Ask Amanda: Sleep Goals

Before you read this, ask yourself: did I sleep enough last night?  Most of us busy people would almost immediately say no, and those of us who didn’t are probably lying.

What counts as “enough” anyway?  Who cares if I don’t sleep?  And what’s the long-term effect of sleeplessness on health, body, mind – all of it?  #AskAmanda has you covered this week.

In our go-go-go society, especially where the pressure for us to achieve, demonstrate, and act is so high, successful people have somehow become martyrs for sleeplessness.  As a trainer, I see firsthand the effects of this lack-of-sleep mentality in the gym.  My clients that come in exhausted aren’t able to push as hard, they forget or misunderstand instructions more often, they get frustrated with simple tasks or deviations in their programs, and their heart rates soar through the roof even at lower intensities.

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I have been known to actually turn away clients that come to me on fewer than five hours’ sleep since what they really need is a nap – not an hour of a*s-kicking.

Sleep is an absolutely crucial part of a full fitness regimen, and not one to be taken lightly.  The adult human body functions best on about seven hours of sleep, but these must be quality (read: not up-and-down, mind-reeling, restless) hours.  One of the best moves you can make for your “sleep hygiene” is to set a bedtime and a wake-up time, and stick to it – or within 30 minutes of it – all week (yep, that includes weekends).  I absolutely love the iPhone’s new Bedtime mode for helping you do this – set one alarm all week and get reminders on when you should be in bed (that pop up most often while you’re up checking your phone, ahem).

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Once you’ve got the consistency thing down with your sleeping hours, you can focus on making your sleep quality top-notch.  Invest in a real, adult mattress and luxurious, soft sheets – your bed is the one thing in your house (besides your toilet, ha) that you rely on every single day – so it’s worth every bit of money you put into it.  Spray your sheets with relaxing essential oils, get a dimmer on your bedroom light switch, cut the alcohol and caffeine at least two hours before you crawl into your cocoon, and remove any unnecessary electronics from your reach so you’re not tempted to check your phone, watch one last episode of Suits, or do anything other than sleep in your bed (I have been known to put my iPhone on a very short charging cord so I literally cannot get to it from my bed once it’s plugged in, and I also have to get OUT of bed to turn my alarm off in the AM, which helps me wake up).

If you’ve mastered sleeping regularly and sleeping well (which, let’s be honest, from a health perspective is about as easy as saying you’ve “mastered” eating clean and cooking nightly), you’re ready to reap the myriad benefits of healthy sleep patterns, which include:

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The more you have on your plate, the harder it is to settle your mind and “wind down” for a good night’s sleep – as a trainer, wellness coach, and small business owner I absolutely understand that.  This is where some mindfulness training – whether it’s formal “meditation” or not – can help.  I’m a big fan of apps for this – helpful for me since I spend a lot of time commuting on public transit with my headphones on – but going to a meditation center, reading a mindfulness book, or even just sitting for 5 minutes in a quiet room with your eyes closed can get the job done – and set you up for better, more peaceful sleep at night.

I don’t know about you, readers, but all this sleep talk has me ready for a nap (check out a past #AskAmanda for even more specific nap-related tips) – who’s with me?

Are you a religiously good or chronically poor sleeper?  What are your best tricks for a good night’s rest?

The Top Ten Naps You Aren’t Taking

I just woke up from a 30-minute nap.  I feel fantastic.

But when I casually mention to friends and acquaintances that I’m a (self-proclaimed) champion napper, I often get this response: “I would nap, but whenever I wake up I feel groggier than before I napped.”

My response?

Maybe you’re doing it wrong.

I think naps are a near-necessary part of life, somewhat in the same category as bungee shoelaces, Otter boxes, and pre-peeled hard boiled eggs.  If you get a regular 7-8 hours of sleep per night without fail and have a fairly sedentary day job, well, good for you – you might not need a nap.  

