top of page
  • Writer's pictureMartha Lewis

5 “healthy” things you shouldn’t do if you can’t sleep

When I suddenly couldn’t sleep normally (for the first time in my life) during and after pregnancy, I thought if I exercised hard and tired myself out that I would sleep better. Many of my clients tell me they tried the same thing. Maybe you have, too.

If you have, you know it doesn’t work. When I was struggling with sleep, I would sleep even worse when I did strenuous exercise. At the time it didn’t make any sense. As a mountain girl who would backcountry ski all day and go for 5 hour bike rides, I used to always sleep great after a big day. But now that I’ve learned about how stress affects the body, it makes perfect sense.

To explain, we’ve gotta talk about stress first.

We think of stress as bad. And it certainly can be if we define it as “a condition when we perceive that the demands exceed our personal or social resources.” When we feel overwhelmed, we call it stress. And this type of constant stress is bad for our health over time.

But there’s also good stress. When I feel stressed before speaking at a conference, that’s good stress because it means that I care about performing well and the stress hormones will help me do a good job by giving me energy and helping me focus.

There’s also hormetic stress, the kind that makes us stronger. Exercise is a kind of hormetic stress-we stress our muscles and they get stronger because of that stress.

So it seems like strenuous exercise is good for us and would help us sleep better.

Here’s why it doesn’t.

If you can't sleep normally, your body is already stressed. It’s stressed from not getting enough sleep. And it’s stressed from the physiological stressors that are keeping you from sleeping normally.

If you can’t sleep, you have some combination of these imbalances in your body:

  • Inflammation

  • Too many toxins

  • An unhealthy gut

  • Liver dysfunction

  • Hormone imbalance

  • Neurotransmitter imbalance

All of these imbalances are causing stress in your body.

So adding more stress, even what we think of as “healthy” stress, such as HIIT workouts, will stress your body even more and make it even harder to sleep.

Here are 5 “healthy” activities that can stress your body even more and make your sleep worse. They’re “healthy” because we read that these activities are good for us. And they are good for you, if your body is healthy. They stress your body which makes it stronger.

But if you aren’t sleeping, your body isn’t healthy. So these extra stressors are more than your body can handle at this time. We know they are stressful because your body will release cortisol when you do these activities.

1. Strenuous exercise

I’ll start with this one since I’ve already been talking about it. Exercise is a part of being healthy. But strenuous exercise for more than 30 minutes stresses your body out and raises your cortisol levels.

So if you aren’t sleeping, I don't recommend HIIT workouts and other strenuous workouts for more than 30 minutes. And I don’t recommend endurance training (such as marathons).

Instead, focus on walking, yoga, weight lifting and shorter runs and workouts.

2. Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is fabulous for weight loss, lowering blood sugar and preventing diabetes. And many of my clients have blood sugar issues that intermittent fasting can help with. But I don’t recommend they do longer fasts until they’re sleeping better.

Everything I’ve read about intermittent fasting says not to do it if you aren’t getting proper sleep. Usually intermittent is referring to more than 12 hours of fasting.

However, I do recommend 12 hours of “digestive rest” every day to almost all of my clients. This rest is enough to help stabilize blood sugar levels and give your body a break from digestion and from releasing insulin. I also recommend not snacking between meals for the same reasons.

3. Hot yoga

I love hot yoga because of how depleted and light I feel afterwards. But this activity is also stressful for your body and so I don’t recommend it if you aren’t sleeping well.

4. Cold water plunging

I hear about the benefits of this activity all the time recently. It’s supposed to improve cardiovascular function which is great for a healthy person with no symptoms. But it shocks the body and causes an increase in body temperature and heart rate. It’s obviously stressful so best avoided until you’re sleeping better.

5. Restricting calories

I never recommend restricting calories on purpose but doing it while you aren’t sleeping well is especially stressful. When your body thinks it’s starving, it’s stressed and it will do whatever it can to preserve energy (i.e. slow down your metabolism and release cortisol which stores fat).

Oftentimes, the same stressors that are keeping you from sleeping normally are also keeping you from being able to lose weight. When your body is stressed and inflamed, it releases cortisol. When it releases cortisol at night, it wakes you up and makes it hard to go back to sleep. Cortisol also tells your body to store fat.

The way to sleep better (and to lose weight) is to find out what’s stressing out your body and address it. Usually it’s inflammation and toxicity from diet, liver function and your gut.

You also have to believe that you can sleep better. This is actually the first step.

If you want to sleep better, first you have to believe that it’s possible.

To improve your sleep faster, you want to start becoming the person who sleeps well.

Even if you haven’t slept well in months or years.

Everything that was invented in this world existed in someone's mind first.

Edison had never seen a light bulb except in his mind. He had no proof that it would work. But he made it happen.

The Wright brothers came up with the idea for an airplane with no evidence that it was possible. But they brought it to life.

The idea comes first. Then the reality.

To sleep better, you have to believe you can even if there isn't evidence to prove it.

Imagine your future self who has no problem with sleep.

What do you think?

What do you feel?

What do you do?

And then, start doing those things now. This tells your brain that you want to sleep so that you can do these things. Start becoming the person who is a good sleeper ahead of time. Reality will catch up.

So the way to sleep better permanently is to first believe that you can and act accordingly.

The second step is to find the hidden health issues that are keeping you from sleeping normally. And make sure your mind isn’t sabotaging your sleep.

This is exactly what my team and I can help you with at the Complete Sleep Solution. Book a free consultation on Zoom to see if you’re a good fit for the program so you can start sleeping better soon!

25 views0 comments
bottom of page