Sleep and Stress Management

Hello beautiful readers!

Today I wanted to chat about something that is so important for every one of us to be able to function well on a day to day basis. Sleep and stress management, which is something I feel is often overlooked when it comes to switching up your health and fitness lifestyle. Have you ever been feeling like you are nailing it with your meal plan, gym sessions and basically at life but still not seeing the results you want? This is an important time for you to then look at your stress levels and sleep pattern. 

I have struggled personally a lot in the past with lack of sleep and poor stress management and hopefully this post will help you or with someone you know. As you may be aware, I created this blog just to share my tips and tricks with any areas within health and fitness and sleep certainly comes under the categories.

Firstly, did you know there is more than one type of sleep / stages of our sleep cycles? Each sleep cycle lasts for approx. 90 minutes throughout the night and there are 4 different stages in these cycles: Stages 1-3 are known as NREM sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and stage 4 is one that you may have heard thrown around and that is known as REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).
 Below I have just made some notes on each stage of sleep to give you a little more in sight.

Stage 1 of the sleep cycle is a very light stage of sleep and can be easily disrupted by noises or movements around us. This is the stage where many of us often have muscle spasms or ‘jump’ if we feel the sensation of falling. They are always amusing when someone else does them next to you.

Stage 2 is not as easily disrupted. Stage 1 and 2 of NREM together are often referred to as ‘Light Sleep’. It is at this stage of sleep that our body temperature will begin to decrease, and our heart rate slows down. Your body reduces its activity to prepare you to go into a deep sleep. In stage 2 of sleep your brain waves continue to slow down and there are bursts of activity known as Sleep Spindles. These occur to protect the brain against waking up. This tends to be the stage people struggle to drop into and will only stay in stage 1 which is why they will say they slept but feel even worse in the morning.

Stage 3 of sleep typically starts 35-45 mins after we fall asleep. Also known as deep sleep. This is the most restorative stage of sleep which is exactly what we are looking for from a recovery perspective. It is at this stage that the Human Growth Hormone is released, which is a major hormone involved in the recovery process and supports the growth of new muscle tissue. At this stage of sleep, our brain waves slow down and become much larger. Sleep walking, sleep talking, and night terrors often occur in this stage of sleep.

Stage 4/REM occurs after the 3 stages of NREM. It is at this stage of sleep that powerful dreams generally happen. As you can probably tell from the name, eye movements are rapid, moving from side to side.
REM sleep plays an important role in our learning and memory function, this is the time when your brain processes information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory (how crazy is that?).

Some Tips to Improve Sleep Quality
Caffeine consumption and the time at which we have it is something that affects our sleep tremendously. I would always recommend that you stop drinking caffeinated drinks from 3pm onwards each day, especially if have any type of anxiety this will help to maximize your quality of sleep. 
If you are taking pre workout or drinking RedBull or even a coffee at 8pm before an evening gym session and wondering why you can’t sleep so well, that’s most likely why! You’ve pumped your body full of caffeine (which takes around 20-30 minutes to kick in) and then you’ve just done a workout, so your body is full of adrenaline and you expect to jump straight into bed and fall asleep? Good luck with that.

If you struggle to fall asleep at night, try to avoid too much screen time on your phone, TV or laptop directly before you go to bed as this can negatively affect our sleeping pattern. Try switching off all screen 1 hour before you go to bed and read or listen a book or music – this will also be a good media detox that helps your mindset before you go to bed (but that is for a whole other blog post!). The blue light we are receiving from looking at these devices inhibits our production of melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for helping us fall asleep. This is also the same as to when you wake up first thing, I know we are all guilt of picking your phone up straight away when we get up and we are instantly hit with ‘blue light’.
Meditation is also a very useful tool and might not be for everyone but is good to give it a go, I only do 5-10 minutes when I am feeling stressed or want to relax to use in bed to switch off. I use the App Clementine. The provide 5,10,15-minute sessions that are good to switch off too and they also have them for body confidence, day to day confidence, de-stress and mantras. Plus, it is free to download!

Stress Management Tips
When it comes to stress management, this is something that I find takes a lot of time and practice and unfortunately you can’t snap your fingers and have it change overnight. We all have different stressors/ triggers in life, some of us have degrees / courses we want to do well in, others have stressful careers, children that need to be taken care of (even a mixture of all of the above!) as well as having things going on in our personal lives that add extra stress.

If I was to give any advice when it comes to managing stress, it is to start implementing yoga or a ‘quite’ time into your daily routine. Even if the only time you have means getting up 30 minutes – 1 hours earlier or going to bed before your normal time. Even just 5 or 10 minutes, taking those much-needed minutes to unwind and be still with your mind can make a big difference to the wavelength you are on that day. No one can expect you to give your all if there is noting left in your tank, no one wants to be given a half-arsed job. I know it is easier said than done but just making it part of your routine and saying to others around you that you need this time, they need to respect and understand that. 

Following on from the previous point the final piece of advice I would give when it comes to managing stress is to get a notepad where you plan your week and days if you are super busy. Many of you may use your calendar or notes in your phone, but I personally love to write things down, it is just clearer in my head. And there is nothing more satisfying then drawing a line through your tasks and putting a big tick right next to it.

I don’t have a set day to write all my goals down, but it tends to be the end of the week when I have some quite time to myself. I write down the things i need to do/ would like to accomplish that week and then break down my tasks into separate days. Make your tasks realistic and manageable and take each day as it comes. Remember to look at the bigger picture and take a step back to realise what’s important to you.

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