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More Training Info > Get a Better Night's Sleep

Get a Better Night's Sleep

Q: I've been having trouble getting a good night's sleep recently; do you have any recommendations for me?

A: There are any number of reasons why you might be suffering from insomnia. The first thing I would do is take a look at whether or not anything unusual has changed for you recently. Are you under additional stress at work? Is there something that is coming up in the near future that is causing you a lot of anxiety? Has something disrupted your normal sleep patterns? Are you suffering from any injuries or illness? Have you changed your exercise habits recently?

Sleep Environment

If you have trouble getting comfortable at night, you could be missing out on important regenerative sleep. I'd suggest you first examine what your bed is like -- you should have a fairly firm mattress, to give you adequate spinal support. You may also benefit from sleeping on a cervical pillow, the kind found these days in health stores that have special supplies for physical therapists, massage therapists, holistic practitioners, chiropractors and the like. This sort of pillow has two different edges, one thinner side that fits nicely under your neck if you are a back sleeper, one thicker side that supports the larger gap if you sleep on your side. If you are primarily a stomach or back sleeper, and either wake up feeling stiff or toss and turn during the night, try sleeping on your side in order to maintain proper spinal alignment.

Is your home too noisy? Ear plugs can help cut down on the din. You may also find that soft soothing music, relaxation tapes, or background noise (like a gently whirring fan or one of those bubbling brook fountains) might be useful as well. Temperature control may be another factor to consider. If you find you toss and turn at night during warmer summer months, but sleep soundly during the cooler seasons, then you might want to invest in a fan or air conditioning unit, or simply discard the flannel sheets and blankets for a cooler, thin cotton layer or two. Is there too much light in your room? Consider moving your bed to a darker corner away from the street or hall light, or get darker drapes for your windows if you work a swing shift and have to sleep when it's still light out.

Exercise Habits

Perhaps you have recently become really busy at work and are starting to neglect your normal exercise routine. If you don't exercise at all, then by all means, start, as it can be a great source of stress reduction and relaxation. If you are truly busy, it may not be realistic to spare a whole hour at a time--if that's the case, look for 10 minute blocks of time. 3 blocks of 10 minutes found wherever possible throughout the day is better than totally bypassing any form of exercise. Try briskly walking during those shorter blocks, taking the stairs, parking farther away from the shopping center. Just remember to put any vigorous exercise at least several hours prior to bed time, or you may be over-stimulated and have a hard time settling down. Some form of yoga, meditation, soaking in the hot tub, getting a massage, or other activity that gets you to relax and takes your attention off your daily responsibilities might be worth including closer to bed time. It's important to get enough sleep when you exercise, as that's when your body helps to repair damaged tissue, renew cells, and strengthen your immune system. For excellent instruction in the comfort of your own home, consider starting an exercise program that includes one of Karen Voight�s yoga videos or DVD�s.

Yoga Videos

Yoga & Sculpting DVD
70 min Yoga + 85 min strength more

Yoga Focus DVD
30 min strength, 20 stretch more

Sleep Patterns

Way back in college, I learned a valuable tip from my crew coach (who insisted we row regularly at 5 a.m. before classes started). He mentioned to us that sleep cycles can be measured in 90 minute blocks. If you are regularly getting 5 hours of sleep a night, switching your sleep habits so that you don't disrupt the 90 minute cycles might help. In other words, instead of getting 5 hours, try waking after 4 1/2 or 6 hours (3 and 4 total sleep cycles, respectively.) Another trick I learned is that a cat nap consisting of 15 minutes or substantial nap consisting of 90 minutes will leave you feeling much more refreshed than a nap lasting 45 minutes or an hour. Plan accordingly and see how it works for you.

Another thing to be wary of is disrupting your own sleep patterns. If you typically get 4-6 hours of sleep a night during the week, and then try to "catch up" over the weekends, your body never quite knows what to expect, and those missed hours during the week are hard to recover. Instead, try as often as possible to have a set sleep time and wake time. You know better than anyone else how much sleep is needed for your optimal performance.

Psychological Issues

If you have additional stress at work, perhaps there's a way you can either be more efficient with your work, delegate responsibility to someone else, or enlist the help of others around you. Make sure you take time off (for vacations, long weekends) without any work that might detract from your regenerative time. Recharge time is something workaholics or up-and-coming corporate climbers feel is easily dispensable; however, your mind needs an occasional break. If your sleep is suffering, you won't be nearly as effective at work as you could be.


Is your diet suffering? Do you routinely have beverages with caffeine after about 2 p.m.? A daily diet lacking vitamins B5 or B6 may result in insomnia. Vitamin B12 can help those who suffer from a lot of anxiety-induced insomnia. Vitamin C, protein, potassium and calcium can help calm the nerves and improve sleep quality. Go ahead and try drinking a glass of milk or eating half of a turkey sandwich before bed--both contain tryptophan, one of the amino acids that helps to induce sleep.

If all else fails...

Talk to your doctor. You may be a candidate for sleep medication, in drastic cases. If you are in substantial pain (suffering from an injury, arthritis, or some other debilitating condition) your doctor will want to know whether your sleep is disrupted. You may also be a candidate for participation in sleep studies at local hospitals, clinics, or sleep centers. Try first to understand what's causing the sleeplessness, then try some of the above suggestions.


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