Guest Post: 8 Tips for Better Sleep by Dr. Jackie Halpern

I’m excited to offer a guest post from Dr. Jackie Halpern. Jackie is a member of CrossFit King of Prussia and a member of BarBelles. During the first and current sessions of BarBelles, the topic of sleep came up. We know that sleep is absolutely vital to good health and fitness, but with technology and stress surrounding us, it can be hard to get good sleep, even with blue blockers. Falling asleep comes fairly easy to me, but can be troublesome to many. Since this is a topic of expertise for Dr. Halpern, I asked her to write a guest post for all three of my readers. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and Dr. Halpern will do her best to answer them. 





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Sleep is important for daily functioning, but can be elusive
for some. Most people will suffer from insomnia at some point in their life,
whether it is trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. Not
being able to sleep can be incredibly frustrating and really takes a toll on
other areas of your life. Luckily, because sleep is a learned skill, insomnia
can often be treated with changes in your sleep habits. Sometimes, even simple
changes can make a huge difference.

Sleep hygiene is a fancy term psychologists use to describe
sleep habits. If you google it, you’re going to find a whole bunch of
information about how to work on your sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene leads to
good sleep. Before I get into the nitty gritty of some ways to improve your
sleep hygiene, just remember that sleep is unique for everyone. What might work
for some, may not work for you; so, you may have to experiment with what works
best for you. If you are having trouble sleeping, there are many strategies to
try, and here are a few key points that have been shown through research to be

1. Leave some time for winding down before going to
bed. Don’t go work out at 9 pm at expect to go to sleep right when you are
done. You’re going to need at least 30 minutes of quieter time before you go to
lie down. Develop a routine that is comfortable and relaxing for you.

2. Make sure your room is cool and dark. Our
lifestyles don’t often lend themselves to have dark in our rooms, but it really
helps. So shut off those phones, turn your alarm clock around, and make sure
all other devices that make light and noise are off. Yes, that includes the TV
(remember, these points are the gold standard, you may or may not need to follow
these exactly as written to alter your sleep habits).

3. Reserve the bed for 2 activities only: sleep and
sex. You don’t want to link being in bed with being frustrated, angry, or any
other negative emotions. (So no fighting with your significant other in bed or
reading something that will get you worked up) You also don’t want to link it
with doing things that keep you awake, like reading or watching TV.

4. Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. We’ve all
been there…it is your normal bed time, you aren’t especially tired, but you
head to bed and lay down anyway…and you can’t fall asleep. Now you are
frustrated and laying there (which brings us back to number 3 and linking bed
with frustration).

5. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get
up and do something quiet until you feel drowsy again then go lay down; don’t
just lay there for hours on end. (This goes for falling asleep for the first
time or if you wake up in the middle of the night)

6. If you have trouble with worrying and you can’t
shut your mind off, here are a few things that can help:

  • Have a note pad next to your bed to write down
    all the things you need to do or all the things you are worrying about before
    you lay down or if you wake in the middle of the night and worry. Then practice
    letting them go; the bed is a worry-free zone. It will all still be there
    tomorrow, and now that you wrote it down, you won’t forget.
  • Do some relaxation exercises. It can be as
    simple as focusing on your breathing (make sure you are breathing from your
    abdomen and taking deep breaths) or you can do something like progressive
    muscle relaxation, PMR (where you tense each muscle and release it), or even
    meditation. There are lots of CDs or other tools out there to help you with

7. Avoid napping in the day time. If you are not
sleeping well, you are naturally going to be tired during the day. Unfortunately,
napping can disrupt your sleep at night. But, if you REALLY aren’t going to
make it to bed time, 2 rules for napping: 1. