This past weekend, Anne and I had the pleasure of going camping for the first time since we’ve moved to Virginia. Being such outdoor lovers, it’s hard to believe that it’s taken this long! Anyway, I made a wonderful “rediscovery” as sat around with others by the campfire. As the sun went down and the darkness around us grew, the yawns and declarations of “I’m tired” were more prevalent than ghost stories and s’mores (ok, well maybe not the s’mores!). Yes, we had a long day, and yes, we had all been running around that afternoon setting up camp, but in no way were these activities any different than what we do in our normal, day to day lives. In fact, I’d argue that if anything, we spent a whole lot LESS energy that day than on any other normal day. Still, darkness came and the eyelids got heavy.
On a day to day basis, we are inundated with technology, chores, work, and entertainment. We go far beyond the natural rhythms of our paleolithic ancestors in that we ignore the draw of natural sleep, instead opting for that one last television show or that final look at our favorite social media website before bed. All of this light and mental stimulation only decreases the natural manor with which our bodies need to begin to settle in for the night. Just like doing a challenging workout in the morning can stimulate you enough to replace a cup of coffee, so too can technology and artificial light stimulate our brains in the evening making it difficult to fall asleep. In removing the stimulus that has become so commonplace, and replacing it with a soothing campfire and quiet woodland surroundings, achieving a genuine state of “sleepiness” is a much simpler thing.
One of the coolest things about this past weekend and our camping activities, besides the good company and good food of course, was waking up after a night spent without television or a laptop. Though I did cheat and listen to a podcast as I was falling asleep, the absence of too much artificial light and background noise had a profound effect on how I slept and ultimately how I woke up in the morning. Sure, sleeping on the ground is not as comfortable as being in a soft bed, but I genuinely felt energized and ready to take on the day. As well, my mood was calm and I felt more relaxed than just about any recent morning I can remember.
Though going outside to sleep might be a little extreme on a regular basis, the lessons learned from a night under the stars can be easily adapted to your daily routine, and help with athlete recovery. Turning off your laptop, computer, iPhone, etc. a few hours before getting in bed is a must. Not only will this have the effect of calming your brain, but might also allow you a little extra time to socialize with loved ones. Live alone? Pick up a book! Next, do some research on lighting. There are quite a few “natural” light bulbs on the market that can have a similar effect to the campfire we had at our campsite. They are specifically designed to mimic what you would see in nature, instead of what you normally encounter with artificial light. And lastly, going back to reading, jumping into a book can be a great way to relax your mind and induce sleep when you’re laying in bed. Getting your mind off of the day’s stresses and into a good story is always a good thing!
Sleep is probably the most underrated piece of the puzzle when it comes to health and wellness. Getting in that solid 8 hours of sleep will not only have a direct effect on your exercise performance, but will dramatically improve your health and sense of wellbeing. Make sleep just as much of a priority as massage and workouts!