But if you are like me – burning the candle at both ends and working a job that requires you to be on your feet and moving from dawn to dusk – then you darn well could use some additional help.  And I have some suggestions.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to napping, just like there’s no single solution for exercise or weight loss.  You have to try different things until something works – which is why I present to you my greatest hits list on napping:

10) The Psuedo-Sleep.  This is for those times when you just did NOT get enough sleep last night (I’m talking 4-5 hours) and you are dead exhausted.  This also works best for when you actually have time to nap – perhaps a weekend? – and can lay it down for a couple of hours.  I don’t recommend letting it go past 3 hours, but my general rule is this: take 7 hours and subtract the amount of sleep you actually got last night.  That’s how long you should pseudo-sleep.

9) The Power Hour.  Got an hour for lunch?  You may have time for an eat n’ sleep duo – use a half hour to eat a healthy, light meal, then take the other half hour to snooze it up.  Avoid trying to do this after a heavy meal – despite feeling more sluggish – because you may get more than you bargained for in terms of the sleep quality.

8) The Doze.  Ok, so this isn’t technically a nap – those of us who do yoga might call this the “extended savasana.”  The basic idea behind The Doze is to lie down on your back somewhere flat, quiet, and calm (this can be a yoga mat in your office!) and focus on closing your eyes, relaxing the muscles of your body from head to toe, and inhaling and exhaling your breath deeply and slowly for just 10 minutes (set a timer).  Simply focusing on something non-stressful for 10 minutes can feel like a spa day in the middle of chaos – try it!

7) The Double Doze.  Should you have the glorious “ideal nap duration” of 20 minutes, start with The Doze above, but let yourself drift off into sleep after about 5-10 deep breaths.  Ahhhh, that’s better.

6) The Sandwich.  Sometimes I have odd breaks in my schedule – a half hour before a client; a half hour after.  This is when I’ll split my nap time into two – take a quickie before I head to work, then take another little one afterward.  Ideally each nap only lasts 20 minutes, but the resultant rest feels like you’ve gotten a full hour – plus you’ve actually done something productive in between!

5) The Midnight Special.  Perfected in college, this nap is also known as the “pregame” – when 8pm rolls around and you’re expected to go out for the night, but instead you feel like throwing on your jammies and calling it a night – pound down a Midnight Special – typically a 5-hour Energy shot followed by a 20-30 minute doze.  Is it healthy for regular use?  Of course not.  But if you’ve got a special occasion to buck up for and you’re just not in the mood, this can change your game.

4) The Car Nap.  Yeah, you heard what I said.  So you work a day job and can’t steal home to the glory of your own bed?  Hop down to your vehicle!  I actually keep a pillow in my trunk for car naps because they are a vital part of a long-commuting day – find yourself a shady spot in the far reaches of a parking garage or lot and hunker down in your own backseat.  Pro tip: make sure to crack a window to avoid waking up in a pool of your own sweat.

3) The Postrun.  I often get a massive wave of fatigue after finishing a long run, bike ride, or hot yoga session – and I know it’s only because of the immediate exertion and not an all-day thing.  That said, it can be hard to power through that initial feeling of tiredness – so I hop in the shower, get clean, and fall into bed for a 20-25 minute respite while my wet hair dries (and sometimes with a pore-cleaning face mask on as well!).  Talk about beauty rest!

2) The Snuggler.  This one gets a high ranking on my list because it does a body good – in more ways than one.  Sometimes (i.e. all the time) I wake up earlier than my partner, so I do my regular morning tasks (take clients, go running, bathe, etc.) and come home when he is still sleeping.  When this happens, I’ll hop into bed and spoon it up for a short while – usually 10-20 minutes – just to sync up my breathing with his and get some high-quality cuddle time.  Even though I may not actually fall asleep, this often works to make me feel calm and relaxed in the same way an actual nap would do.

1) The Coffee Nap.  IMO, the king of naps – this is the one where you have a cup (or…two) of coffee (non-drinkers try some green tea!), then immediately hit the sack for 20-30 minutes.  As you rest, the caffeine kicks in, and when your alarm goes off – BOOM!  You shoot out of bed like a firecracker on the Fourth.  Don’t believe me?  Maybe you don’t brew your coffee strong enough. 😉  

Are you a napper or a night-only sleeper?  What’s your preferred napping style – even if it isn’t listed here?