As promised I am going to tell you about some of the “hacks” that I’ve found helpful for enhancing sleep and recovery. It took me about a month to get the time to write this since I posted the first part of the series. Between training and working a lot I plan my days down to the minute and I can only fit so much in without jeopardizing things like SLEEP. After years of self-experimentation, the following are things that have helped me get quality sleep and I hope some of it strikes a chord with you!
There are generally two reasons why people are so tragically sleep deprived:
1. Not enough time (not really true, but it's an excuse I hear every day)
2. Insomnia, which is often caused by hormone disruption and lifestyle factors
There is no such thing as not having enough time. What that means is that sleepis not high on the “priority list”. I personally hate sleeping - it’s BORING, but I recognize and accept how important it is for my well-being and performance in my professional and athletic careers. Every day I have 1,000 things to get done that causes me to sacrifice other things in order to get adequate sleep. Whether you are trying to get ahead in your career or sport, you need to be on your “A game” both mentally and physically. Sometimes you just have to shut that Netflix series off and think about how you want to feel the next day! I always found it to be fascinating that I never want to get in bed at night but the next morning my bed feels like a magnet that I can’t pull away from (especially during those 4am wake-up times).
Here are my top tips for helping those time-crunched individuals out there who also want to take on the world:
1. Plan your day by working backwards: For example, if you have to wake up at 5:00am to get a workout in before going to work, that means you need to be asleep by 10pm- at the latest. You can write out your evening schedule like this (remember work backwards so start with writing the time at which you need to be "lights out"):
*10pm: Asleep/lights out
9:45pm- get in bed/ read a book
9:30-9:40- organize clothes for tomorrow, brush teeth
9:00-9:30- put kids to sleep (for parents!)
8:00-9:00pm- family time, laundry, etc...
6:30pm- home from work
**You would reverse this so it reads sequentially…
I do this every day (the schedule part- not the “put kids to sleep part”), and it keeps me on track and guarantees that I fit whatever I want into my busy schedule while also ensuring I get at least 7 hours of sleep!
If you already schedule time to sleep but you just can't stop tossing and turning all night, you might have a more complex problem. Many times, sleep issues are caused from hormonal imbalances. High cortisol is one of the most well known, but there are many other hormones that affect the quality of your sleep: estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, pregnenolone, and insulin. You can have all these measured through saliva testing, but I recommend finding a doctor who believes in the use of bioidentical hormones (if necessary), and natural healing as opposed to a conventional doctor who will likely give you Ambien or some other brain-altering drug. Hormone imbalance is an epidemic in our country, caused by many factors including the food we eat, lifestyle, mold-illness, Lyme Disease, and more. It often gets masked by its symptoms through medical diagnoses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, depression, insomnia, attention disorders, anxiety, and others. Instead of just masking the symptom, it's critical to find the cause.
Some things that have helped me with sleep :
1. Melatonin Stabilization: Most OTC melatonin products come in doses of 3mg, 5mg, and even 10mg! Keep in mind that melatonin is a HORMONE and is very dangerous if not properly administered! Your body should produce adequate and balanced levels, but for many of us that is not the case because of our electronic-based environment which disrupts the body’s natural production. It is critical that you are careful when using hormones without the guidance of a doctor. If you take melatonin and your levels become too high you can suppress estrogen and testosterone in your body. If you have inadequate levels of melatonin, you can increase the risk of age-related diseases. Melatonin is also an immune stimulator, so if you have an autoimmune disease you need to talk with your doctor because it can exacerbate the issue. It is also not recommended for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, on prescription steroids (often for autoimmune diseases), are depressed or have mental illness. This is serious stuff so don't just casually pop a melatonin pill because you can buy it at CVS. I rarely use melatonin anymore but if I do, I only take .75mg and it helps me fall asleep without feeling hung-over the next day.
Symptoms of excess melatonin include: Vivid or intense dreams and nightmares (scary!), headaches, suppression of serotonin (which means more carb cravings!), and waking up feeling groggy (melatonin hangover!). Not to mention the hormone disruption that it can cause...
Causes of excess melatonin include: Supplementation of melatonin, certain medications (Fluvoxamine, Thorazine, Desipramine, and others), and even foods (bananas, corn, tomatoes, walnuts, rice, cherries, and oats).
I've stopped using melatonin all together. I will use it on occasion when I need to get to sleep earlier or if I am traveling, but I would never use it every night. Unless your doctor tells you that you need to supplement with melatonin, there are ways that you can naturally stabilize your body's production:
1. Natural sunlight in the morning: Getting exposure to the sun in the morning is critical. If you can't get outside you can purchase an indoor sun lamp which mimics the sun's light. It helps reset your circadian rhythm (which is your body's natural hormonal fluctuations that dictate your sleep patterns). These lamps are cheap and all you have to do is sit in front of it (don't stare into it!) in the morning while you drink your coffee or get ready for work.
2. Avoid blue light at night: Televisions, iPads, cell phones, and other electronics give off "blue" light that shuts down your natural melatonin production. I'm not going to tell you to get rid of your electronics, but there are two things that I have that help block the blue light. 1) Blue light blocking glasses which help filter this light at night (google search for different options). 2) Install the free "FLux" app on your computer and iPhone. This app will automatically create a red hue on your screen in the evening until morning minimizing your exposure to blue light at night.
One last thing- magnesium. It is one of the most potent and powerful minerals on the planet, and most of us are walking around deficient causing muscle cramps, restless legs, insomnia, migraines, and other debilitating symptoms. While the recommended daily intake is 300mg, most people get less than 200mg a day! Part II of the series is going to be in-depth on supplements, but because I've noticed such an improvement in my sleep by using this I wanted to mention it here. The best way to take it is through a transdermal spray or cream (which you can spray directly on sore and tired muscles). Ancient Minerals is a great company that offers different options for supplementing.
Enough writing, I’m off begin my first run of the day!
I want to hear from you! Please reach out to me if you ever have any questions at all! I love helping when I can!