If you like to be up on the latest technology, you might well own a Fitbit, a wearable activity tracker which can measure a number of things such as your heart rate, number of steps walked in a day, and of course, your quality of sleep. Their online blog contains a section specifically dedicated to sleep, which covers a range of sleep-related topics.
If you’ve ever been accused of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, there may be something to that. “It’s fairly well-established in scientific literature that adequate sleep is important for mood regulation,” says Fitbit sleep advisor Michael T. Smith, Jr., PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and nursing and director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
In fact, people who habitually get less than eight hours of sleep a night may have a harder time tuning out the type of negative thoughts that can contribute to anxiety and depression, finds a recent study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Sleep loss affects how the brain functions, especially the frontal lobes which inhibit those repetitive, intrusive thoughts that can lead to worry and anxiety, says Smith.
Studies also show that inadequate rest can impede your ability to feel pleasure. But that’s not all: When you’re sleep deprived, your brain also has a harder time working effectively. “The first thing to go is executive functioning,” says Smith. “Reaction time is slowed, creativity is affected, and you won’t be as mentally flexible.”
The good news? Many of the negative effects of sleep deprivation are preventable.
Optimize Your Sleep
To support your brain’s mood regulation and cognitive function, the best remedy could be adequate sleep. What does that look like?
Everybody’s different, but the vast majority of adults need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep, says Smith. If your sleep is fragmented—say, you get three hours, wake up, and then get another two hours versus simply getting five hours straight—the negative effects of sleep deprivation can be worse, because you don’t have the chance to progress into the deeper stages of sleep that help you feel restored and rejuvenated.
Check your sleep data in the Fitbit app. Although it’s normal to experience multiple periods of restlessness each night, the maximum number of times per night that you wake up so fully that you remember it the next morning is two, says Smith. (Unless you’re older and are waking up to use the bathroom—that’s common.)
Quality sleep is best achieved by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule that feels right for you. People are “genetically predisposed” to different bedtimes and rise times, says Smith, hence the night owl and early bird phenomenon. “Preferably, you go to bed when you want to go to bed, and wake when you want to wake,” he says. Try using Fitbit’s sleep tools to set a schedule and stick to it.
If adhering to a regular schedule isn’t possible, monitoring how long it takes you to fall asleep and wake up can help you figure out whether your sleep schedule is out of whack. “Follow the 30-minute rule,” says Smith. “If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or you begin waking up 30 minutes before you set your alarm, see your doc.” If you feel “content” with the amount of rest you’re getting—if you’re feeling happy, healthy and alert—then you’re probably getting enough.
You know too many nights of too little sleep can seriously impair your physical, mental, and emotional health—cue the I’m-sorry-for-what-I-said-before-I-had-my-coffee memes—but research now shows that getting too much shuteye may be just as bad.
A 2015 review of studies found that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night or more than eight have a significantly increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Short and long sleepers also tend to gain more weight than moderate sleepers, according to another study. And then there are the brain effects of prolonged sleep—things like memory impairment in older adults and an increased risk of developing dementia.
“There are several theories regarding increased sleep and its association with obesity and diabetes,” says family medicine doctor, Natasha Bhuyan, MD from Phoenix, AZ. “One theory is that people with sleep apnea have an increased need to sleep longer, and they are also at risk for obesity and diabetes. Another theory is that the long sleep itself is just a symptom of underlying issues, like depression. Certainly, it doesn’t seem that longer sleep duration is the cause of these health hazards; rather, there is some association that needs to be studied further.”
It’s crazy to think you should put a cap on something that’s so good for you, but that’s exactly what some experts recommend. Unfortunately, figuring out whether you’re getting too much sleep—and what to do about it—isn’t cut and dry. Below, advice from leading health experts you won’t want to sleep on.
Are You Getting Too Much Sleep?
As you might expect, sleep patterns (like so many other aspects of health from nutrition to exercise) vary from person to person. And while agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) often cite seven to nine hours a night as the recommended sleep duration for adults, many experts argue that the definitions of “too much” and “too little” sleep are murky.
“The number often floated around is eight hours because it’s the average, but that’s not a set number for everyone,” says Fitbit sleep advisor Allison Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and director of Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. “There’s no definition of too much.”
“The number of hours of sleep you need per night mostly depends on your age and your own body,” says Bhuyan. The younger a person is, the more sleep they require—that’s because sleep directly impacts mental and physical development. Counting naps and nighttime snoozing, newborns typically need to sleep between 14 to 17 hours a day, toddlers need about 11 to 14 hours, preschoolers require 10-13 hours, school age children need 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers require between 8 and 10.
To figure out if you’re getting too much sleep, first you have to know how much you’re currently getting. When worn to bed, all wrist-based Fitbit devices can automatically detect any sleep session at least one hour in duration.
