How to improve your sleep habits

Do you ever turn in for the night and just lay there in bed trying to fall asleep without any success?

Or perhaps your problem is at the other end of the donkey and you struggle waking up for those early runs to avoid the summer heat.

I understand how these are not just an inconvenience but a major area of concern! If you miss out on precious sleep that negative effect accumulates and impacts you tangibly. Or if you’re trying to get your training done in the morning but struggle to make it happen you’ll be forced to run at less optimal times for you or you skip the run all together.

So how do we go about further optimizing how well we manage our sleep?

Why do you need optimal shuteye?

First, you need to know why it’s important. Simply put, sleep is when our body resets and rebuilds. It’s crucial but often the first to go when time is limited.

Humans require less sleep than most other primates and I believe we are the only mammals that purposefully limit our sleep duration.

When we lack sleep, our brain literally starts eating itself and even moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments equivalent to alcohol intoxication.

When sleep is improved, university basketball players improved their free throw and 3-point shooting accuracy by 9% and 9.2% and 40 yard dash times speed up by 2.1% in clinical trials. A study found that injury rates among youth soccer players were higher during the competition after a night of poor sleep and sleep hours (or lack of) was the strongest predictor of injury that they looked at.

In the last few years, something I’ve tried to tangibly improve is how well I sleep. Gradually I would notice things and make realizations that I could work on to improve this extremely important part of life.

Adequate sleep or a lack of sleep influences every aspect of our life.

Everything.

Having optimal sleep will make your life better, period.

Here’s what I’ve done to improve mine and what I may discuss with clients who are struggling.

Going to Bed & Falling Asleep

I realize many people have more time than others to dedicate to sleep, but I also suspect many people have room to improve. Time management comes into play a great deal for runners, where even ten extra free minutes can mean another mile.

  • Cut Out Wasted Time – Getting rid of the TV was one of the best things I did for my running because it gave me what has seemed like an infinite amount of new time compared to how much tv I watched in my youth. I also try to limit unpurposeful time spent in front of my phone, scrolling scrolling scrolling.
  • Frequency Following Response – This is something I’ve more recently started practicing… like I need any help falling asleep ? I learned about this technique after watching this TEDx talk and I was surprised I could actually improve my already great ability of falling asleep! Check out that video for a quick lesson on a quick technique.
  • Bed-Time Alarm – This is something I used to do awhile ago, but have actually really stopped doing once I got into the hang of going to bed at a certain time. I’d set an alarm for an hour or so before I wished to go to bed and once this alarm went off, I would know it was time to start wrapping things up for bed. I know see the iPhone has an option for this!
  • Avoiding Later Evening Food – I’ve made a bit point to avoid eating much if anything after dinner and making sure these dinners are not too close to when I go to bed. In the past, I realized that having recently eaten food was making it more difficult to fall asleep because a) I could hear my stomach doing work and b) If it was after a late meal I may be a smidge too full.
  • Sleep Meditation – Once in a while before bed, but almost always if I take a weekend nap, I’ll listen to a meditation on youtube. My favorite is actually a running focused sleep meditation.

A Super Siesta

Once you get asleep, how do you stay asleep?

  • Avoiding Pre-Bed Beverages – Probably the main sleep issue I’ve had was waking up once or even twice after midnight before the alarm to pee. It got to the point where I was actually extremely frustrated about it! I’m constantly drinking during the day, but when it comes to the evening I have consciously limited my liquid intake after dinner. I do not drink much alcohol in the house, but may have been a biiit semi addicted to fizzy water for a while. I also drink a great deal of tea. It’s crazy how big of a difference this makes in me sleeping through the night or not.
  • Dark Curtains – Not only do these help with temperature regulation in your home, but they help you sleep as well. Seriously, get the darkest fricken curtains you can find, they’re great! My wife even suggested this week that she may be hearing the neighbor dogs less, since we put up the curtains, since she’s sleeping in better.
  • Eye Mask – Curtains are helpful, but not perfect. My wife finds a great deal of value in having a sleep mask for those sunny summer mornings.
  • White Noise – Now that we live in our own house and not a rental, we’ve stopped running a fan for some background noise. But if you live near a louder street or neighbors, I think a fan or a phone app that makes this light noise can be beneficial.
  • More Noise Control – When I spent three weeks in a hostel in Guatemala right when COVID hit, the best thing I did for my sleep was eye plugs.
  • Ditch the Phone – Experts suggest that even having your phone in the same room as you can negatively influence everything from productivity, concentration, to sleep. At least have your mobile set up to automatically go into silent mode at a certain PM time.

Leaving Slumberland

And of course we need to talk about how you actually get your butt outta bed!

  • Sleep Cycle App – This is one of my favorite things, ever. The app monitors your sleep and detects when you’re most restless during a wakeup window that you set. It must be plugged in all night since it constantly runs and you either set it under your pillow or next to your bed and it will use either motion or noise. It works great with two people in the bed and best off all it does not terribly bother my wife when it lightly vibrates to wake me! I suspect I’ll never go back to a normal alarm noise again. If you’re an incredibly heavy sleeper, it may not work, but it could still be worth a try because the vibration or alarm goes off when you’re closest to awake while sleeping.
  • Wake Up Light – This is something I used before I had the sleep app. If I set it to peak at 6am, it would start to gradually light up 15 minutes beforehand and then the radio would turn at at 6am. I prefer the vibrating Sleep Cycle App, but this was a far better waking experience than an actual alarm.
  • Coffee – Coffee is a great way to wake up in the morning, but I’m talking about how coffee can help actually wake you up out of bed, and this is my current process. Drumrollllll, an automatic coffee machine! Seriously, I currently wake up around 6am to the light sound of the machine percolating in the kitchen and it works so well! I have my phone on airplane mode vibrate 10 minutes into when the coffee had started.
  • Metacognition – One of my favorite authors is Mel Robbins and she describes how she (and I) use the five-second countdown rule to wake up. This simple practice is when you count backward from 5 to help you do any action that you’re juuuust not sure about doing 😉

So there we have it, some great tips and tricks to help you not only run better but reduce your injury risk, have more energy during the day, and feel better in general!

If you like what you just learned and want to get more info on my sometimes unconventional yet proven tactics for helping my runners improve their running through sustainable training habits, nutritional guidance, developing great mindfulness practices, and incorporating easy to do running-specific strength work and having all of it come together with great accountability and motivation, download a guide at bit.ly/kyles4pillars where share with you how to implement some different parts of my own coaching into your own training.

If you want to go one step further, get ahold of me and let’s chat about how we can work together to help your life and training come together to help you feel better and run better!

As always, you keep running and I’ll keep coaching.

Coach Kyle