It’s the simple, often overlooked ingredient that can play a huge part in our training and nutrition goals: sleep! If you’re not getting enough sleep, you might find it hard to bounce back from big workouts or feel too tired or frazzled to achieve your goals in the gym.
That’s not all: a lack of good quality sleep can lead to all sorts of unwanted side effects, like weight gain, stress and depression. There is even evidence to suggest that a lack of sleep can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
You might think that good sleep comes naturally to the people we look up to in health and fitness, but even they had to train hard to become good sleepers. Just ask Centr expert Tahl Rinsky.
“Sleep's a huge thing for me,” she says. “I battled with sleep. Diet is huge on sleep. Choosing the right foods at the right time. And those are all things that I learned the hard way.”
Sleep affects every aspect of our wellbeing, including how we eat, train and live. Keeping a sleep journal can be a great way to monitor your health, particularly when you’re embarking on a new fitness journey and introducing changes into your lifestyle.
So, if you’re used to food diaries and gratitude notebooks, now it’s time to get your head around sleep journaling. Here are five tips to help you max out your quality zzz’s.
A sleep journal doesn’t have to be a work of great literature (don’t worry, nobody is going to publish it 100 years after your death). Begin by noting the basics: when you go to sleep and when you wake up. If there are any ‘middle of the night’ things to note—did you wake up for a moment at 2 am? Intense dreams?—you can add them, too. But get your journaling habit up and running with a simple log of hours slept.
It might seem obvious, but integrating your mindfulness practice into your bedtime routine can help you calm your mind and get ready for rest. “I find that mindfulness helps sleep,” Tahl explains. “Anything that helps bring the nervous system down will assist with sleep.” Add your mindfulness sessions or meditations to your sleep journal. After a while, you may start to notice a correlation between winding down your mind and getting a solid night’s sleep.
In much the same way that we time our meals and snacks to provide optimal fuel for our workouts, what we eat and when can have a big impact on our sleep.
“What works for me is to eat well, to eat warm foods and not to eat a lot of high carb foods late at night,” Tahl explains. If you’re prone to a high-carb snack after dinner, switch to something soothing like a warm herbal drink. Also, sleep journals can be a great way to work out what your ‘no-go zone’ is for caffeine: some people can handle a late-afternoon espresso, while others are strictly decaf after 3 pm.
Exercise can be a great way to calm the mind if you’re the sort of person who tends to lie awake overthinking things, as Tahl knows. “If I don't exercise enough,” she says, “then I have a lot of nervous energy and will not sleep well.”
Over the course of a few weeks of journaling, you’ll start to discover when the ideal time is for you to exercise. Some people find after-dark exercise is a bit like a cup of coffee, while others swear by it to exhaust themselves. Once you’ve got a few weeks of data in your journal, you’ll be able to plan your workouts in order to max out your sleep chances.
If you’ve got little ones (or even not-so-little ones) in the house, your sleeping patterns could be affected.
“The most terrifying thing to happen when you're a parent is that you suddenly stop sleeping,” Tahl laughs. In your journal, keep tabs on your kids’ sleep habits and how they affect yours: whether they went to bed on time or snuck in at 12:30 am because they heard a scary noise, chances are your night’s sleep was about the same as theirs.
Get Chris Hemsworth's team of the world's best trainers, chefs and well-being experts in your corner.