To see your sleep stats, including hours slept, just tap the sleep tile on your Fitbit app dashboard. If you’re using an iOS or Android smartphone, you can then tap the expander icon at the top right of the graph to see average time asleep across various time periods (time asleep is calculated by subtracting your time awake or restless from the overall tracked time. For example, if you slept 8 hours, but woke up twice for 15 minutes each, the time asleep will show 7.5 hours).
There are a few different ways this info may be helpful. “If someone is making changes or making correlations with health factors, looking week by week can be beneficial,” says Siebern. “If someone is noting a change in their sleep (i.e. needing more over time), looking at longer trends can be helpful.”
Once you know what your average time asleep is, start paying attention to how you feel each day. By connecting how much you’ve slept with how you feel, you can start to figure out whether the amount of sleep you’re getting each night is actually the right amount for you.
“If you consistently sleep nine hours and you wake up feeling sluggish and you’re not able to complete both mental and physical tasks without issues throughout the day, then nine hours of sleep might be too much for you,” says Bhuyan. “You could also have an underlying medical condition that needs to be explored, so it’s worth seeing your primary care provider.”
Why Your Body May Be Craving More Sleep
If you know you feel great with seven hours of sleep a night but notice your daily tally is starting to creep upwards, you’d be smart to investigate.
“It’s hard for the body to surpass a sleep hour unless there’s a reason,” says Siebern. “Let’s say someone who is hardwired as a seven-hour sleeper tries to sleep eight to nine hours—they’ll lie in bed and it will not be a nice experience.”
There are a few possible causes, including a busy lifestyle. “Adults may become a little restricted with sleep during the work week due to life responsibilities,” says Siebern. “And on the weekends they may tend to sleep longer than what’s average to make up some of the sleep debt.”
Unfortunately, you can’t really make up for lost sleep by sleeping in one day. If you think you’re in sleep debt, here’s how to balance your bedtime budget. If you do that and still feel overly sleepy, consider whether medicine might be a factor. According to research, one common reason people oversleep is prescription sleep medication which a CDC study says about 4% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over reported taking in the past 30 days. One study found that people using insomnia medication regularly experienced residual effects like drowsiness and impaired memory that interfered with work, home life, and social relationships.
The effects can also be much more serious. “Emerging research shows that sleeping pills are dangerous and linked to increased mortality,” says Bhuyan. “So if you suffer from insomnia, you’re better off finding natural ways to fall asleep (and sleeping a shorter amount) than taking a prescription sleeping medication.”
If sleep medication isn’t the issue, talk to your doctor about the potential of an underlying health condition or whether a prescription medicine you’re currently taking for that condition may be contributing to your fatigue. Many medical conditions are known to cause sleep changes, including:
Depression and anxiety
Gastrointestinal disorders, and more
“People with depression often have a hard time waking up in the morning,” says Bhuyan. “People with sleep apnea will wake up [feeling] unrefreshed, snore at night, or sometimes, have episodes where their sleep partner thinks they stopped breathing at night. These conditions can be subtle, so it’s important to see a primary care provider so they can pick up on any small clues.”
If you’re concerned about your sleep stats or the quality of your rest, make an appointment with your doctor to investigate the issue. “It’s important to see your primary care provider for a general health exam so you can discuss your sleeping habits,” says Bhuyan.
And if your doctor rules out any potential medical condition affecting your sleep, then it’s time to do a serious self-assessment on your nightly patterns so you can start to make improvements. Fitbit sleep tools, like bedtime reminders and silent alarms, can help you establish and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Have you ever had a dream where you wondered if maybe there was something more to it than the simple firing of the subconscious? Perhaps you were being chased in your dream and woke up exhausted. Or maybe you had a nonsensical dream that broke from your normal dream patterns.
Fitbit advisor Michael Grandner, MD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, agrees that’s a possibility. “Dreams are what happen when we watch the brain rewire itself,” he says. “They are a window to the internal workings of our brain as it processes the day’s information, plans for the future, thinks about what’s important, tries to solve problems, and goes about its business making connections among concepts and memories and emotions.”
So how can you decode your dreams? There are a couple things to consider.
Dream Recall Can Point to Disturbed Sleep
You usually won’t remember your dreams, even though you likely have several of them a night each time you’re in REM, says Grandner. It’s actually normal to forget even vivid dreams quickly.
“We cannot really form memories while dreaming,” says Grandner. “If we do remember a dream, whether it’s because we woke from it in the middle and our conscious mind was able to catch a glimpse or if it, or because it was a lucid dream where we maintained some consciousness, that memory can fade very fast.”
If you’re consistently remembering dreams in vivid detail, you might not be getting restful sleep. Try adjusting your eating, drinking, or nighttime stress-relieving habits.
“If you have something that disturbs your sleep at the end of the night,” says Grandner—like certain foods and drinks—”you might be more likely to wake up from, and thus remember, a dream.” Alcohol can even suppress REM sleep. “If you consume something that suppresses REM sleep, you can reduce dreaming or even increase REM pressure and have more intense dreams,” says Grandner.
Your Mind Has It’s Own Language
Your dream might not make any logical sense—monsters, actions you’d never take, seeing people long gone. That’s because your brain sometimes uses dreams to create faux experiences. “In order to process memory, reinforce learning, and build connections, [your brain] may need to ‘experience’ these connections,” says Grandner. “The reason why dreams don’t make logical sense is that they are not an actual experience that follows the rules of reality. Rather, in order for the brain to build these connections, it needs to exist in a reality that doesn’t follow the normal rules.”
For example, in real life, a person cannot be a house. But perhaps you have a dream where you are indeed a house. Perhaps being a house allows you to watch a specific situation objectively and silently, or it allows your brain to create order out of chaos by taking you out of the action. It could be just about anything, which is why dreams can be so hard to interpret. “When our conscious mind tries to understand it, we often apply structure and rules that dreams don’t actually follow,” he says.
Although there’s no universal language of dreams, Grandner says you can glean certain insights from “your mind’s own language.” If you’re stuck on a dream you’ve just experienced, think broadly instead of specifically. “Maybe you have a dream that you are having a heart attack,” says Grandner. “Perhaps it means that you’re worried about your health, or maybe it means that you feel something bad may happen at work.”
Worrying about health or aging might also manifest in a dream where you’re stuck in a room you can’t get out of, says Grandner. “The content of the dream itself may or may not have anything to do with the actual worry or concern you’re experiencing,” he says. “Remember, the dream doesn’t have to explain itself because your unconscious mind already understands.”
Along the same lines, don’t bother cracking open a dream book. “Those books are not based on sound science,” says Grandner. “They are mostly made up and out of date. A person’s dream language is their own. There may be layers that are not immediately obvious, and it’s possible that people from similar backgrounds may have a similar dream language, but it’s really an individual thing. For example, a dream about palm trees by someone who lived their whole life in New York City (where there are no palm trees and they are unusual) will likely mean something different than if it were dreamt by someone who spent their whole life in LA (where they are everywhere).”
The Bottom Line
No matter the dream world’s content, the simple act of self-reflection about your worries and fears might cause you to identify stressors in your life—and make smart changes to improve your health, whether it’s visiting a doctor, changing jobs, or something else. In this way, thoughtfully evaluating your life through your dreams can be helpful.
Of course, caffeine can also have some harmful effects. Especially if you don’t use the substance wisely. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that consuming coffee after 5 p.m. (or six hours before you hit the sack) may disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle, leading to a restless night and fatigue the next day.
So how exactly should the average person consume caffeine? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your daily caffeine boost.
#1 Choose Coffee Whenever Possible
It can be tough to separate caffeine’s effects from its perpetual buddy: coffee. “Much of the research on caffeine has been specifically done using coffee, which is a potent antioxidant,” says Hogan. “It is likely that a lot of the health benefits found in research may be due in part to these antioxidant properties and not just the caffeine alone.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sipping coffee over other caffeine sources is still a great, health-conscious choice. “Unless we consume coffee with a ton of sugar, it also has no added sugar compared to sodas or energy drinks, which are loaded with it,” says Hogan. And when imbibed in addition to your daily water-consumption goal, it can help keep you hydrated.
#2 Keep Caffeine Consumption Within the “Safe” Guidelines
Stick to roughly 300 or 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, or about four eight-ounce cups, says Hogan, which “appears safe for generally healthy people.” After that, you might experience some unfortunate side effects. “Too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and anxiety and have profound effects on sleep and quality of sleep,” says Hogan. “It can also cause stomach upset in some people.”
#3: Consume Caffeine in the Morning or Before Exercise
As a known stimulant, caffeine is effective for increasing alertness, which is great in certain instances—like to start your morning or boost a workout. Just make sure you’re not boosting your alertness while killing other components of your health, like sleep. “I typically encourage most people to cut caffeine intake after twelve or one p.m., and have found this helps promote better quality of sleep,” says Hogan.
Caffeine has been studied as an effective performance-enhancing aid in endurance athletics, making it a good go-to for highly active people. “Athletes can benefit from a caffeine boost before a workout or race,” says Hogan. “About a cup or two of coffee—roughly 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine—tends to be the sweet spot for most people.”
Although caffeine is a diuretic, Hogan says it’s not too dehydrating to sip before your gym time. “A bigger risk could be negative effects on the GI system,” she explains. “It’s important to give the body a bit of time after caffeine consumption, say about an hour, before starting a workout or race.” Just monitor its effects on your own body, since those will be “highly individual.”
#4 Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Back
Despite its benefits, caffeine is still a substance with side effects. You should clue your doctor into your typical consumption, especially if you have a sensitive stomach or cardiovascular issues.
Coffee or caffeine usually is best served up as part of a routine, says Hogan, so “if you can’t regularly have coffee in the morning,” because it upsets your stomach or you simply don’t always have access to it, “giving up caffeine may lead to a better quality of life.”
You can also look into other ways to consume caffeine that you may tolerate better, especially if you’re an athlete looking for an exercise-booster. “Caffeinated gels, chews, and gum are also available and very useful,” says Hogan. So, even if it’s not a caffeinated drink, there might still be a caffeine tool that’s right for you.
Flight delays, time changes, and being in unknown cities are just some of the stressors that go into traveling for work. When you add in jam-packed days of meetings and client dinners that go late into the evenings, a restful night’s sleep may seem too hard to achieve. Not to mention, it’s never easy to fall asleep in an unfamiliar place—a fact that’s actually backed by science: Turns out that half of your brain stays in alert-mode when sleeping in an unfamiliar place, especially on the first night, making it harder to get a solid night’s sleep.
So how do you achieve the slumber you need on an important work trip when you’re dealing with all this uncertainty in your schedule? Try these tips:
Pack for comfort: Don’t underestimate comfortable bedtime clothes. If you have a favorite pair of jammies you regularly wear, make sure you have them in tow so you feel right at home. Snuggling up in the hotel robe is always a good idea too.
Give yourself a curfew: Allot plenty of time for rest by giving yourself a bedtime. Even if you have a dinner meeting or night out with coworkers planned, set an end-time before the night even begins so you know when it’s time to pack it in. Remind yourself how important it is to get the National Institute of Health’s suggested seven to eight hours of sleep for the busy day ahead. Setting a Bedtime Reminder in your Fitbit app can also help.
Fit in a workout: Being on the road doesn’t mean you need to throw away your fitness routine. Scope out the hotel gym, go on a morning jog, or even turn on a Fitbit Coach workout video right in your room. If you make time to be active during the day, you’ll help your chances of sleeping better at night. In fact, a Sleep in America poll showed those who exercise are more likely to say, “I had a good night’s sleep” on both work nights and non-work nights. The data showed that exercise is not only good for sleep, but that those who classify themselves as vigorous exercisers generally have the best sleep (non-exercisers report having the worst sleep).
Keep screen time to a minimum: Be cognizant about how much screen time you’re getting before bed, especially since blue light emitted by certain devices has been shown to suppress sleep-inducing hormones. If you like reading before bedtime, make sure to pack a physical book with you so it’s easy on the eyes.
Stay cool: The right temperature is key to getting a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you keep your room at a snuggly 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, since studies show that a room that’s too hot can lead to more wakefulness and less deep sleep.
Be proactive: If you’re a light sleeper, bring some earplugs. If you’re used to a pitch-black bedroom, pack an eye mask (those hotel blackout shades can be hit or miss). Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep so you get the rest you need to shine.
Looking to step it up? Learn how Fitbit Health Solutions can help your company develop a successful wellness program, boost employee health and happiness, and improve the bottom line.
How do you feel in the afternoon? Do you hit a point in the day when your eyelids get heavy and thoughts wander? When time seems to crawl and you barely move?
If you’re anything like the average Fitbit user, this afternoon slump hits between 2 and 3 p.m. And no, it’s not a coincidence that millions of people experience this lull.
“It’s not at all unexpected and is actually quite predictable,” says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., co-founder and former director of the Memorial-Hermann Chronobiology Center and co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health: How to Use your Body’s Natural Clock to Fight Illness and Achieve Maximum Health. “There is a biological rhythm in the drive for sleep and there are certain times of the day where there’s greater propensity, given the opportunity, for sleep to occur. Afternoon is one of those. Researchers see a drop in attentiveness and a tendency to want to take a short power nap, if allowed, in the early afternoon.”
Why is hard to pin down, but Smolensky thinks it may ultimately come down to energy use and the body’s need for rest and repair beyond what it gets at night. “There may be a shorter time span during the afternoon required for overall biological efficiency,” says Smolensky.
The problem? Modern life doesn’t really accommodate that need, which is why it can feel like you have to fight to stay awake and alert in the afternoon. Exactly when and how the afternoon slump hits can vary by individual, but there are a few steps everyone can take to maximize energy and productivity.
“If people are tracking their activity level, they can determine on an individual basis what works and doesn’t work for them,” says Smolensky. “And then they can use that information to understand what their needs are and how they can schedule their activities accordingly.”
How to Beat the Afternoon Slump
Step 1: Get a Full Night’s Sleep The CDC recommends that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, but the average Fitbit user usually falls short, according to recent Fitbit research. And while less sleep may be ok for some, it might be making your afternoon slump worse. “The more people tend to be sleep deprived and not get the sleep that they require, the greater their propensity to feel very tired after the lunch—even if they don’t eat lunch—and the greater the drive to want to take a nap or kind of just mellow out for a while,” says Smolensky.
