Conquer Your Life By Fixing Your Sleep

Sleep is monumentally important in achieving any health goal, and yet it’s one of the least talked about topics.

Talking about sleep isn’t as sexy as doing squats to get those #bootygains, probably because most people realize they don’t prioritize their sleep as much as they should.

If you’re working hard in the gym and not seeing the scale budge in the direction you want it to, it could be your sleep that’s the problem, especially if you know you already locked down your nutrition.

Not only does bad sleep keep you from gaining muscle, but it can also make you fat (this article from RFS explains it well).

Life gets in the way: school assignments keeping you up late, health issues of you or a loved one, work that you need to finish so you decide to stay up all night…

However, for a lot of people, it’s not just one-off problems that keep them from sleep.

After awhile, getting bad sleep turns into a habit.

There’s conflicting science on whether you can “catch up” on sleep during the weekends, but whether or not it’s true, we all know it’s better for your daily productivity and happiness to get quality, consistent sleep every day.

Let’s break down the causes of bad sleep and then we’ll go over some ways you can fix it.

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We don’t sleep like we were designed to

There’s conflicting studies on how our ancestors used to sleep, but for the most part, we don’t sleep like other mammals. If you have a pet or you’ve ever been around other animals (except for cats, they are all wild throughout the incredibly early hours of the morning), you know that they start to wind down when the sun sets.

Most of the animal kingdom goes to sleep when the sun does and rises with it in the morning.

Humans do the opposite. We’re neurotic messes that stay up far too late binging the latest Netflix show or go out to the bar until the early hours of the morning. Then we wake up to a screaming alarm clock and have to drink so much coffee just to survive until the traditional afternoon crash where we complain how tired we are and add more coffee into our bodies.

Look, I’m all for having fun nights out. They’re a part of balance. I don’t even want to add up how many nights I went out. They’re priceless memories that are worth it every time.

That doesn’t excuse the other 6 days of bad sleep, though.

Insomnia is not found in cultures that live closer to how our ancestors did. They get quality sleep unlike a lot of Westerners.

That’s a huge factor, especially considering between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. We might claim it’s natural, but it’s obviously not. We’ve created this.

It’s not so much about the specific length of sleep, but the quality of it.

Technology and sleep issues

We’ve all heard the rants and raves about technology, so I’ll just link to articles that dive into this better than I can.

This article dives into blue lights and why it’s so detrimental to our health.

If you don’t want to read that much, the biggest takeaway is that our bodies are cued by light. From the article, “All it takes is one night of artificial light throwing off your sleep to alter CLOCK genes and, in turn, affect gene expression.”

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Low-quality snacks before bed

If you’re someone who suffers from indigestion or heartburn, you know the struggle of having heartburn keep you up.

Most people also have desert with dinner and there’s a lot of studies that show how much sugar can impact someone’s sleep. It’s the same for refined carbs, eating fast food for dinner, or anything else unhealthy before sleeping (including alcohol).

Other factors

Sleep is generally the sum of our entire lifestyle. If we’re stressed, we get bad sleep. If we eat bad food, bad sleep. If we don’t exercise, bad sleep.

My whole life, I’ve been one of those people who never got enough sleep. Ever.

Throughout high school I’d stay up on my computer until far too late then get in bed and listen to music for hours. I just never got tired at night. Then on weekends I’d sleep in until about 4 am. I’d constantly be pulling all-nighters for either school or fun.

Then in college it didn’t get much better. I’d stay up all night on my computer or out partying.

I didn’t actually start getting quality sleep until I started exercising consistently and making it a priority. That’s why I’m so big on helping people fix this. When I think of all the bad grades I had, getting on academic probation in college after my first year due to sleeping through classes, how much my work suffered through the years due to my lack of creative energy… I realize how different those could have been if I just had made sleep a priority.

The more and more people I talk to, the more I realize how many people have this issue, too.

Why it matters

Imagine a life where you’re well-rested.

You have time for the gym every day.

Your work gets your full, creative energy.

You’re able to spend quality, focused time with your family or significant other.

You’re actually able to start chipping away at those big goals you have.

