Sleep (you probably aren't getting enough of it)

Emma SheffertEmma Sheffert Member, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

Hey All,

I was in the process of trying to share some info on sleep with a client when I realized that there wasn't good discussion about sleep on the forum yet. I found some resources that I love that I wanted to share with the rest of you.

The first comes from Precision Nutrition all about why sleep is so important and how to "hack" sleep to get into the best bedtime routine that you can (, or an infographic if that suits you better The thing that stood out most to me in reading this was the goal of getting "7-9 hours of sleep per night". I don't know about you, but I feel lucky when I am able to get a solid 7, let alone 9. For a much more detailed article on the importance of sleep, check out this article( Spark notes: it could be impacting your fitness goals more than you think!

At this point you might be thinking "Cool Emma, I do all the things I'm supposed to but I still toss and turn once I lay down. I can't get my brain to stop working!" I get that! I've been there and there might be nothing more frustrating than staring at the ceiling and trying to force yourself to sleep. One of the techniques that me and many others have found relief in is meditation. This doesn't have to be a long drawn out process of clearing your mind and becoming connected to you body and soul, it can be as simple as slowing your heart rate down and focusing on your breathing. The first time I ever felt the effects of this was through using the breathing feature on my Fitbit (my new Apple Watch has a similar feature). If you need someone walking you through this process or something more specific to focus on, I recommend the app (thanks @Kemper Sosa for showing me!). They have just about any length meditation you could want. Play around with what features and types you like best, you never know what might fit you!

What other activities/routines/techniques do you use to help you fall asleep? I can't wait to try more suggestions!


  • Kelley  HolmesKelley Holmes Member Rank ✭2✭

    Hi @Emma Sheffert ! Thank you for posting a discussion about sleep! I'm curious about other suggestions for activities/routines, as well. The importance of sleep is actually something that I've recently been interested in. @Eileen McNally and I had a discussion in one of our meetings about sleep and it really got me thinking about my sleep habits. I read this great book, "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the importance of sleep. It's a little technical and sciency, but it has so much great information and was still easy to understand. He also included a list of 12 tips for healthy sleep. One tip that stayed with me from his list was; if you are tossing and turning, don't lay in bed. Get up, do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep can actually make it harder to fall asleep.

    I meditate and use insight timer as well, thanks to Eileen! Especially on the nights where I feel I can't turn my brain off. Reading is also an activity I generally do to unwind and relax before bed. As long as is it a paper book and not on an electronic device. One thing that I am trying to work on is keeping a constant sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Getting up around the same time every day, even if I don't have to go to work. I find that helps to make getting up on Monday mornings not as bad!

  • Angela JohnsonAngela Johnson Member Rank ✭6✭

    @Emma Sheffert: I saw the word "sleep" and thought "yyuzzz, a thread about sleep!"

    Establishing a literal bedtime + exercise is how I always ensured I got enough sleep. Different times though now, and so I take melatonin as a sleep support. Meditation app of choice is Stop, Breathe & Think. I like SBT because you're encouraged to self identify how you feel physically + emotionally each time you use the app and then you're provided with recommended meditations based on what you self identified that day. If you've an iphone, it also shows you an 'over time' indicator of how you felt physically/emotionally on a given day. The paid version is worth the investment and if you're a teacher, there's a free membership option.

    *photos from a google search*

    Over time indicator:

    Emotional/Physical Check In:

  • Beth ManoogianBeth Manoogian Member Rank ✭7✭

    Great topic @Emma Sheffert - I'll echo your recommendation for bedtime meditation. Insight timer is great, I also use the meditation content on the Peloton app. I'm usually out in a few minutes. Also, if I'm feeling really wound-up, sometimes I just do some gentle stretching or restorative yoga before bed and it helps prepare me for sleep.

    I think the other important point that most of us (including me) disregard is that screen time, especially right before bed, can disrupt sleep. This is definitely something that can be worked into an AFS daily goal/reminder as well!

  • Sawyer Paull-BairdSawyer Paull-Baird Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin
    edited November 2019

    I echo everyone's thanks about starting this thread, @Emma Sheffert . Sleep is immensely important, but also feels at times so outside of our control.

    I have found the following strategies helpful, in order of ease of implementation:

    1) Ensure your space is completely dark (blackout drapes etc.)