Using your Fitbit app, start paying attention to your sleep duration and quality (if your tracker detects Sleep Stages) as well has how you feel each morning. Do you have more energy on the weekends when you allow yourself to sleep in? Then you may need to start going to bed earlier to get more sleep during the workweek. Use these Fitbit sleep tools to get on a healthier, more consistent sleep schedule.
Step 2: Look for Patterns If you get your sleep on track and your energy still tanks mid-afternoon, try to pinpoint the time frame. When you feel low, jot down the time. Or, tap the Hour Activity tile in your Fitbit app. From here you can look into each individual day to see exactly when you’re stationary the longest.
Step 3: Take a Power Nap Once you’ve identified the hours you tend to crash, you can put a plan in place. The best thing you can do, if you’re able, is find a cool, dark place to take a 20-minute power nap. “A brief nap in the early afternoon can reduce fatigue, improve brain function, and even improve physical performance,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson.
Step 4: Plan Your Day Because circadian rhythm is such a strong driver of your activity level and alertness, Smolensky recommends taking that into consideration when structuring your day. Do your most important tasks in the morning and save busy, mindless work—or running errands—for when you start to drag. “It’s about using your Fitbit data and saying, ‘hey, this is me and I need to give myself some downtime,’” says Smolensky. “If I’m in business or I have meetings, can I reschedule them so that I don’t look like a damn fool in the afternoon?”
Step 5: Seek Sunlight If there are meetings or other responsibilities you can’t shrug off during your afternoon slump, then go towards the light before the fatigue sets in. “If you go out for lunch, one thing you can try is to go for a stroll and get natural sunlight,” says Smolensky. “Bright light is stimulating, but I don’t know for sure that the boost will carry over long enough; it depends on the individual.” Set a silent alarm on your Fitbit tracker to remind yourself to get outside before your energy sags.
Step 6: Have a Cup of Coffee Another potential option? Caffeine. “Some individuals will have another round of coffee in the early afternoon,” says Smolensky. “Coffee is a light stimulant and can help right away, but sometimes there’s a rebound afterwards that can leave you feeling even more sluggish later.” If an afternoon cup of joe leaves you too wired to get to sleep later, tea may be a better option.
Step 7: Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
“Recognize that this is normal,” says Smolensky. “Say, ‘OK, I don’t have to force myself to be something I’m not. My biology is telling me I need this rest either because I’m not getting enough sleep at night or I have greater sleep needs or maybe I have a health problem.” Whatever it is, “Don’t expect too much,” says Smolensky. “Have reasonable expectations depending on what your biological needs are.”
Fitbit may have built its reputation on helping people hit 10,000 steps, but the company’s current suite of sleep, diet, and exercise features also makes its products invaluable to competitive athletes. It’s why team Lotto-Soudal asked Fitbit to provide Fitbit Charge 2s for them to use during this year’s Tour de France, and why the Australian national swim team partnered with Fitbit to outfit its more than 100 coaches, swimmers, and staff with Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Flex 2.
Below, the top 13 ways Fitbit helps these athletes—as well as its ambassadors—and how you can also take advantage of these athletic-performance-boosting features.
How Fitbit Devices Can Help You Get Race Ready
Accurately Track Your Workout Stats Not all athletes train the same way, which is why not all Fitbit products are alike. In terms of activity tracking, Fitbit Ionic is the most robust and will give you the best idea of what’s available. It offers on-board GPS—for accurate pace, distance, elevation climbed, split times, as well as a map of your walk, run, or ride route on-device without having to carry your phone—continuous heart rate and heart rate zone reporting (see “Workout At the Right Intensity,” below), water resistance up to 50 meters, an interval timer, and an exercise mode that can capture real-time stats of over 20 types of activities (for any cross training you do). Learn more about Ionic’s full set of features here or go to Fitbit.com/compare to find the device that best fits you.
Go Longer Long run or ride scheduled? Your Fitbit device can go the distance—and help you get there, too.
Fitbit Alta HR can last up to 7 days on a single charge; Fitbit Charge 2 stays powered for about five days, and Ionic for up to five days (or up to 10 hours when using GPS or playing music). Battery life varies with use and other factors, so for more information read Can I improve my Fitbit device’s battery life?
Worried about your batteries running low. If you train with Ionic, you can pay for food and drinks with a swipe of your wrist wherever contactless payments are accepted using Fitbit Pay*.
Connect With Likeminded Athletes The Fitbit app has a built-in virtual community with topic-specific groups like Cardio, Running, Swimming, Yoga, Hiking, Walking, Cycling, Strength Training, Injuries, and more, making it easy to find new friends, ask questions, and get advice.
To join one, tap the Community tab at the bottom of the Fitbit app. Then navigate over to Groups or scroll down and tap “Discover More Groups.” Once you join, you’ll be able see the posts of other group members and post something of your own. Their posts will also appear in your Feed.