See, lack of sleep becomes a good excuse. Just notice how many people around you are always saying how tired they are. Everyone’s always tired, busy, stressed, and overwhelmed.

But not you. You’re someone who wants energy back in their life so you can live a life you love. It’s cheesy-sounding, but it’s true. Having the energy to do the things you want to do extends outside just your gym gains, it bleeds into your whole life.

How to fix your bad sleep:

The most important part of this article is actually applying these things. It’s nice to say you’re going to do them, but if you even committed to one of them it would help. So many people read articles like this but don’t change a damn thing in their lives.

If you even applied one of these to your life, you would be surprised at how you feel every day.

Yes, there are some factors such as getting a better quality mattress, buying black out curtains, and so on, but I wanted to focus on factors you could do right now without having to buy anything. I’m also going to stay away from the obvious factors like starting to cut out caffeine in the afternoons. The general rule is to stop drinking it 10 hours before you plan to go to sleep.

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Start saying no

If fitness is a priority for you right now, it’s time to start saying no to things.

I have a ton of friends who want to lose that “extra 10 lbs” but they never say no to a night out. They go out every night on the weekend and even once or twice during the week. They never, ever say no even though every day they say they are tired and that they need to quit drinking.

Get up earlier

Yes, earlier. In that sleep study article I linked to above about our ancestors sleep, there was one common thread amongst tribes and how they sleep across the world: they’re up before the sun.

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Get quality time outside and get natural light in the morning

Yes, you should sit outside when possible. We weren’t designed to sit in offices under horrible lighting all day.

On top of that, actually spend quality time outside. Go camping. Actually, did you know camping can help reset your bad sleep cycles? Seriously. When a researcher sent people out camping to see how spending time outside would reset their internal clocks, he saw that it only took a few days to get it back to normal.

The researcher said he set his own internal clock by “hiking in the morning and by waking up and sleeping at the same time every day”. I’m sure your brain is already thinking of excuses, “Oh, that’s nice but I don’t live around mountains to hike.” Okay, well take a stroll around your neighborhood for 5 minutes.

Install blue-light reducing software

As a fellow technology addict, I understand how hard it is to go cold-turkey and just quit your technology completely at night.

Sure, it’s the best idea, but it’s not always realistic.

Thankfully, most new iPhones have the blue-light reducing feature built in and Flux can be installed on computers to reduce it at a certain time in the day.

Read at night, leave your phone out of your room, and get a real alarm clock

A book?! What is that archaic thing?

I know, I know. It sounds impossible to just read when there’s so many fun apps to play with, Tweets to retweet, and blogs to read… But you’d be amazed at how fast you might be able to fall asleep with reading.

When I play on my phone at night (even with turning on the blue-light reducing software), I stay up an extra two hours every single time. If I read, it’s about 30 minutes before I fall asleep.

Shut down your phone and leave it away from your bed. That way, you don’t feel a pull to use it at night.

Use something else besides your phone for an alarm clock. Get a real one. That will remove the temptation of browsing all night. If you have a technology addiction, the first few days are the hardest, but it needs to be done.

Along this line, also avoid TV at night. Too many TV and Netflix shows are so good and addictive, you’ll stay up all night watching when you should be sleeping.

Create a shut-down ritual

Technology is a problem, but so are our own brains.

I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system (also called GTD), especially his emphasis on doing a daily brain dump to get out all those to-do’s rattling around in your head.

Every time I meet other people, I’m shocked at how seldom they write things down. HOW DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING?

If you’re a person that stays up late thinking about all the things they need to do the next day, you need a shut-down ritual at the end of your day.

Basically, when you decide you’re done with work (which should be at a set time every day), you sit down with a blank sheet of paper and get everything that’s been bugging you off your mind. Sometimes these are to-do’s, sometimes you just need to rant about something, sometimes it’s goals you know you need to put more effort into… Whatever it is, get it out and get it on paper.

If it’s something that’s really, really bugging you, create a plan on how you’re going to tackle it.

I know this sounds simple, but it’s one of the best things I started doing.

