Updated: Dec 15, 2022
If I had to recommend only one fitness activity, it would be . . . SLEEPING! That’s because health and fitness needs will never be met when sleep is lacking.
Seven to eight (mostly) uninterrupted hours is the recommendation for adults. For many folks, a good night’s sleep may seem like just a dream, especially during a busy and stressful time like the holidays. Asking you to consider prioritizing sleep now may feel like a big request, but NOW is the BEST time. Here’s why:
THE BAD. When sleep is lacking, you can experience decreased brain function, prolonged elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and other hormonal imbalances, increased risk of heart disease, decreased productivity and performance, and poor immune responses. AND YOU’RE PROBABLY CRANKY, TOO!
THE GREAT. While you are sleeping, your brain clears out waste from cells, breathing and heart rates reset, blood pressure becomes regulated, and hormones are released to facilitate the process of repairing tissues. Your body needs that full 7-8 hours to complete this work so you can wake up in the best-prepared shape to manage the day’s activities and stresses.
THE BONUS! If being over-obligated (i.e. saying “no”), having one too many drinks, or being inconsistent with workouts have been ongoing challenges for you, prioritizing sleep is a positive and sustainable way to help you gain or regain control over these struggles.
Here are a few things you can do RIGHT NOW to get quality and sufficient sleep:
1. Make a sleep schedule that allows for 7-8 hours per night, with a consistent sleep/wake time, and stick to this schedule as best you can. This may mean you have to leave a party early or cut some things on your to-do list, but your health is way more important.
2. Limit your intake of alcohol. Sorry to be the bearer of this news, but alcohol disrupts sleep. Your best sleep is sober sleep.
3. Exercise! Exercise helps regulate cortisol levels so your body is ready for sleep at the end of the day (as long as you do NOT workout within a few hours of bedtime). If you can’t make it to the gym, take a 20-30 minute walk in your neighborhood or do this quick, home-based body weight workout: https://www.strongernowstudio.com/post/full-body-workout-just-5-movements. [NOTE! If you are seriously fatigued, a high-intensity workout can have the opposite effect on your ability to sleep AND can increase your risk for injury. Opt for a less strenuous workout, a nap or an earlier bedtime.]
4. Take time before your head hits the pillow to relax your body and clear your mind. Gentle stretches, deep breathing, mediation, and listening to music are a few ways to prepare your mind and body for sleep.
Adopt any of these activities that work for you now, and then introduce more, as you are able. You will be on your way to minimizing stress and increasing your energy, patience and enjoyment of this special time of year and beyond.