    2) Try using a white noise app

    3) No screen time 45 minutes before bed, instead, read a book, use a mindfulness app, etc. Something that isn't too stimulating. At the very least, switch your phone to night-time mode which changes the light emitted away from blue light that can inhibit the bodies signals for sleep.

    4) Dim/turn down or off all lights 30-60 minutes before bed

    5) Go to bed earlier =P

    6) Establish consistent sleep/wake times.

    Also, exercise can be helpful for improving sleep as well which is just one more reason to stay consistent with an exercise routine.

    Lastly, some research indicates that eating too large of a meal very close to bed time can reduce sleep quality.

    Awesome topic!

    Sawyer Paull-Baird BS CSCS ACSM-EP PN-Lvl1
    Agent of Change / Fitness Innovation & Education Coordinator
  • Amanda RunyonAmanda Runyon Member Rank ✭2✭

    Some great ideas here - thanks, @Emma Sheffert, for starting this conversation!

    During the worst periods of insomnia that I've had (generally post-surgery, when everything is just off), I've had success with the Sleep With Me podcast, which is designed to literally bore you to sleep. I've never made it through an entire episode! I usually fire it up and set the sleep timer on the iPhone podcast app.

    The thing I struggle with the most, sleep-wise, is that I'm by nature a night owl in a morning-person world. I've tried over the years to make myself into a morning person, and the result is that I'm usually just sleep-deprived. Any tips for successfully moving your bedtime back so that you can wake up early and still be refreshed?

  • Corinne AlbrechtCorinne Albrecht Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭8✭

    @Amanda Runyon Amanda! Miss you around here, first of all :)

    When I needed to change my bedtime from 11pm to around 9 or 9:30pm, I had to really take it in steps. Like all things, over-committing guaranteed failure, and under-committing guaranteed I'd make excuses. The first thing I needed to do was change when I had dinner! For me, I think of my after-dinner time as my relax time, and when I was eating dinner at my normal time (like 7:30/8pm) and only having an hour before bed, it was really upsetting to not have the chunk of time I wanted. In order to give myself enough room to feel like I really had evening free time, I started eating dinner around 5:30/6pm.

    The next thing I did was stop comparing new me to old me. Instead of wistfully saying "normally I'd have 4+ hours still to go before bed, but here I bed......", I adjusted my mindset to the amount of sleep I was getting and the amount of energy I'd gain. I'd look forward to having the energy to be more present with the people I love, or to put more gusto in my job. "Going to bed right now means I'll be a better listener tomorrow," for example.

    I need to be ready for bed way before it's time for bed, so I also started setting alarms/reminders that didn't tell me it was time to go to bed, but that it was close to time. At 8pm I'd get a notice of "1.5 hours till bed!" It gave me the opportunity to think about what activities I actually had time for. I couldn't mindlessly binge a Netflix show and then suddenly realize it's 10pm because I knew ahead of time what I could afford. I also knew my bedtime routine takes me 25-35 minutes (which I timed to figure out!) so I knew at 8:30 or 9, it was absolutely time to shut everything off.

    Hope that helps :) I'm by no means an expert but these are what worked for me!!

  • Allen LillyAllen Lilly Member Rank ✭2✭

    I am downloading the insight timer app now. Sleep is something I lack a lot of. I used to be a night owl myself, but now I have forced myself to get up at 4-430am and be in the gym at 5am. Now I am in bed around 9-10pm, but winding down has been a struggle and sometimes I don't fall asleep till midnight.

    I get about 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night and it's been a balance issue for me. Because I get up and work out so early and get home around 5pm after work I feel like I don't have a lot of time left for myself. Perhaps I am just looking at it wrong. I have thought about getting a weighted blanket but they are really expensive. I am going to try some of the suggestions on here though cause I know being in the gym 5-6 days a week I'm not letting my body get enough rest. Thanks guys for the suggestions!

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    I second the weighted blanket. I bought one on a recommendation on another discussion @Corinne Albrecht! But I've been using it for the past week and a half, and this is the best sleep I have had in a LONG time! I fall asleep with-in about 20 minutes. If I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I still go back to sleep in a few minutes. It's 15 lbs, so not too heavy, but I'm so glad I bought one!

  • Emma SheffertEmma Sheffert Member, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Sawyer Paull-Baird @Corinne Albrecht I'm so glad you both mentioned white noise. I can't believe I forgot to include that on my list as having some sort of background noise is a must for me. I am a pretty light sleeper and have a fan running all year along to act as white noise in my room. I have even slept with ear plugs in the past (not nearly as uncomfortable as you might think!). I pack them on every trip I take because you never know how loud the place you are sleeping might be.

