Sleep is an essential aspect of wellbeing and fitness.  According to Dr. Phyllis Zee, a sleep specialist and professor of neurology at University of Chicago, exercise, diet and sleep are the three essential components to health.  Dr. Zee goes on to explain that exercise and sleep share an important relationship with one another.  The two go hand in hand. 

A lack of sleep or exercise directly affects the other.  Unfortunately, sleep is often the most overlooked aspect of our fitness routines.   Our busy schedules, our daily anxieties, all take a toll on our need for rest.  Dr. Zee insists that we need, at least, seven hours of sleep at night.  Here are five more tips to help you get a better night’s sleep:

Stretch and/or Meditate – Allow yourself to unwind for ten to thirty minutes before you sleep.   Stretching and meditation (see my piece on meditation here) are fantastic ways to relax your mind and body. 

Prepare Your Bedroom – Treat sleep like a ritual and follow a routine.  Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and comfortable before you lie down.  Studies show cooler temperatures allow for better sleep.  Turn off any electronics to insure your room is dark.  Some people benefit from wearing an eye mask, especially if one is sensitive to light.

Catch Up – If your hectic schedule simply doesn’t allow you to sleep enough, catch up on your days off.  Sleep in for nine, even ten hours.  Sleep has a cumulative effect.  Try to measure how much sleep you get in terms of the week, not just on a daily basis.

Avoid Alcohol and Heavy Foods – This may be a no-brainer for us, but it’s also a good reminder that diet plays an important role in our ability to sleep as well.  Heavy foods keep our bodies from relaxing due to the digestive toll it requires.  While many think alcohol helps with sleep, in fact, it doesn’t.  Alcohol inhibits our body from entering into REM (Rapid Eye Movement), our deepest, most important sleep cycle.  This is why people wake up restless and achy after a night of drinking even if they’ve slept in for ten hours. 

Exercise Of Course! – Exercise is proven to help us sleep, even for people who suffer insomnia as shown in a recent study done at Northwestern University.  If you’re still having difficulty sleeping while consistently exercising, try adjusting your workout time.  Some people sleep better by working out earlier in the day, while others sleep better by working out late in the afternoon or at night. 

Just like exercising, even rest requires some effort.  Remember though, the benefits of proper rest are vital for our mental and physical wellbeing.