Instead of tossing and turning all night where my mind keeps me up trying to solve problems, I now get it out of my brain before I get in bed.

Also, SERIOUSLY stop checking your emails and messages into the night. Unless you’re on some kind of last-minute work crunch, stay away. I’ve spent too many nights dealing with heavy emotional texts or messages from my boss with to-do’s and it wrecks my sleep every time.

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Create a night time routine

With children, most parents create a night time routine. For example, brushing teeth, reading, and turning on a night light.

Yet as adults we’re just expected to be able to lie down and go right to sleep? Nope.

I’ve found that by starting a night time routine, I am able to actually get ready to sleep. It’s telling my body that it’s bedtime.

Everyone is different, but if you’re looking for a plan, mine is: shut down electronics. Get out a good book. Make some relaxing tea. Take my ZMA supplement. Put on my lavender moisturizer. Brush teeth. Get in bed and read until I fall sleep.

Switch careers/jobs

JACKIE DID YOU JUST SUGGEST PEOPLE QUIT THEIR JOBS IF THEIR BOSS IS UNREASONABLE AND DEMANDING AND EXPECTING TO HEAR FROM YOU AT MIDNIGHT?! Uh, yes. Yes I did. If your job seriously is taking that big of a toll on you, it’s time to think about an entire lifestyle change.

Recently, I went out to San Francisco and got a taste of that life for two weeks. I stayed up until about 9 pm working and was in the office every morning at 7 am. I haven’t been that much of a sleep-deprived and emotional mess in a long time. It was to the point where even a family member said I looked like death when I got home.

Sure, that kind of work could transform my entire life, get me to network with powerful people, and obviously could fill my bank account, but it simply wasn’t worth it.

My priority is my health. Yours might be different.

I had too many family members and friends suffer from not taking care of their health and some paid the ultimate price for it.

This got a little heavier than I intended when I started to write this, but the work you do every day plays one of the biggest roles in your overall happiness and health.

A lot of sleep problems come from having a lack of purpose in life, too. We use technology to distract ourselves from our overwhelming lack of purpose or feeling a daunting feeling about not pursuing our deeper goals. That’s another post for another time.

(Also, if you have a spouse that won’t support you quitting your job so you can regain some sanity, it’s time for therapy and then divorce. Okay, rant done.)

Sleep is the by-product of your entire life.

When you feel at peace, it’s much easier to sleep. When you don’t, it’s hard to sleep.

Take care of yourself first, and watch it start to fall into place.

 

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Why Entrepreneurs Should Have A Personal Trainer

Everyone knows that working out is good for your mind., but not enough people have talked about why exercise is so essential to entrepreneurs and freelancers.

Anyone who is a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk (myself included) knows he made the plunge and hired a personal trainer (Mike Vacanti and then Jordan Syatt). He’s mentioned quite a few times on his #AskGaryVee show on YouTube that taking charge of his health was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

It’s not secret that starting your own venture is exhausting.

Even after working as a personal trainer for three years, when I finally finished school and jumped all-in on being a freelance copywriter, I worked so long and hard and completely forgot everything I learned about health.

I totally get it.

It’s easy to put in 17 hour days and barely sleep in order to “finish that one last project”, although spoilers: the to-do list never really ends when you’re doing your own thing.

Any time spent away from building your business seems to be completely selfish and you convince yourself that if you take any time off it will all crumble to the ground. 24/7 hustle seems to be the only way to make it happen.

However, I’m here to tell you that the times I stopped, took care of myself, and then went back into my business full force yielded better results than the times I skipped any self care.

Watching Gary Vaynerchuk’s journey to getting healthier reminded me how many entrepreneurs and freelancers need to hear that message.

Working out and taking care of yourself will add to your business instead of subtracting from it.

Being able to approach a business, client, or customer problem with a fresh, focused mind is a million times better than trying to force out a solution of an exhausted mind.

It starts slow at first.

You start skipping workouts. You don’t walk much any longer except to client meetings and your car.

You start to order delivery or get fast food instead of cooking anything.

You drink more coffee and energy drinks than ever before.

You never leave the slouched-over position of sitting and hammering away at your laptop.

