My Small Tweak: Healthier Sleep


When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, “Did you sleep well?”
I said, “No, I made a few mistakes.”
–    Steven Wright

 

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The National Sleep Foundation says adults require 7-9 hours of sleep each night, or all sorts of world catastrophes occur.  And you don’t have to look for long to verify how important sleep is to your health.  The evidence is everywhere:

 

And that’s just the first five minutes worth on Google.  It really is impossible to ignore how important it is to consistently get a good night’s sleep.

Now, I generally take pretty good care of my health.  I’ve never smoked.  I eat pretty well.  I get in resistance training a few days each week.  And my cardio training is off the charts.  But I am TERRIBLE about sleep.  I’ll often stay awake long past Stef – sometimes working on the website, but often doing nothing of value at all – and I usually wake up with her (if not before).  A typical night of sleep for me is about 6 hours, if I’m lucky.  And when you consider that highly active people need even more sleep than the general population… well, this leaves me chronically sleep deprived.  That’s just not right.  We’re “The Fit RV” for crying out loud!

But wait – it gets worse!  Inadequate sleep is not only bad for your general health; it’s bad for athletic performance as well.  The body releases Human Growth Hormone (HGH) when you sleep.  Exogenous HGH (stuff from a needle or pill) is actually a banned, performance-enhancing drug.  But the stuff made by your body naturally is A-OK.  So by not getting adequate sleep, I’m actually cheating myself and undermining my on-the-bike training.  It’s like I’m reverse doping!

Fine.  So I know I need to sleep more, and better.  This is where the “one small change” philosophy comes in.  There is plenty of advice out there on proper sleep hygiene, and all of these articles agree on at least these things:

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol later in the day
  • Eliminate distractions at bedtime
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule

 

I know that trying to change all of these at once will fail.  (I’ve already tried it.)  And it would probably leave me angry and even more stressed about sleep.  But I figure I can change one thing at a time.  And when that becomes a habit, I’ll move on to the next.  So, my first one small tweak will be the following:

I will not consume caffeine after 4pm.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal to many of you.  But you also don’t know the depth and breadth of my caffeine addiction.  For me, this will actually be pretty difficult.  No, extremely difficult.  This means no more late-afternoon lattes (sorry, Stef), no energy drinks so I can keep driving the RV, no coffee after dinner.  None of that.

Caffeine Addiction

I’m starting tomorrow.  I can be pretty disciplined when I want to be, so hopefully I can make the “no caffeine after 4” a habit before cycling season gets into full swing.  Then I can start on the next one.  Wish me luck!

 



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


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