Get Adequate Rest Besides being good for your health, a full night’s sleep is also vital to attention, concentration, physical functioning, muscle memory, healing, and recovery. But logging enough shuteye can be a challenge, especially for competitive athletes juggling work, training, and those pre-race nerves.
What do the pros do? Prioritize and track it. “Sleep is the biggest thing,” says Dallas Mavericks forward and Fitbit ambassador Harrison Barnes. “I track my sleep each night to make sure I’m rested and recovered so I’m at my best on the court the next day.”
Husband-and-wife distance-running duo Sara and Ryan Hall also place a lot of stock in their sleep duration and quality. “If these two matrices are both good then I go full throttle in the gym,” says former professional runner and Fitbit ambassador Ryan Hall. “However if I’ve missed a couple of hours of sleep, then I need to adjust my workout and not lift as heavy or aggressive as usual.” Sara adds, “I’ll look at it first thing in the morning and go back to sleep if I haven’t gotten enough.”
How much sleep do you need? The CDC recommends adults get at least 7 hours a night, but you may need more or less depending on your personal body chemistry and activity levels. To zero in on what’s best for you, pay attention to your sleep duration and Sleep Stages in the Fitbit app (available with any heart-rate enabled Fitbit device), and then ask yourself how you feel, suggests Fitbit sleep consultant Allison Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and director of Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC.
If your sleep stages are falling outside the averages but you feel refreshed and engaged, then you’re likely getting the quantity and quality of sleep you need. Use that as your baseline and then set a Bedtime Reminder and silent alarm to help you stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
Stay on Top of Your Hydration You’ve no doubt heard the 8-glasses-of-water-a-day advice, but do you know much water your body needs? Unfortunately it’s not a static number. “Because the amount of sweat and sodium athletes lose is highly variable, it’s important to understand individual needs and develop a personalized [hydration] plan, including both fluid and salt,” says Lauren Antonucci, a registered dietitian and triathlete.
Perform a sweat test to calculate your sweat rate and if you are a heavy sweater, aim to replenish 75 percent of lost fluids. You can set a water-consumption goal in the Fitbit app and easily log your intake by the glass or bottle. The app will tell you when you’ve hit your goal.
Fuel Your Body With The Right Nutrients What you eat can make or break not only how your body functions but how you feel while competing. So eating healthfully is important—and something Barnes is still fine-tuning.
“When you’re traveling as much as I do, diet is kind of the one thing you can do a better job of controlling,” says Barnes. “This season is going to be different. Not necessarily paleo—because I feel like when you cut out the carbs, your energy gets a little low—but something kind of along that track. Just cleaner eating will be a big thing.”
Read up on how to fuel for your sport, and then commit to food logging for at least a week so you can see exactly what you’re eating and where you have room for improvement. Research shows that competitive athletes can benefit from tailoring their calories and macronutrients to their training level and intensity.
Work Out At The Right Intensity Exercising according to heart rate is old hat for endurance athletes like Ryan Hall: “Tracking my heart rate during exercise is a great way for me to know I’m staying in whatever zone I am intending to be in,” says Ryan. “So if I’m running easy I know my heart rate should be in the 120-130 beats-per-minute (bpm) range, and if I’m running hard I know I need to get my heart rate up to 150-170 bpm.” But it can also be valuable to sport-specific athletes like Barnes.
Barnes recently told Fitbit that he began using target heart rate training last summer as a way to get fitter and improve his recovery. “Hitting a heart rate of 130 and maintaining that for 45 minutes is key for my off-day training,” says Barnes. “It’s helped take my conditioning to another level.”
Once your zones are set, all you have to do is stay within the one that corresponds to your goal. Glancing at your tracker or watch during exercise is an easy way to check—for instance, if you have a Fitbit Charge 2, the location of the heart on your display (and the accompanying text) will tell you which heart rate zone you’re currently in. But you can also check your post-workout summary in the app to see exactly how many minutes you spent in each zone.
Monitor Your Fitness Level Setting a new race personal best or getting an expensive stress test isn’t the only way you can tell if you’re getting fitter. If you have an Alta HR, Charge 2, Blaze or Ionic, Fitbit’s Cardio Fitness Score feature estimates your VO2max, the gold-standard measurement of how well your body uses oxygen during exercise. For the most precise score, use multisport mode on your device to track a 10-minute (or longer) run on a flat course with GPS (if it’s available on your device and you haven’t already done so recently). Once the workout syncs with your Fitbit app, your Cardio Fitness Score will automatically update. To find this information, tap the heart-rate tile on your Fitbit app dashboard, then swipe left on the top graph.
Control Your Total Training Load How much rest you need isn’t just dependent on how much you train, but on your non-exercise activity as well. “We always take into account how hard we train but rarely do we take into account how much we are moving,” says Ryan Hall. “Tracking steps gives me a good overall picture of how active my day was and if I need to adjust my training based on how much time I’ve already spent on my feet.”