Your eye starts to develop a twitch from so much computer screen time.

Eventually, it’s a year or years later and you get a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder what the hell happened because that zombie-looking face staring back at you can’t be your face.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and preach about work-life balance because I still don’t quite know how to do that, but I’ve learned that caring about your health matters.

The more you exercise and eat right, the more energy you’ll have throughout the day to get things done.

Here are some things you can do to get your health back through the stressful period of starting your venture:

1. Know your business will survive for the 30 to 60 minutes you’re gone.

Yes, you can make the time to exercise and stretch. I know it’s hard to believe, but trust me. Even if you only work on your side-hustle in the early morning or the late nights, you can find the time to take care of yourself.

It wasn’t until I was years into my business that someone I admired in my industry told me, “If your business can’t survive without you being gone for a few hours, you’re building a business wrong.”

It was a great punch to the gut on what I was currently doing.

2. Drink enough water (start small).

This is at least the first step you should work on. Even if you haven’t started exercising or cleaning up your diet.

There have been a few studies done at the University of Connecticut on all the different ways dehydration can change strength, cortisol, and testosterone.

I’m a big fan of starting to implement baby steps over a long period instead of just changing your life in an instant. I mean, do what works for you, but starting a small habit like drinking enough water makes adding other healthier habits easier down the line.

3. Keep workouts short and focused.

There’s no need to work out for 2+ hours. 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week is enough. For me, that seems to be enough to shake off the anxiety that building a new venture brings.

Stay focused, stay moving in the gym, and focus on workouts that work multiple parts of your body at once. That will be the fastest way to get a great workout done in a shorter amount of time. Of course, it depends on your goals, but it’s a good place to start.

4. Look into personal trainers.

You don’t need to hire one at a gym, there are also a ton of coaches who do online coaching. Sometimes online coaching is the best option so you don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time, you can adjust depending on what you need to accomplish that day.

Online coaching is a better option than just relying on yourself to be accountable, because you need to report to someone with your effort.

Here are two great posts on what to look for in an online coach: here and here.

There are a lot of skeez-buckets out there who have abs and think they’re experts. There are also PhD’s who have real ego/attitude problems because they think they’re so above everyone who are as equally a nightmare to train with.

Any decent trainer should be able to answer any questions you have, have some kind of training and clients with results, and not be an ego-maniac.

Those are the best steps to start with, and I’m writing this mainly from my perspective of how many times I’ve burned my mind and body into the ground by being a workaholic.

It’s not worth it. It hurts not only you but your business results as well.

Can You Balance Fitness and A Fun Life?

Americans are obsessed with a “balanced” life.

Recently I was browsing through the new books section at my local bookstore and almost every single self-help title was along the lines of:

  • “Work-life balance for the busy professional”
  • “How to balance it all as a mom”
  • “Work hard and have fun”
  • “How to balance it all”

While work-life balance is a great goal, the problem is that most people feel incredibly guilty all the time for not balancing everything.

They feel bad they don’t have enough time to meditate in the morning, that they skip breakfast, that they missed a night out with their friends due to a project needing to be finished, or any other guilt that sits in the back of their minds.

Everyone is stressed out. Look at any single day time television show: it’s about balance and how stressed we all are.

Sure, it’s important to make time for what matters, but understand that we’re all simply doing the best we can at any given moment.

My 27th birthday was this past Friday and instead of feeling bad about not having some “exciting” night out, I decided to finally say: Fuck it.

For years I went out with friends, whether I was in the mood for it or not, because of some idealistic reality-TV-driven standard of go big or go home. Instead, I just read some books, watched some movies, and got in some quality family time. I ate an entire pizza and tub of ice cream because fuck. it.

I don’t have time to meditate right now (that can also be read as: It’s not a priority right now), and I’m going to stop feeling bad about that. I skip breakfast often and I’m not going to feel bad about that either.

I don’t have it all balanced, and I’m going to keep trying to instill better habits but the guilt has to go. I’m done with it.

I’ve decided to stop feeling bad about not being able to balance it all.

