Sleep is to the ability to recover and as the Sun is to daylight. You cannot have one without the other. Sleep is by far our number one recovery tool. In fact, you will find that even if all the other elements of recovery are being met (nutrition, balanced training schedule, hydration) you can start to exhibit the symptoms of over-training or being over-stressed with a few nights of little or no sleep. Some will argue that the term "over-training" should actually be called "under-recovery." So, how do we get better at sleeping? You have a lifting schedule, a running schedule, and a work schedule -- you need to create a SLEEP SCHEDULE.
Symptoms of Over-training
Long periods of muscle / joint soreness … and others Personality Changes: Irritable, moody, depressed Sick and Injured more often Lack of Motivation Lack of Energy Loss of Sleep Loss of Muscle Mass Loss of Sex Drive
AKA Symptoms of Under-Recovery
Making a Sleep Schedule (Things to do and tools to have)
Sleep Clean: Take a shower or bath about an hour before bed. Soak or let the warm water hit your head and enjoy for 5 minutes – doing nothing but breathing deeply in and out.
Wind Down: Whether it is after a long day at work, an evening workout, or a late night working on a project, you still need some time to wind down, relax, hydrate, and eat well(no stimulants / caffeine). You can do this by reading a book, magazine, or light stretching for 20-30 minutes. Try to avoid too much TV, phones, and computers during this part of the evening (about an hour before bed).
Easy Music: Before you turn out the lights have some easy music while you read or just sit and chill. Try to avoid war movies, horror movies, and other violent television or reading prior to bed. Lay off the video games as well. You are trying to make a peaceful setting in your room / house.
Keep it Cool: Drop the temperature if possible. If you have no air conditioning, take a shower prior to bed and turn on the fan. This will help your body be cool for up to 30 minutes and will be helpful for falling to sleep.
No Phones: Keep the phone away from you. Charge the phone in the other room overnight or at least out of reach so you have to get up to answer it or use the alarm. Silent the notifications / ringer.
Keep it Dark: Turn off all the lights, TV, computer, shut the blinds, and turn on the fan to add some white noise to the room as well as cooler temperatures.
Make a List: If you find yourself unable to go to sleep, one way to shut down the mind or to avoid scattered thoughts in and out of your head is to make a list of what you need to do the next day or week. Jot it all down. Writing in a journal is also another way to help turn off the brain before bed.
Bedding: It cannot be stressed enough how important a bed is to your ability to sleep -- a GOOD BED. Nearly a third of our life is spent sleeping, so a bed is critical. I have tested out many during my travels and have found the Sleep Number works well for couples who like different bed softness. I seriously doubt I could sleep in the same bed with my wife, if I did not have the ability to make my side softer than hers. I also recommend Memory Foam type mattresses for cooling and general recovery sleep. A new bed we have in a guest room is made by Bear Mattress -- a very comfortable mattress made with a new type of cooling memory foam. The Bear Mattress "combines a high air-flow foam and uperconducting graphite particles to create a cool, comfortable sleeping surface that will promote pressure relief and spinal alignment to speed up recovery and help you sleep better."
Final Ritual: Do something that signals to you that it is bedtime. Take off your watch or glasses. Get a bedtime cup of water to set by the bed. Let the pet out to use the bathroom. Brush your teeth. All of these steps help create a Sleep Schedule for you. Find what works for you and do it religiously and you will find sleep becoming more and more natural for you. If you find yourself with more than a few of the symptoms of over training (over-stressed), it could be more due to your lack of sleep than your actually over-doing it in the gym.
Extra for Parents: I understand that, as a parent, many of these rituals may not occur until after you have your children in bed. But, just as you had the ritual working for your child, you need one for yourself: bath, comb hair, brush your teeth, bed-time story, sleep. That is the classic bedtime ritual we likely did growing up and did not realize. It worked back then as little humans. It also works now as adults.
Good luck with your Sleep Schedule / Routine. Once you build it -- the sleep will come.