This is especially true immediately before a competition. Sara Hall tries to keep her total mileage low heading into a race. “For example,” she says, “two days before my goal race I got lost on a layover run and ran around a lot inside and outside an airport, and looked at the Fitbit app afterwards to see how much mileage I’d been on my feet. I adjusted my run accordingly the next day.”
I always tell the kids that I coach that I want them moving as little as possible prior to cross-country races and sitting as much as possible to save their legs for the race,” says Ryan. “So even everyday activities like walking up stairs I try and have my athletes avoid prior to races.”
Outsmart Overtraining Syndrome An elevated resting heart rate—the heart rate measured when you’re awake, calm, comfortable, and have not recently exerted yourself—can be an early indicator of overtraining syndrome. But until relatively recently, getting an accurate reading was difficult (unless you were one of those athletes who were into wearing a chest strap to bed).
Enter Fitbit’s wrist-based heart-rate-tracking devices, which uses heart rate data from when you’re awake and asleep to estimate your resting heart rate. Because these devices measure heart rate continuously and can be comfortably worn 24 hours a day, no extra work is required on your end to calculate resting heart rate. Just look at your device or open the Fitbit app and tap on the heart rate tile on the dashboard. The graph at the top of the screen can be expanded to see your average resting heart rate over longer periods of time.
“I’ve used resting heart rate for years to make sure I was recovering well,” says Ryan Hall. “In the past, it was hard to get an accurate read as I was manually trying to count my heart rate while trying to lay as still as possible upon waking. This lead to a lot of questionable data and it was a pain so I wasn’t very..
You’re finally done typing up that work report after downing a late-night mocha, so you reward yourself with a peek at Facebook. That leads you down a rabbit hole that somehow results in a deep Wikipedia dive, so you turn off the laptop and head for bed. Only to find yourself, scrolling through Instagram until you pass out.
Sound familiar? If you’re actively engaging in any (or all—no judgment!) of these behaviors, you might be finding your sleep is less than stellar. And unfortunately, even if you’re eating right and exercising regularly, subpar shut-eye can jeopardize your well-being.
But let’s face it: you’ve got stuff to do. So how much time do you really need to recharge? “Most adults need seven to nine hours, but our needs csan change depending on where we are on the continuum of health,” says Matluck. “For example, when we’re ill or recovering from a medical procedure, our sleep demands may be higher than when we’re feeling our best.”
So what can you do if counting sheep isn’t cutting it? Plenty.
Just Say No to the Glow
“The blue light emitted from screens on our electronics suppresses natural melatonin production,” explains Matluck. “Melatonin is a hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles and when it’s high, it makes us sleepy. I recommend avoiding screen time at night to avoid suppressing it.”
If you need a bit more context to drive the point home, put yourself in the shoes of our pre-digital ancestors. “Think about it evolutionarily,” says Victoria Albina, a New York-based integrative medicine nurse practitioner and life coach. “When the lights are on in the sky, not only are we supposed to be awake, but we know the lions are awake, too. When our eyes receive blue light, our bodies turn on cortisol and turn off melatonin, telling us, ‘wake up immediately or you’ll be eaten!’ So when you sleep with your TV on or check your phone when you wake up in the middle of the night, it signals to your body that danger is nigh and you need to wake up.”
But in a world where just about everything lives on a device, how can you painlessly unplug?
“Around sunset, start dimming the lights in your home,” says Albina. “A super geeky thing I like to tell everyone, but no one does, is to wear orange glasses 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This blocks blue spectrum light. And use blackout curtains to keep your bedroom nice and dark, especially if you live in a city.”
Get Outside and Get Moving
While you should avoid light at night, make sure to get enough during the day. “So many people work in cube farms and don’t see the light of day,” says Albina. “Make it a point to go outside during lunch. If you live in a place where there’s no blue sky for months and months, use a sun lamp first thing in the morning.”
And while you’re taking in the fresh air, consider getting some steps in, too. “Exercise is a great way to improve sleep quality!” says Matluck. “Studies have shown that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week improves sleep quality by 65 percent.”
Eat (And Drink) Right
“If your blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, your sleep will be restless,” says Albina. “If you have insomnia, you have to eat breakfast with a protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrate.” If you’re just too rushed for a sit-down meal, Albina has an easy option. “Half a yam with almond butter is delicious,” she says. “Batch cook five yams on a Sunday.”
And no one wants to hear it, but yes, too much coffee can certainly disrupt your Zs. But relax: you don’t have to ditch your morning cup. “Caffeine has a half life of 5 to 7 hours, so if you drink coffee at 3:00 p.m., it’s like you’re having half a coffee at 9:00 p.m.,” says Albina. “So overall, reduce caffeine consumption and always stop by noon.” And if you’re of a certain age, you may want to cut back on caffeine even earlier in the day.
