Sleep and Recovery for Optimal Health

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Sleep has become one of the most important components of my wellness routine. I used to push hard every day with cardio and weights in addition to spending a lot of time at work and doing extracurricular activities, skimping on sleep. I would catch up on sleep over the weekend and lived on coffee and caffeine. The experts have always said you can never “catch up” on sleep but life was busy and there never seemed to be enough time for everything. 

After immersing myself in what top thought leaders in the wellness world ranked as their top 10 strategies for staying healthy (https://blog.daveasprey.com/biohack/, for example),  I was surprised to know that recovery and sleep were near the top of their lists.  Hearing this from multiple sources was a wake-up call.  I realized that some of my headaches, lethargy and lack of fitness gains were the result of overtraining and not allowing my body to recover.  Constant stress to my body also lowered my immunity and I was susceptible to multiple colds and sinus infections.  With that knowledge and some tech help, I have been able to change this behavior. Even with a lot of work travel across multiple time zones, I manage to get my sleep and recovery in and stay well. It’s hasn’t always been easy but I think it’s worth it.  Let us know what you think.

Here are my top 10 hacks for helping me get enough sleep and recovery time:

  • Oura RingOura is a wearable tracker similar to the FitBit but in the form of a ring. Its computer is located inside the ring and it is waterproof allowing one to wear it easily throughout the day and at night. It syncs with an app on your phone. I can even put it in airplane mode throughout the day or night if I’m worried about EMF exposure.  This ring tracks your movement throughout the day but it shines while tracking your stats at night. I can get feedback on how well I slept with breakdowns of Deep vs REM vs Light Sleep. I can also see how many times I woke up, my body temperature, my average heart rate, and other metrics. All this data is run through an algorithm to give me a “Readiness” score each morning.  I can add tags to the day to indicate things that might have affected my sleep like travel, or late meals. Why I love it:  It has been most helpful for me to track my data and correlate what is affecting my sleep. If you like data and seeing your numbers improve based on behavior changes, this one is for you.  Find out more at oura.com. This is not an ad, it’s simply one of my favorite things!
  • No late meals – After wearing the Oura ring for a few months, it was abundantly clear that late meals increased my overnight heart rate and led me to toss and turn at night.  I now cut off night time eating at least 2.5 hours before bed. I may allow for a little snack right before bed which enhances the amount of deep sleep I get. 
  • Keep alcohol in check – Hand in hand with the late meals, Oura showed me the blatant affect that alcohol has on my sleep. I know we’ve all heard this before but seeing my own data was sobering (pun intended). Any alcohol (and believe me I’ve tried different drinks from beer to vodka to wine to bourbon) raised my average heartrate to over 70 BPM’s and tanks my deep sleep.  I am not a total abstainer. But I know when I choose to have a drink that I will be feeling the effects the next day. If I am flirting with getting sick, it will add days to my recovery time.
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  • Limit screen time and blue lights at night – By now, most of us have heard about limiting screen time due to blue light interfering with our circadian rhythms.  But some people don’t realize that most of the lighting in our homes is also blue light based,   All this blue light is signaling your brain that it is still daytime and along with computers, cell phones and even television screens, will interfere with your sleep.
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  • Before bed I both limit screen time and wear glasses with red lenses to filter out the blue light. This took some getting used to but makes such a difference in how I feel. I liken it to going camping and starting to get tired as soon as the sun goes down. You can find different products like TruDark or similar products through Amazon.
Blue Light Filter Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock
Be cautious of blue light too close to bedtime if you want good sleep.
  • Meditation – Do you meditate?  Honestly, most days I miss a daytime meditation because I am busy with other things (something to work on, I know). But at night, I RARELY miss a guided deep sleep meditation. I found the Insight Timer App to be user friendly and the basic program is free to use.  I ended up paying the yearly subscription of ~$50 so I could download meditations and use them while on airplanes or during other times I don’t have internet access.  My favorite at night: Relax into Deep Sleep with Meg James.  This 20-minute guided meditation calms the brain and I’m usually snoozing within the first 10 minutes.
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  • Sunshine on my shoulders – getting some sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning sets your circadian timeclock up for a great start.  And then a little more sunshine in the afternoon keeps you on track. These doses of sun throughout the day helps us be ready for rest at night when the sun goes down.  I try for 15 minutes in the morning and at least 15 minutes later in the day.  It might be easier for me since I live in a sunshiny state. If you don’t, you might invest in a light that mimics the sun.
  • Exercise, just right – For me I find that if I exercise too late in the day my heart rate doesn’t come down at night.  I’ve learned to time my workouts before 3 pm.  I may do an evening stroll or Yin yoga after dinner but earlier workouts work best for me. Experiment with what works best for your body.  Also, there is nothing wrong with trying a few things together at once like an early morning walk/jog outside in the sun while listening to a meditation.  I like efficiency, how about you? Also, I keep an eye on my overnight resting heart rate and adjust my workout schedule to allow for more recovery time if I need it. Surprisingly, I found I had been exercising too much and not allowing enough recovery time. It took me a while to get used to a slower pace but my health has thanked me.
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  • Cool bedroom – Research has shown that a cool room at night helps increase deep sleep.  You might need to come to an agreement with your partner on this but it’s easier to sleep with more layers if you’re cold than it is to cool off if you’re hot.  At least that’s the argument that has worked for me! 
  • Blackout curtains – Just as too much blue light during the day can wreck your sleep, light while your sleeping can also cut into your sleep time. Regular blinds and curtains don’t do it for me, I like total darkness and make my own black out curtains. I’ve found my local fabric store stocks an inexpensive black out material and I made simple liners with simple curtain rods.  Want a fancier look?  Buy pre-made curtains to layer with your blackout liners. I have found inexpensive black out curtains at off price stores like Ross and discounters like Big Lots. 
  • White noise – this may be a little controversial but I do like to run a white noise machine at night to block out ambient noise that might otherwise wake me up.  Some experts believe white noise machines might be too loud or do long term damage to hearing. If going this route, chose a machine that has lower decibels. Again, this helps me go into a deeper sleep and stay there longer.

If you are trying to maintain great health, give one or more of these a try. Let us know how it’s working for you. 

For further information I recommend reading any of the following:

Arizona State University published article on sleep during Covid-19, (https://asunow.asu.edu/20200327-trouble-sleeping-midst-covid-19, retrieved on 4/9/20). Sleep Research Society tips for better sleep during self- isolation https://www.sleepresearchsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Sleeping-Tips-solation.pdf, retrieved on 4/9/20). Wall Street Journal’s article about how to eat for better sleep, (https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-eat-if-you-want-better-sleep-11585138783, retrieved on 4/9/20).  Let us know what works for you and stay healthy

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