Life is a spectrum. Sometimes you’re 100% all-in and dedicated to a goal. Sometimes everything is thrown off balance. Sometimes you just need to put in 14+ hour days on a project to hit your deadline and you miss your workouts.

Fuck. It.

You’ll catch up later.

You’ll put in extra cardio next week.

To be honest, I don’t know anyone who has it all balanced.

Even celebrities with hired help still operate in different levels of the spectrum.

If you’re feeling guilt over not having everything perfectly balanced, please take a deep breath. Right now.

Keep trying to balance everything, but if you miss something, STOP FEELING BAD.

Sometimes I’ve forced myself into the idea of “balance” and hung out with friends but the whole time I’m thinking about the work I need to stay up all night to finish.

I’m in a period of my life where I need to work harder than I ever have before and I am simply not going to feel bad about it.

When I worked at my old gym, not balancing everything was the top guilt-inducing feeling.

When a client was clearly plagued with guilt about missing a workout, bingeing over the weekend, or thoughts about not spending enough time with their family: their workout suffered every single time.

They were slower, less enthusiastic, and wanted to be done way earlier than they should have.

People walk around with these feelings all the time.

Sometimes you don’t even realize how pervasive guilt is until you stop and realize how often you beat yourself up over it.

Take a deep breath, know you’re trying your best, decide on your top three priorities, and don’t feel guilty about anything outside of those priorities.

Also, I’m going to start posting more videos on YouTube, so come subscribe: Here.

2016 Fitness Goals

Not everyone is into goal setting, but it’s something I’ve always liked to do with the start of the year. I’m not as big on New Years Resolutions because I think it’s more important to look at the entire year instead of promising you’re going to change all of your habits overnight.

Also, just to note, these are more themes for the year than concrete goals. I don’t have any PR’s I want to hit, goal weights, or timed miles. I just want more of these things in my life overall.

If you want a deeper look into a goal setting and planning routine, Click here.

By setting yearly goals, I can see what I need to accomplish throughout each month to get there.

These are my fitness goals for the year (my business goals and personal goals are in a whole different category), but hopefully putting them in writing will force me to stay accountable. I’ll also be doing either quarterly or monthly updates to make sure I knock all of these out of the park.

1. Increased endurance.

Yes, I know this isn’t a specific goal, but I generally want to increase my cardiovascular endurance so when I’m hiking and swimming all summer I won’t feel like my lungs are dying.

All throughout high school I played lacrosse and after that ended I stopped doing a lot of cardio. I’m honestly not a fan of cardio, but if I want to hold my own all summer, it’s necessary.

2. Only two-hour computer periods.

One of the worst fitness mistakes I make is sitting at this damn computer for far too long. These giant chunks of metal rule so much of our lives now, and every time I do work binges I feel my body start to ache.

Sitting is not good, and I don’t like standing desks either. So, I’m simply going to combat this with walking away from this thing every two hours and doing something else for a few minutes; mainly stretching.

3. Fitness classes

I want to get involved in some kind of competitive environment again. Whether it’s boxing, martial arts, adult lacrosse leagues, or something else, I need to get in an environment where I’m challenged in a new way. I want to sign up for a few things this year and see what I enjoy.

It’s enjoyable to get roughed up as well. No, I don’t mean in a 50 Shades kind of way, I mean in a competitive way. Some of my favorite memories from high school involved pushing girls around in lacrosse.

(Note: Please do not suggest Crossfit. I hold nothing against Crossfit, I just want to do something that doesn’t involve weights because I already spend all kinds of time around weights and in a gym.)

4. Consistency.

If anything, I just want to stay consistent with my fitness this year. No months off, selective cheat meals, marching through all kinds of new programs, consistent content for this blog and my YouTube channel.

Nothing in the world beats being consistent. That’s how everything great in life happens. It’s not flashy, it’s not sexy, but it’s the one thing that separates the people who really want something from the ones who don’t, and I really fucking want it.

I have a huge calendar where I mark off the days I am consistent in all the areas that matter, and all I want is for it to be full of check marks.