    @Amanda Runyon I echo what Corinne said! I use the "bedtime" feature on my iPhone that will remind you when you need to go to bed to get a certain amount of sleep for when your alarm goes off (I'm sure I could do that math my self but the feature they have is so user friendly that I prefer to use that). I believe a remind goes off 30 mins before you are supposed to be in bed. I find this helpful since it's so easy to get caught up doing other things a lose track of time and miss your bedtime. I hope you find that helpful!

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Emma Sheffert thanks for starting this very interesting discussion. Research on sleep and it's affect on a number of biological factors is a fascinating emerging area of research in both the physical activity community as well as among nutrition researchers. I thought I'd bring a little more additional science into the discussion to provide a summary on the important findings of sleep with regard to health and weight management. Below are some interesting research finding as of the past couple of year.

    Before I start into this, I want to be clear on a specific term of importance in the sleep research and that's the term sleep "curtailment." This is a new way to study the effect sleep on health and body composition outcomes. For years we look at sleep deprivation (not sleeping at all), and while this provided us with some good information it's not very practical, as most of us don't got without sleep. We simply and naturally "curtail" the amount of sleep we get by a couple of hours here and there. This was a big change in the research and provides us with a good practical context for looking at the effect of sleep reduction on health outcomes. Here are some cool findings:

    1) Reduction in sleep reduces physical activity. This has been replicated in several research studies, but in general researchers tend to find that reduction in sleep result in less movement during the day (they study this by hooking up subjects with activity monitors like what's in your iPhone). The hypothesis here is an "energy conservation" mechanism, whereby the body wants to move less (on a subconscious level) because it knows it's not going to get as much time to truly recover over night. In effect you body tries to go into a bit of a self-presevation mode due an impaired recovery environment. The research suggest that activity can be reduced by as much as 50% per day if sleep is curtailed. That can amount to a significant reduction in overall energy (or calorie) expenditure.

    2) Reduction in sleep, changes hormone patterns that cause you to eat more. Changes in sleep have also been linked to disruption of our natural drives to eat (we call this our homeostatic system for regulating appetite or your body's natural way of telling you how much to eat). Essentially a reduction in sleep triggers greater release of a hormone called ghrelin (this is known as the "hunger" hormone). At the same time a reduction in sleep limits the effectiveness of a hormone called leptin (this is known as the "fullness" hormone). The net effect of these changes are you get hungrier more easily because your hunger hormone goes up and your fullness hormone goes down (more accurately, leptin becomes less effective at doing it's job, but it's basically the same net effect, you have a great biological drive to eat more). Here the thought if the body is going to be awake for longer it will need more nutrients (and energy) to handle being awake for longer. Again, the body is trying to better preserve itself by having access to more energy.

    3) Reduction in sleep causes you to choose less healthy foods. Research suggests that when people sleep less they tend to choose foods that have higher sugar content (or sweetness) and foods that are more tasty (the term in the research is hyperpalatable foods). Foods that a higher in sugar and fat (thereby more tasty) induce a greater dopamine response in the brain. Dopamine is the "make you happy" neurotransmitter. It is released whenever any pleasurable response is sensed by the body. What's interesting about sleep curtailment and choosing less healthy foods is it seems like you need a more unhealthy food to give you that same release of dopamine (that you would get in a less sleep curtailed state). Meaning if in a normal sleep state you could eat an apple and be satisfied (and get that little release of dopamine), in a sleep limited state you might need a cookie or two to produce that same level of dopamine. Yet again, this is body trying to protect itself. The body and brain thinks less sleep equals a greater threat to survival so it choose these foods that release a significant pleasure response in your brain that drives you to eat them. This is a biological mechanism that has been in place since the time we were seeking honey to be able to have enough energy to run away from the tiger in the forest (as an aside, things like honey in prehistoric times were looked at as the "pot of gold" so-to-speak nutritionally because it provided so much immediate energy. This is likely why we respond to sugar with such a pleasure response in modern times, those survival centers of our prehistoric brain have not evolved at all).

    So what can we take away from these research findings?

    First, I think it's important to note that much of the contemporary research on this topic is done with only small and acute reduction in sleep (one night of sleep reduced by 2-3 hours). So the findings are highly applicable to our daily lives. How often do we go a night or two during the week where we sleep a couple hours less than normal? If you're like me probably at least one night per week, if not two (or more).

