The seasons are changing. As the long, hot days of summer give way to the cooler temperatures and darker skies of fall, you might experience some disruptions to your sleep patterns. But if you’re not sleeping well, you’ll notice all sorts of ways it affects your life. You’re groggy and unfocused. Shalini Paruthi, MD, a sleep specialist with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that “you're more likely to make mistakes at work, for example, but less likely to realize it and correct them.”
Plus, you might notice a softening of your stomach. A spike in cortisol due to lack of sleep can lead to storing fat in your midsection. The sleep cycle plays a hand in controlling the two hormones that affect your appetite—ghrelin informs the brain that you're hungry, while leptin tells the brain that you're not. Scientists have found that sleep-deprived people have increases in ghrelin and decreases in leptin, which causes them to constantly crave a meal. Also, since you're not getting enough quality REM sleep to rebuild your muscle fibers, any time you spend in the gym won't result in any measurable muscle gains either.
Even worse? Your testosterone levels drop when you go without proper shuteye. That's because your body only produces the hormone when you're in the deepest stages of sleep. Which means if you keep getting by with a couple hours of sleep each night, you're not going to be all that effective—both at the gym or in the bedroom. And even if you attempt either, you likely won't have the power or stamina to do it well.
Which is to say, when our sleep patterns get disturbed, the aftereffects ripple through our waking lives in big ways. We're less productive, don’t have as much sex and less likely to work out or see many gains from it. No wonder we get so damn grumpy when we’re tired.
So what's a rest-deprived guy to do? Reset your personal sleep routine. Humans, quite scientifically, are creatures of habit. According to the National Sleep Foundation, actively cultivating a healthy sleep routine makes it easier to get the sleep you need on a consistent basis. Follow that routine and the norm becomes falling asleep quickly and sleeping deeply through the night. With each constant evening, the routine gets reinforced, ensuring stable sleep patterns over time.
Get the Right Light
One of the easiest ways to get into “rest mode” is to adjust your exposure to light. When you're exposed to light, your brain stops producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. This makes you feel awake and alert. And while the debate on whether blue light from our devices effects our sleep is still being questioned, there's no doubt that doomscrolling or binge watching keeps your mind racing while you're trying to relax. Consider shutting down your screens an hour before shuteye.
Ease Anxiety by Journaling
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that you can put fears, worries and other troubling thoughts to bed by writing them down before you try to fall asleep. Their doctors suggest taking 20 minutes to jot down to-dos for the next day or simply to write out what you're worried about in order to release them from your mind. Another tactic? Use that time to write out a few things you're grateful for.
Reclaim Your Bed
Some people can lounge in their pajamas all day, working and snacking from bed and have no problem. But if your sleep could be improved, reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex. And get dressed as soon as you wake up. Dr. Don Mordecai, national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente, says that it's incredibly important to develop habits that prepare you for healthy sleep. He says you want to retrain your brain to think of your bed as the ultimate place for relaxation and rest.
Work It Out
It sounds simple: exercise and you'll tire yourself out. But getting active has a lot of scientific benefits that lead to better quality sleep. Several sleep docs told us that exercising outdoors actually boosts your oxygen levels, which can help calm you while vitamin D from sunlight helps regulate circadian rhythms to keep your bedtime consistent and help you sleep more soundly.
Rewire Your Metabolism
Digestion and metabolism also play a role in wakefulness and sleepiness. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that, in animals, circadian rhythms shifted to match food availability. The scientists suggest that fasting for about 16 hours (say, on a flight and until the next local meal time) will help reset your internal clock and help reduce jet lag when traveling across time zones. For local sleep disturbances, try a 16-hour fast by eating an early dinner (around say 4:30 p.m.), and then avoiding food until tomorrow morning (8:30 a.m.). Once your sleep is back on track, try to maintain regular breakfast and dinner times to support consistent circadian rhythms, aiming for 12 hours between the two meals.
* Sleep vs. Exercise: While we all need both sleep and exercise for a healthy lifestyle, the research is clear that you should prioritize sleep over exercise—even if that means a few less gym sessions. Like most things in life, we should be shooting for quality over quantity.