5. Go on a vacation and focus on balance.

I just looked at my planners and realized I haven’t been on a vacation where I get to lay on a beach and not give any shits for a solid week in over 11 years. Yes, 11 years. All of my vacations since then have been busy vacations with no actual down time and constant movement.

I just need a break. Whether I schedule one mini vacation every three months or a huge vacation, I am not sure yet, but it will be happening.

Workaholism is a problem I constantly deal with, and I’m going to force myself to actually balance this year, or else I’m going to burn out.

This overall goal/theme includes stretching daily, actually doing physical rehabilitation to fix imbalances, and getting enough sleep.

Hustle is great and I know I can get more done without working 17 hours a day like I have for 5+ years now if I concentrate on the select few things that matter.

That’s it for the year. What are YOUR goals / themes for the year?

Why Stress Is Ruining Your Body and What to Do About it

Diet, workout plans, and sleep are all building blocks to an impressive body. However, there’s a sneaky little thing called stress that can ruin all your gains.

It’s not nearly as “sexy” to talk about as things like getting abs and cooking impressive meals, but your hormones and metabolism are extremely important to the overall function of your body.

Things like major stress, depriving your body of the needed calories, and constant binge drinking can damage your body for years. Thankfully, for the most part, with careful planning you can undo a lot of the damage. (One recommended resource for this is Jillian Michael’s book: Master Your Metabolism. P.S. that’s not an affiliate link. I just dig the book.)

From the book:

“According to Dr. Scott Isaacs, author of The Leptin Boost Diet and guru of all things hormonal, stress can cause

  • Leptin resistance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Lower estrogen (estradiol) in women
  • Lower testosterone in men
  • Lower levels of growth hormone
  • Higher cortisol levels
  • Impaired conversion of thyroid hormone”

Basically, it can ruin everything.

All of those can cause serious health complications along with unexplained weight gain.

This is why I disagree fully with anyone who claims weight loss is as simple as calories in and calories out. It kind of is, but not always. Plus, I refuse to ride the weight-shaming bandwagon, but that’s another story.

When a study was done at the University of Chicago and they deprived sleep in young men for two nights, the hormone that regulates hunger levels increased.

Not to mention, stress and sleep are usually correlated. If you’re stressed, you don’t sleep well. If you don’t sleep well, it’s hard to deal with stress. It’s a constant yo-yo that can cause mental and physical hell. It’s also harder to eat well and maintain energy to exercise when you have too much stress in your body.

Dealing With Stress

Now, the problem that I understand far too well is that most advice about dealing with stress has to do with spending large amounts of money. Some of these horrible tips include: get a weekly massage! Go on vacation! Hire some help! All of them are great ideas, but I choose to also learn how to manage my stress without spending money (so I can kick my student loans in the face).

So, here are my tips to manage stress on the cheap:

1. The 10/10/10 Rule. I cannot remember where I heard this rule, but the basics are simple: you ask yourself if the thing stressing you out at the moment will matter in 10 days, 10 months, and 10 years. While something might matter in 10 days, it won’t matter in 10 years.

2. Focus on the things you do have. I’m not big into being “woo-woo”, but gratitude is serious business. There are always things to be grateful for, even if it’s the fact that you’re alive. List them all out.

3. Get your mind off stress with physical work. When my mind is completely bogged down with stress, it’s hard to have any perspective outside the moment I’m in. This is when I know it’s time to go exercise, clean the house, or do something else like garden. Physically exhaust yourself so you stop thinking for a bit.

4. Go do something for free in your city. Thankfully, I live in downtown Denver, so I have a long list of free things to do around here. When I lived in my smaller town in Michigan, there were still PLENTY of things to do that got me out of the house and my mind off what I was stressed about.

5. Do something that always gets your mind right. For me, it’s watching one of my favorite movies between Gladiator, 300, or something really heavy like Schindler’s List. All of those remind me what’s important and to not worry about the (usually) petty thing I can’t get off my mind.

Learn your body

Overall, it’s important to know what’s going on with your body. Fitness and nutrition are fun, but if your body is not functioning well at the most basic level, it will all come crashing down eventually.

Stay healthy, inside and out.

What are YOUR tips to staying healthy and managing stress?