    Second, and I think this is so important to understand, everything I've mentioned above happens on a subconscious level. This means your body is doing this to you and you're not even aware that's it's happening. This means you have very little control over it. Sure you can try to be aware that when you sleep less your body will want to move less, eat more food, and want more unhealthy food. Maybe if you're aware of it you can try to counteract it by consciously trying to move more, eat less, and make healthier choices. The problem is you're fighting your natural biology to survive here and when that happens the body normally wins out.

    Lastly and most importantly, we spend all of this time reading exercise recommendations and nutritional suggestions (and don't get me wrong those are very important), but it's clear those aren't enough. It's hard to overcome biological drives that have been around for thousands of years to keep us alive, and that's what I've laid out above. All of the mechanisms mentioned in this post as a response to reduced sleep are found very deep in our brains to ensure survival, therefore they are very hard to circumvent. You can fight them - if you want - but there's a good chance that thousands of years of biology will win out. Keeping that in mind, if you're looking to improve your health, performance, and body composition adhere to the sleep recommendations in this thread. The great part is adhering to sleep recommendations not only improve body composition and weight management (which is basically what I've discussed above), it will also improve overall heath, cognitive function, performance during life and exercise, and improve mental health. There are some many benefits to getting the recommended amount of sleep and the research is only mounting. Don't sleep on this amazing area of science - if you do you could be out cold at the end of the day :)

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Corinne AlbrechtCorinne Albrecht Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭8✭

    @Tricia Nault yesssss! So glad you're liking it and getting better sleep from it!!!! I'm not exaggerating when I say I take it anywhere I know I'll be sleeping haha

  • Andrew AnderlieAndrew Anderlie Member, Administrator, Moderator, AFS Staff admin

    Thank you for posting this @Emma Sheffert! We have another newborn in the Anderlie house and sleep comes at a premium. Reading this really helped me understand that I can always just catch up! Sleep debt can be repaid : )

  • Angela JohnsonAngela Johnson Member Rank ✭6✭

    @Mike Stack This forum has been super helpful for me as an outlet, particularly in the month of December. I'm wondering: is there such thing as sleeping too much/negative affects to nutrition/wellness if so?

    A scenario that comes to mind: post surgery people sleep tend to sleep a lot because their body is to some degree it must be natural to sleep a lot if needed, but in different circumstances, can too much sleep be a hinderance?

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Angela Johnson, great, I'm glad you've found the forum so helpful to you!

    In terms of your question, yes there would be several cases where the "non-ill" human being could sleep too much and it could cause problems (I'll list those below). In the case of recovering from a major trauma or surgical procedure, the human body definitely needs more sleep and it should absolutely get that additional sleep. It can certainly cause the issues I'm listing below for non-ill adults, but those issues are of less concern due to the need to heal from surgery or trauma (basically more sleep is so important to recovery, we're okay with the below things happening in order for the body to heal).

    The research shows most adults need between 7-9 hour of sleep per night. Anything in excess of that could result in the following issues:

    1) Weight gain due to impaired activity. If you're sleeping more and non-ambulatory you simply aren't burning as many calories as what you are when you're up and moving around. This can cause weight gain (and sometimes significant amounts).

    2) Reductions in muscle mass and bone mineral density. This would be in the extreme end of the excessive sleep spectrum, but not doing enough load-bearing activity can cause muscle to atrophy and bone mineral to be lost. I would say this would be when someone is in bed in excess of 16 hours per day and not doing much moving otherwise.

    3) Disruptions of several biological processes due to circadian rhythm disruption. Since nearly all bodily systems have their own "biological" (or circadian) clock if sleep becomes excessive (particularly inconsistently) you could run the risk of throwing off a whole host of biological processes.

    Long story, short is if you're not recovering from surgery or trauma, stick to the 7-9 hour of sleep range. Sleep consistently (go to bed and wake up at the same time every day). Finally, adhere to the other recommendations in this thread and none of the effects I listed above should be an issue.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Angela JohnsonAngela Johnson Member Rank ✭6✭

    Wow, thank you @Mike Stack! Learning is my favorite and I definitely wouldn't have thought of bone mineral density and various biological disruptions; yikes. I'm going to keep that in mind.

