Four ways to improve your sleep
Training and nutrition are fitness fundamentals, but sleep holds the real key to results.
Improving your health and physique requires a dedicated diet and exercise regime, but if you thought that the hard work ended there, you’d be mistaken. Recovery is where you really reap the rewards of your time spent pumping iron - with sleep a particularly powerful tool.
If you’re struggling for shut-eye, here are four ways in which you can improve:
TIP 1: Dim the lights
Your body has a built-in sleep clock, known as a circadian rhythm. This is largely regulated by the natural cycle of day and night. In an ideal world, you'd wake when the sun rises, and head to bed when it sets.
Modern-day lifestyle habits can throw this off-course, however. Shift patterns and unnatural light can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to switch off.
There is a solution - and it doesn't involve smashing every lightbulb in your house or telling your boss to shove it.
Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed. Studies have shown it can take 60% longer to get to sleep when using them at night. Switch your smartphone off, even if you've just got a new match on Tinder.
TIP 2: Kick the caffeine habit
Whether you get your energy fix from a coffee, energy drink or pre-workout supplement, the performance-enhancing properties of caffeine are clear.
A hot cup of Joe can help you lift heavier weights for longer due to its ability to reduce your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This level of stimulation isn't what you need when you're trying to switch off, though.
Keep your daily caffeine intake to around 400mg or below. That roughly equates to around three Americanos.
It is also advised that you limit any consumption of caffeine beyond 5pm as it takes five or six hours to leave your system once ingested.
TIP 3: Create a healthy sleep environment
A good night's kip owes a great deal to a healthy sleep environment. A messy bedroom equals a restless night.
A study published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal provided helpful tips for ensuring your place of rest is the best.
Your bedroom should be quiet. It goes without saying, but noise pollution can really interrupt your sleeping pattern. Whether that involves turning the TV off or shutting the window to block out industrial sound, pick the right option for you.
In terms of temperature, find a happy medium. You'll struggle to get enough sleep when your room is too hot or too cold. Maintain a stable room temperature of around 18°C.
TIP 4: Don't cut out carbs
The whole 'no carbs before Marbs' shtick has permeated many people's minds and created a climate whereby the food group is viewed with deep suspicion. This is wrong.
Ever felt sleepy after eating a meal rich in starchy carbs? Foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes prompt the release of serotonin in your body, which converts to the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin.
Not great at the office, but ideal when you're trying to nod off. You'll also be pleased to know that fat doesn't automatically accumulate at night after eating carbs.
Many athletes carb-load the night before important games and events. Excessive calories are the real cause of a belly bulge.
Take our quiz to find out how healthy you really are.