Considering how often I ask and advise people on their sleep habits, it is surprising I have not written more on the topic until now. I have suggested many times in my career that getting good sleep is more of a priority than waking up early to work out. The more I learn through various health disciplines, reading, and experience, I find that sleep is a huge priority for maintaining good health in every way. Consider sleep to be your own personal fountain of youth-everything in your body functions more optimally with good quality rest.
Years ago, when I was enjoying more libations than I do now, I noticed I was working out consistently and not quite in the shape I wanted to be. I had the privilege of attending a seminar with Dr John Berardi and posed the question-how can I have all the fun I want and stay in shape? His advice was to improve my sleep quality, even though I had declared I got 7-8 hours of sleep consistently. This was a real eye opener: I have always considered myself to be a good sleeper, as I knew how important it was for me to get 8 hours of sleep to feel fully energized and did so most of the time. Since the time I received that advice, I have studied my own habits and worked to make sleep even more of a priority. Dr. Berardi’s advice was fantastic, I just worked on improving my sleep and got into better shape, which is definitely easier than dieting or working out more.
There are lots of tips out there on how to improve our sleep. However, I notice that sleep while being one of the most important health habits to improve, is also one of the most challenging to change in the sense of our entrenched beliefs and each personality’s unique proclivities. We all manage to cope and function in life with varying sleep quality, so it is fairly easy to become accustomed to whatever our current pattern is…therefore we are unlikely to feel much need or motivation to make changes to our sleep habits on any given day when we feel fine.
For example, a question I love to ask is: if it was required, would you rather stay up all night or wake up super early? This gives us some insight into whether we are more of a morning or a night person. Since I was a teenager, I have known myself to prefer staying up late than wake up early. In fact, I would even say it is quite difficult for me to go to sleep much before 11:30pm. I have heard from so many different sources over the years that it is better for our health and hormones through balancing our circadian rhythms to time our sleep patterns to the rising and setting of the sun. Have I ever been able to attempt to do this? Not until the past few weeks…
The book Lights Out came recommended in an article by John Paul Catanzaro, a strength training guru I have known for many years. The book piqued my curiosity and details some highly interesting theories on our sleeping, eating, mating habits and our health. As I read all about the benefits of sleep, I had 2 busy trips within 2 weeks to different time zones that left me a bit tired when I returned home. At the same time, there were some beautiful sunsets to watch at home, so I got into a habit of leaving the lights off in my living area to enjoy the natural light. The surprising thing that happened was I noticed feeling tired and ready for bed considerably earlier than usual. With this feeling, I was able to observe that ordinarily, if I had the lights on, I would easily push past this tiredness and find a second wind that would take me to midnight. I was tired enough from my travels to feel the need to honour when my body felt tired to get to bed earlier. However, I had to make a pact with myself that I must go to bed when I felt tired, which was easier said than done, since I was fighting my urge to accomplish just a few more things. Even though I would say I generally sleep well, I felt my sleep quality improve in waking up without an alarm, feeling even more energetic and happy that I have been motivated to keep the lights off habit going.
All this to say that even when we think our habits of being a night owl are unlikely to change, being willing and open to possibilities can bring about change (especially when there is a beautiful sunset to enjoy), even for a brief period of time. I would say I feel great when I wake up just about every day (except for those super early mornings), and I have been amazed to feel even better! I would never have guessed that I would be able to get into the habit of going to bed earlier at the start of summer, a time of year I have always relished staying up late. So if this change can happen in an avowed night owl such as myself, pretty much anything is possible and every little thing you do in the spirit of taking care of yourself adds up!
If all this talk sparks any interest in you to feel the benefits of improving your sleep habits, such as losing fat and improving your health by helping your hormones such as insulin function better: Try maximizing your exposure to natural light (be outside!) and minimizing your exposure to artificial light once the sun goes down. My number one tip that I live by is quit television or computer time before 10pm, and I realize this is easy for me to say since I have do not own a television. Secrets of a Good Night’s Sleep, which can be found in my recommended reading section, is a fantastic easy to read resource in learning about psychological nature of sleep, observing and improving your own habits, and even ways to cope with insomnia.
Making Life Good recommends spending lots of time outdoors and keeping the lights off to fully enjoy the upcoming summer solstice-cheers to a happy, healthy summer with sweet dreams!