    When the forum was beginning, I was amidst a few weeks wherein sleep wise I felt unlike myself - sleeping in until 10am/11am - and in retrospect I think that was due to working in varying timezones. Gratefully the last two weeks or so I've been getting back to a morning schedule that makes me feel more productive.

    Still though - I do have times though wherein I think "oof my brain has thoughts on overload - I'll just nap" and perhaps I can focus my energy differently during those times versus essentially powering off for afternoon hours.

    Much appreciated and happy almost Monday!!

  • Corinne AlbrechtCorinne Albrecht Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭8✭

    @Angela Johnson I don't have the technical/physiological know-how @Mike Stack has on the effects of oversleeping, but I'll tack on to what he said with: I can sleep 12+ hours in a day if I'm really deep into a depressive episode. As always, mental illness is a delicate balance between challenging yourself to do everything you can to perform at the highest functioning level and permission to fail on those challenges. If I'm starting to sleep 11+ hours in a day on a consistent basis (and not just after a night of poor sleep), that's a good signal to me that I'm heading into a depressive episode and I need to start gearing up now to get through it. Forcing myself to wake up after that 7-9 range is one of the best ways I maintain my functioning capacity during a depressive episode!

    I obviously don't know if this applies to you, but oversleeping is personally my biggest signal that my mental health is going to a place I need to be more active in my managing of it.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Corinne Albrecht thanks for bringing that up (and for always being so opened with your struggles with mental illness). That is certainly part of this process that cannot be understated. That said, it's often forgotten about by those of us that just think in terms of physiology only (and we forget about mental illness). Certainly excessive drive to sleep more and not getting out of bed could be the sign of a more serious physical or mental health issue, and therefore should be investigated further if there is not a readily apparent reason why someone is sleeping excessively. Again, great point Corinne! Thanks for adding it!

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Sawyer Paull-BairdSawyer Paull-Baird Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Angela Johnson @Corinne Albrecht

    Here is an interesting research article on sleep and "long/short" sleepers. The data found that "long sleepers" (10+ hours/night) were:

    “significantly more likely to have psychiatric diseases and a greater body mass index (BMI). However, long sleep was not significantly associated with the presence of any other chronic medical disease assessed. Conversely, short sleep duration was significantly associated with almost all the other chronic diseases assessed."

    Now, there is certainly a chicken/egg thing here.. I would venture to guess that more sleep doesn't "cause' those psychiatric conditions, and is more a product of them.. That said, who knows? Maybe there is a symbiotic relationship between them?

    In short, lack of sleep can safely be deemed as a danger. Long sleep is more nebulous. Like Mike said, likely it is safe to try to spend most of our time in that 7-9 hour range.. That doesn't mean that the occasional night outside of that range are going to be overly harmful though so long as we spend the majority of our time in that range.

    Sawyer Paull-Baird BS CSCS ACSM-EP PN-Lvl1
    Agent of Change / Fitness Innovation & Education Coordinator
  • Corinne AlbrechtCorinne Albrecht Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭8✭

    Thanks, @Mike Stack :)

    And thanks for that article, @Sawyer Paull-Baird ! For me, the oversleeping/inactivity is a symptom of the depression; it just happens to come pretty early, which allows me to prepare for what's down the road. Usually some "peripheral" things will begin that could be signals--like oversleeping. Occasionally I'll sleep a lot because I need it! And I welcome that easily. Once I get into consistent urges to sleep at least 12 hours if not more, though, I know that means I should be on the lookout for some other depression-related habits: low social interest, poor hygiene, poor diet, etc. It sort of comes to sleep-as-avoidance instead of sleep-as-recovery. My depression sleeps are really about not wanting to deal with being awake and all the noise in my head vs. being tired and needing time for my body to "reset." It's a dual factor of not being good for my mental state and also not good for my body to be subjected to all that inactivity, which is why I do my best to force myself out of my comfort zone in that regard by capping my sleep at 7-9 :)

  • Angela JohnsonAngela Johnson Member Rank ✭6✭

    @Corinne Albrecht I love that there's an insightful button because the fact that you can identify signals of your mental health is super valuable. Like @Mike Stack acknowledged, thank you so much for sharing. V depression, mine is hyper-activity; same end result if not managed in a healthy way <3

    @Sawyer Paull-Baird Love me some studies, thank you.

    This whole morning exchange put a smile on my face and I value each of the perspectives you three brought to the discussion. 📙🔎🏮

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