Tired But Busy? Make the Most of Your Sleep

At this moment, I am sitting on a hard marble floor in a hotel on a small island in the Azores. My days have been filled with long trail runs, turbulent boat rides between islands and evenings of drawn-out European style dinners where the wine is poured before you take a seat and conversation doesn’t end until all the bottles are empty.

The trip has been quite an adventure. But it’s meant some challenges. For one thing, I’m forced to make this hard marble floor in this dimly lit lobby my office since it has the only outlet I could find. Of course, this isn’t ideal. In fact, losing sleep during a hard training week is likely the worst thing you can do for recovery. Luckily, I’ve learned there are a few ways to hack your sleep and get the most out of your snooze time even when time for rest is short. Here’s how to get the most out of your sleep.

Wake up With Your Sleep Cycle

Timing your wake-up to your sleep cycle can keep up you from feeling groggy when you wake up. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your brain goes through a series of 90-minute sleep cycles as you sleep. You’ll feel more refreshed if you wake up towards the end of a cycle because that’s when you’re closest to your normal waking state. Apps such as Sleep Tracker or Sleep Calculator can help you determine your sleep cycle and let you yo set your alarm accordingly.

Tackle To-Dos Earlier

Evenings should be a time to unwind. Don’t try to do a lot of chores before bedtime. It might sound ambitious, but you’ll sleep more soundly if you get up early to work on your obligations for the next day.

“Your brain is better primed for mental tasks in the morning when sunlight suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone,” says Tracey Marks, MD, author of the book Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified.

Get Your Sweat on Early

Here in the Azores, getting enough exercise isn’t a problem. But the average American falls short of their daily steps, and it’s not hard to see why they’re restless when their heads hit the pillow.

The National Sleep Foundation says exercising in the afternoon can help improve sleep quality and shorten the time takes for you to drift off to dreamland at bedtime, maximizing the time you have to recharge and rest on busy days. But they caution against vigorous exercise leading up to bedtime, warning that it can have the reverse effects. Data indicates that early day physical activity may lead to better sleep. A 2003 study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that postmenopausal women who exercised 30 minutes every morning had less trouble falling asleep than ones who were less active. Meanwhile, the women who worked out in the evening hours saw little or no improvement in their sleep patterns.