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4 Common Habits Sabotaging Your Sleep

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In addition to proper nutrition, hydration and recovery days, sleep can be one of the top factors that can make or break your fitness performance.

In a recent study looking at sleep quality and athletes, researchers noted that people who are in training tend to experience more sleep issues than non-athletes, due to training load and stress. The study also suggests athletes require more sleep than those who don’t work out because they have higher recovery needs.

But knowing that you should sleep and getting that sleep can be two very different things. When dreamtime proves elusive, there tends to be a slew of common sense strategies people use — yet it’s possible that, for some, those allegedly proven tactics are actually making the problem worse. Here are some habits you might be putting in place that are keeping you from getting enough shuteye:

1. TAKING MELATONIN AT THE WRONG TIME

Around sunset, your brain produces melatonin, a hormone designed to start a cascade of sleep-inducing reactions. But if you’re frazzled or anxious, the hormone might not be as abundant as you’d like. Because of that, many people turn to taking a melatonin supplement.

But they often pop it like a sleeping pill right before bed, thinking it’ll take effect immediately, according to W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Melatonin in the body tends to take around 3–4 hours, so if you’re taking it at 9 p.m., you might not sense any effects until about 1 a.m. — by then, you could be so frustrated by insomnia that you’re up watching TV instead, which will lower that melatonin back down.

2. GOING TO BED ONLY WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPY

Schedules become variable especially as seasons change — you stay out later on those bright summer nights, for example — and that can lead to hitting the sack when you’re tired. But too much variability can leave your body unsure about when to actually sleep, according to Mia Finkelston, MD, family practice physician.

“We can handle some changes to our usual routine, but not as much as you might think,” she says. “When you go to bed only when you’re tired, you’re introducing too much unpredictability into your sleep schedule. And that can catch up with you.”

3. COUNTING SHEEP (OR ANYTHING)

Some yoga and meditation breathing techniques rely on counting each inhale and exhale, so it makes sense that you might try to import that to your sleep routine. But Winter says some people find counting to be an anxiety-provoking exercise, instead of the de-stressor it’s meant to be.

“Maybe you get anxious if you hit double digits and you’re not asleep yet,” he says. “Or, you might have fallen asleep around 30 the night before but now you’re nearly at 50 and still counting. Then you might wonder if you’re doing something wrong.”

When that happens, it can sabotage your sleep efforts. Instead of counting, he recommends visualizing a well-known process that’s calming to you. For example, one of his patients “bakes” every night — she envisions getting out the measuring cups, chopping up ingredients, arranging the bowls for flour and sugar — and has found the process so effective, she jokes that nothing ever makes it into her imagined oven.

4. CHECKING THE CLOCK

Although it might seem like it would be a relief to know you have five hours left until you have to get up, looking at the clock is a bad habit, says Finkelston. It can be so counterproductive that she’s even advised some patients to put their alarm clocks in another room or the closet.

“To recognize how much time you have left to sleep, you have to wake up to a certain degree,” she says. “That might be just enough to kick you out of your cycle and cause some insomnia.”

READ MORE > HOW BAD SLEEP SABOTAGES YOUR FITNESS GOALS

BETTER HABITS, BETTER SLEEP

In general, it helps to play around with different strategies to see what works for you, says Winter. If melatonin is your jam and it’s working, that’s great. But if you’ve tried it for week or so and you’re still staring at the ceiling for an hour, then try switching it up instead.

“The last thing you want to do is try to force something to work, because then you’ll be agitated when it doesn’t,” he says. That can increase levels of cortisol — the hormone responsible for your stress response — and you’ll be back where you started.

Instead, try implementing good sleep practices, where consistency is key. Limit screen time before bed, set a regular bedtime and get up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends, sorry). Winter suggests starting a “wind-down routine” about a half-hour before bed, which can help send a signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.

creating healthy habits

BREAK IT DOWN: The Cat-Cow

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Cat–cow is a two-part yoga flow that stretches the front and back of the body while mobilizing the spine. It’s commonly included in yoga classes and in broader fitness sessions, often as part of a warm-up or mobility sequence.

By all appearances, it’s as easy as getting down on hands and knees, arching the back to lower the belly and point head and tailbone to the sky, and then reversing the move to round the back, tucking the chin and pelvis.

But it’s common for people to move quickly and aggressively between the cow (bitilasana) and cat (marjaryasana) poses. Often, limited mobility causes them to flex and extend well only in some segments of their spines. Moving fast and forcing deep flexion and extension can exaggerate these imbalances and lead to neck and lower-back pain.

To avoid these troubles, the first thing to do is slow down. Move through your range of motion painlessly, focusing on finding movement throughout your entire spine. Inhale as you drop your belly and move into cow; exhale as you round your spine for cat. Feel free to practice each pose individually, returning to a tabletop position instead of flowing between cat and cow.

Once you gain comfort flowing with control, explore ways to have fun with cat–cow or further adapt it to your needs. Try adding lateral movement by shifting your hips from side to side with each breath, or try rolling your shoulders back each time you exhale.

Challenge yourself to try to move extra slowly; imagine articulating through the spine vertebra by vertebra.

See what happens if you initiate the movement from your tailbone, especially if you tend to lead with your head and neck.

