There are some foods which can help reduce inflammation in the body such as turmeric, fish oil and collagen found in bone broth. Try these natural alternatives before reaching for the Ant-Inflammatory drugs (NAIDS) which can upset the stomach.

8- Calming the Senses.

I have already mentioned about calming the mind through sound and meditation and the body through the sense of temperature, but what about smell? There are a number of studies which show how aromas can induce rest and relaxation to the nervous system. This is the practice of Aromatherapy and although I am not a qualified aromatherapist, I do have a basic knowledge of which essential oils are great for aiding sleep. Lavender is the most popular one to use for sleep as well as chamomile and rose. However Frankincense is a stronger more intense smell which is used for meditation and spiritual practice which maybe your choice for reflection and comfort before you fall asleep. Always dilute the essential oils before putting them on your skin with a carrier oil and seek professional advice if you are unsure on how to use them. Otherwise simply diffusing them into the air with a flame free oil diffuser is probably your safest option and what better way to lift your mood and breath your way to a good nights sleep.

9- Exercise.

Your ability to fall asleep at night and stay asleep can be helped by all of the above but if you have been sedentary all day, travelling or eating high sugar or processed foods in an air conditioned, artificially lit environment then you are most likely to be suffering from upset biological processes which can have an impact on your sleep-wake cycle. From poor digestion to high levels of stress and lack of sun exposure the body is unable control the timing of certain bodily functions such as tissue repair when you sleep and converting energy from food to move and control body temperature . This is known as your body clock or Circadian rhythm. If this is out of sync. because of life's demands then it is important to reset the body clock by doing regular physical activity ideally outside for natural sunlight exposure. 10 to 20 minutes of brisk walking or activity every day is enough to stimulate your circulation and natural rhythms.

10- .Track your Sleep.

There are several sleep tracking devices available and maybe worth investing in to help you to keep track of your sleep cycle. From fitness watches to a ring which will not use EMF energy if worn through the night. Most will link to an app. which will provide a reading of how well you slept through the various sleep stages. By learning how to interpret these readings you can see whether your daily routine is effective and make small changes to help improve your sleep cycle.