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How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

Let’s get it out of the way: “sleeping effortlessly” probably sounds ridiculous to you. If you have a noisy neighbour or you are grappling with worries or plans, falling asleep can, in fact, feel like it requires a great deal of effort. Even things such as a change of season, or the growing number of candles adorning your birthday cake, can impact negatively on sleep!

The good news is that it is in your power to make effortless sleep a reality. By tweaking your lifestyle and attitude to sleep, you can improve your chances of getting good quality rest, regularly. These tweaks may take some effort but, once you’ve overcome the first few days (and nights), they quickly become part of your everyday routine.

We are told that sleep is a natural process that we have little power over, but it has been shown that we give ourselves the best chance of good sleep when we maintain good sleep habits. So, if you’re wondering how you might be able to achieve that effortless sleep night after night, read on for a glance at what the latest sleep research tells us we should be doing.

1. Aerobic exercise can help (but not too late in the day!).

A well-known sleep fix, aerobic (or cardiovascular) exercise has been shown to improve self-reported sleep quality, particularly among the elderly [1]. If you don’t exercise much, even just a 10-minute walk a day might up the odds of sleeping well, as suggested by the National Sleep Foundation[2].

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There does indeed seem to be a link between being fit physically and achieving better sleep quality. For example, one study on young women found a correlation between poorer sleep quality and lower fitness measures such as cardiovascular fitness and flexibility [3]. More recently, research has focussed on how obesity might affect sleep, revealing that excess weight can indeed hinder sleep quality both in adolescents [4] and older adults [5].

The key thing in adding exercise to your day is not to let it encroach on your evening routine. Exercising leaves us feeling energised and wide awake which can chase away sleepiness towards the end of the day, thus potentially delaying sleep.

2. Keep your wake-up time consistent. (Even on the weekends!)

Keeping your wake-up time consistent is actually more important than having a set bedtime. Our body clock, one of the two systems in control of sleep, is reset after waking each morning so a steady rising time helps to keep it working well.

3. Re-consider naps.

Whilst research isn’t consistent on whether naps during the day improve or interfere with sleep quality, avoiding naps may be something to try. Letting sleep permeate daytime (when we are supposed to be awake) can confuse both the body clock and the other system managing our sleep: sleep pressure.

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Sleep pressure usually builds up over the course of the day—rising from its lowest point in the morning to its peak at bedtime. Topping up on sleep while sleep pressure is meant to be increasing can interrupt this process and, as a result, postpone our bedtime. So there is good logic behind suggestions to keep sleep and wakefulness in separate blocks.

However, there will always be exceptions (some elderly for example [9]) so don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you best.

4. Take care of your mind.

Guided relaxation techniques and meditation have been shown to help sleep set in more quickly and to boost sleep quality. Relaxation techniques in particular have clinical evidence behind them as they are frequently used as part of wholesome psychological approaches to treating sleep problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Whilst these techniques may not help on their own if you’ve suffered from poor sleep for a long time, those of us who are fairly good sleepers may still benefit from including them in our routines.

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Relaxing in bed with non-engaging music has also been shown to aid sleep. In a couple of studies, the elderly listening to classical music shortly before bedtime achieved better quality sleep [7-8].

5. Limit alcohol and nicotine, especially in the evening.

It’s true that alcoholic beverages can make us feel snoozy, especially in the evening, but the trade-off for this can be poor sleep quality, as alcohol actually disrupts our sleep later in the night. As it’s broken down in our system, our body undergoes a kind of withdrawal which can not only have us waking up through the night, but it can also leave us wide awake hours earlier than our usual wake-up time.

So if quality sleep comes first, reducing alcohol later in the day may help. One study showed even taken at 4pm it can still cause sleep disruption [10].

Nicotine, on the other hand, can leave us feeling more awake than before, which may lead to us taking longer to fall asleep. A large-scale study also indicated that nicotine can reduce sleep quality, especially in those smokers with higher levels of dependancy [6].

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6. Smaller meals in the evening.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that certain foods can improve sleep or get us quality sleep, but sleep science does have a view on eating close to bedtime. A big meal is said to be a no-no as it can shift the body’s focus away from preparing you for sleeping as it has to rev up digestion again.

A smaller meal should be broken down quicker thus helping your whole body to get as much rest as possible so that you rise feeling well-rested, as you should after good quality sleep.

Getting quality sleep via these scientifically proven tweaks may require some effort to settle into new routines. However, they should continue to pay off for the rest of one’s life, laying out a red carpet for quality sleep to occur regularly.

References:
[1] Reid, K., Baron, K.G., Lu, Brandon, Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., Zee, P.C. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Medicine 11(9), 934-940.
[2] National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key-good-sleep
[3] Lee, A.J., Lin, W.H. (2007). Association between sleep quality and physical fitness in female young adults. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 47(4), 462-467.
[4] Gupta, N.K., Mueller, W.H., Chan, W., Meininger, J.C. (2002). Is obesity associated with poor sleep quality in adolescents? American Journal of Human Biology, 14(6), 762-8.
[5] Hung, H.C., Yang, Y.C., Ou, H.Y., Wu, J.S., Lu, F.H., Chang, C.J. (2013). The association between self-reported sleep quality and overweight in a Chinese population. Obesity, 21(3), 486-92.
[6] Cohrs, et al. 2012. Impaired sleep quality and sleep duration in smokers—results from the German Multicenter Study on Nicotine Dependence. Addiction Biology, doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2012.00487.x
[7] Johnson, J.E. (2003). The use of music to promote sleep in older women. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 20(1), 27-35.
[8] Lai, H.L., Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234-244.
[9] Tanaka, H., et al. 2002. Short naps and exercise improve sleep quality and mental health in the elderly. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 56(3), 233-234.
[10] Van Reen, E., Tarokh, L., Rupp, T.L., Seifer, R., Carskadon, M.A. (2011). Does timing of alcohol administration affect sleep? SLEEP, 34(2), 195-205.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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