Practice the move in a chair or other seated position for a more upright variation of the pose.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in an active tabletop position; keep your neck in a neutral position, with your eyes looking down.
  2. Move first into cow: Inhale and lift your tailbone and chest toward the ceiling, as you allow your belly to relax downward. Lift your head to look forward.
  3. Round into cat: Exhale and draw your spine toward the ceiling. Relax the top of your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
  4. Reverse the motion on an inhale to move back into cow, and repeat the sequence. Stay active through your hands and feet, but take care not to shift your shoulders and hips forward or back by pushing hard into the floor.

WEBEXTRA

Seated Cat–Cow

  • Sit upright on a chair, stool, or bench with your hands in your lap or hanging loosely at your sides, your feet parallel and hip width apart. If your chair has a back, don’t lean into it; sit on the front edge of the seat.
  • Slowly roll the tops of your hips backward, rounding your lower back and allowing your head to tip forward so you are looking down at your lap.
  • Slowly roll the tops of your hips forward, arching your lower back and allowing your head to tip backward so you can look at the ceiling.
  • Repeat the sequence slowly and with control; focus on the breath and quality of movement rather than pushing or forcing your body to stretch. Draw your shoulders downward, away from your ears, while you perform the movement, and focus on the movement in the hip joints.

This article originally appeared as “The Cat-Cow” in the May 2021 issue of Experience Life.

The post BREAK IT DOWN: The Cat-Cow appeared first on Experience Life.

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Buff Bombshell Show Special Guest: Rachel Daniels

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In this week’s episode, the ladies – Emma Hyndman, The Posing Pro and Bikini Amateur Lauren Lotter – talk to the incredible Rachel Daniels. In a short but well-earned competitive career, Rachel has gone from IFBB Bikini amateur to Women's Physique pro and also made her Olympia debut in 2020. We have no doubt that Rachel is here to conquer all her goals, one being The New Era Poser.

We will be catching up with Rachel later this year to find out how she has progressed in her bodybuilding career and hear more about her continuing passion for the sport.

–Lauren & Emma

#FitnessRXforWomen #Olympia #WomensBodyBuilding #RachelDaniels

 

The post Buff Bombshell Show Special Guest: Rachel Daniels first appeared on FitnessRX for Women.

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STRONG BODY, STRONG MIND: Let’s Go Streaking

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I completed my 96th consecutive day of running today. In the past three months, I’ve logged about 185 miles.

This may or may not sound impressive to you. But for me, the part of this story that is the most bewildering is that for 96 days straight — no matter the weather (it’s been a hot and steamy summer; it’s August as I write) and no matter my mood (overwhelmingly anxious) — I have run at least one mile every day.

As someone who doesn’t identify as a “runner,” this is just wild.

The idea came to me last May. I’d spent the previous two months going on long daily walks, which was one way I coped with the early days of the pandemic. Turning one mile out of my four-mile loop into a run seemed like a good way to pick up the pace while increasing the difficulty.

This commitment lasted a couple of weeks, until a stormy day gave me an excuse to skip running and walking altogether. After 16 days of running, I patted myself on the back, lay back on the couch, and opened Instagram.

That’s when I saw one of a series of articles by my friend (and Experience Life contributor) Elizabeth Millard about the Runner’s World Run Streak, for which she profiled people who ran daily for weeks, months, even years! I was blown away. It turned out my little running experiment was nothing novel — and it even had a name.

A “run streak,” I discovered, refers to the number of consecutive days you go for a run. According to the United States Running Streak Association, all it takes is one mile per calendar day. As I dug deeper, I was inspired by seasoned streakers, including one woman who was working toward a 1,000-day streak.

On May 18, after my single day off, I recommenced with Day 1.

In doing so, I didn’t have a plan. I still just wanted to aim for a mile a day, at whatever pace felt right. I didn’t have an end date in mind: I figured my body would let me know when it was done. I promised myself that I’d listen.

Through the rest of May, June, and July, I ran my mile. At the beginning of August, on a whim, I signed up for the Twin Cities in Motion’s Looniacs Challenge to run 100 miles that month.

Now I was upping the ante by committing to increasing my daily distance from one mile to about three. It seemed like a big jump, but I was tempted — and still committed to listening to my body and stopping when it said enough.

Recovery — through proper nutrition, sleep, stress management, mobility work, and true rest — is always critical, no matter my activity. But over the years I’ve learned that recovering from runs is more challenging for me than recovering from other workouts. Although my mind loves running, my body isn’t always a fan.

So I doubled down on my recovery routine and focused on varying my running routes, distances, and intensity as much as I could.

I continued to cross-train, strength-training three times a week and doing brief yoga sessions almost daily. I’m convinced that my long history of strength, conditioning, and mobility work has supported me in my run-streak experience.

As occasional discomfort cropped up, I paid attention and took action. I invested in new running shoes and professional bodywork that I could maintain on my own. I listened to my body, yes, but I heeded my mind, too. My mind wanted to run. It wanted to know how far and how long I could go.

To date, the answer is 96 days and 185 miles. A part of me hopes that when you read this, I’ll still be streaking and feeling amazing. Perhaps I’ll be running my miles through snowdrifts, perhaps on a treadmill. Or perhaps my mind and body will have agreed to stop well before the season turned.

Either way, I’m grateful for the consistency that streaking has given me these last few months.

Each day, I’m guaranteed a workout, even if it’s just a 12-minute jog around my neighborhood. Each day, I find success by completing something hard, no matter how small or insignificant a mile might seem in the grand scheme.

And each day has been a reminder that small, hard things done consistently can amount to something huge — something that once might have been impossible.

This originally appeared as “Let’s Go Streaking” in the January/February 2021 print issue of Experience Life.

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