Q: Ask Fitbit: I’m Not Getting Bedtime Reminders or Sleep Stages? Is My Tracker Broken?
ANSWER: Not necessarily. In fact, it’s likely that failing to get Bedtime Reminders and/or Sleep Stages is actually a “smart” response. Here’s why, feature by feature.
The logic behind using a bedtime reminder is simple: It’s an easy way to remember when you should start winding down for bed, which can help you maintain a consistent sleep schedule. (If you’re not already using this feature, here’s how to set a Bedtime Reminder.)
When a Bedtime Reminder is set, you’ll receive a push notification on your smartphone at the time indicated (experts recommend setting it for at least 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep). Fitbit Alta HR and Fitbit Charge 2 users will also receive a notification and gentle buzz on their trackers.
However, if you’ve been sedentary for around 30 minutes or more leading up to the scheduled reminder (maybe you’re lying down and reading a book or watching TV), and your tracker thinks there’s a good chance you’re already be asleep, it will disable the reminder to avoid waking you up.
If you’ve confirmed that you have a Bedtime Reminder set and continue to have problems getting notifications despite being active before bed, please contact customer service.
Fitbit trackers with PurePulse continuous heart rate monitoring have the ability to tell you how much time you spent awake and in light, deep, and REM sleep each night. However there are four scenarios in which your app will show you classic sleep stats instead, usually accompanied by an error message like the one below.
You slept in a position that impaired your tracker’s ability to get a consistent heart-rate reading or you wore your tracker too loosely. Ideally, your tracker should sit higher on your wrist, about two to three finger widths above your wrist bone. And the band should fit securely, but not so tight that it restricts blood flow.
You used the Begin Sleep Now option in the Fitbit app instead of simply wearing your tracker to bed.
You took a nap or slept for less than three hours.
Health and wellness decisions are often linked together. Specifically, you might have already noticed how sleep, stress, and eating decisions seem to be interwoven. Have you ever been under loads of stress on the job, and then felt the undying temptation to grab a big cookie after work as a form of self-soothing? It happens.
But according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a good night’s sleep can combat negative feelings on the job, allowing you to make healthier food choices next day.
Sleep Can Curb Stress Eating
In the study of 235 workers, researchers looked at both IT employees who typically felt like they didn’t have enough hours in a day to complete their to-do list, as well as call-center employees who often had to deal with angry customers. In both types of workers’ cases, on-the-job stress was high; the employees also consumed a greater number of unhealthy foods and fewer healthy options after work.
When sleep entered the picture at night, the researchers found that men and women who got a good night’s sleep were able to make healthier eating decisions compared with those who didn’t get quality sleep.
Why is sleep so essential to buffering against the effects of stress and poor eating choices? It all starts with “your brain on stress,” according to Fitbit sleep expert Allison Siebern, PhD. The frontal lobe (a.k.a. the prefrontal cortex) regulates thinking, behavior and emotion. However, “when you’re high on stress and low on quality sleep, there’s a decrease in activity in this portion of the brain,” says Siebern.
That drop in activity skews executive functioning, so you’re less likely to plan ahead to make the best choices for your health, Siebern says. “The frontal lobe aids in decision-making and, if left with decreased activity, poor decisions may increase such as with food choices,” she explains. “The stress hormone cortisol may also spike during a period of increased stress, leading to a conservation of fuel.” Basically, your body will hang onto fat cells.
Sleep Hormones Also Regulate Hunger
Sleep can be a great mediator between stress and poor eating, as this recent study shows—even if researchers aren’t 100 percent certain of the mechanisms yet. “We do know that the hormones that regulate sleep also regulate hunger,” says Siebern. “These hormones are ghrelin, which signals when we should be hungry, and leptin, which signals when we are satiated. When a person has been sleep deprived, the body increases production of ghrelin and decreases leptin.” The hormonal shifts might be the reason that urge to eat a cookie feels nearly impossible to resist.
According to Siebern, studies have been looking at the effects of poor sleep and a person’s eating habits for some time. “After a night of decreased sleep, there can be an increase in caloric intake and eating foods with higher fat content,” she explains. “It may also lead to eating later at night and increased caloric intake at that time.” Yikes.
The fix might seem easy: Get to bed early, and clock your seven to nine hours. However, you can’t always fall asleep at the drop of a hat—especially if you’ve had a stressful day. “Something to be aware of is focusing on stress-reducing activities overall, in addition to a ‘wind down time’ roughly 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime,” says Siebern. “During this time, you should do activities that you enjoy, but that are also relaxing.”
That means quietly reading a book, but probably not looking at political news on Facebook. Or chatting with your spouse, but maybe not watching a thriller film or an intense sporting event. Siebern says that if you do this, you can potentially “start to help downregulate the system to get ready for sleep.”
Just remember: Sweet dreams can help you sidestep the sweets tray tomorrow at work.