Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re planning your day, or maybe your week. You’re trying to get fit, so you schedule in some gym time. You’ve been trying to eat healthier, so you know you need to leave some extra cooking time. Maybe you’re making it a point to drink water instead of soda and you have your water bottle ready before you go to bed so you can grab it on your way to work. Because you know all of these things have to fit in with the rest of your life, you’ve scheduled in meetings, work tasks, and even some down time with your significant other.
You do all of these things and you feel like you’re on the right path, but then your plan goes awry. You stay up a little late catching up on emails or watching Sportcenter, and your entire morning is thrown off when you sleep in an extra thirty minutes to try to catch up.
How could you do all of that planning and still get thrown off your game?
Here’s your answer: everything in fitness begins and ends with sleep, including your nutrition.
You can’t work as hard in the gym—or even make it to the gym—if you’re not sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
You can’t recover as well from a hard training session if you’re not sleeping seven to eight hours a night.
You won’t make sound nutritional choices if you’re not sleeping seven to eight hours per night. (Don’t believe me? Compare your willpower when you’re fully rested to your willpower when you’re sleepy or fading.)
If all of this is true (and even intuitive), why don’t we schedule sleep when we fill in our calendars? What we do instead is pack our schedules full and then hit the pillow whenever we get to it. But given the importance of sleep to everything we do, a wiser choice would be to begin our daily or weekly calendar with seven or eight hours of sleep assumed and then build the rest of the schedule around that time.
When I started doing this for myself, a surprising thing happened. I panicked because there didn’t seem to be as many hours in the day, but I found myself getting stronger, injured far less frequently, and far less prone to illness. I had fewer waking hours, but I was more productive in the hours I had left after building in a dignified night of sleep.
Americans especially seem to pride ourselves on how little we’re sleeping, but study after study shows that this is a terrible approach for both productivity and health. When you’re thinking through your schedule tomorrow and beyond, I encourage you to start with sleep and build from there. If you’re like most people, you’ll be better able to function at work, more likely to go to the gym and work hard, and more likely to make sound nutrition choices.
Of course, once you’ve made the choice to get more sleep you need to make sure you actually shut your eyes and drift off.
- Turn off electronics an hour before bed.
- Sleep in a cool, dark room.
- Think of three things from the previous day for which you are specifically thankful. Don’t just say, “family,” say, “I’m grateful for my sister’s great advice when I asked her about switching jobs.” This gratitude practice forces your brain to search for positivity, which can decrease anxiety and make falling asleep easier.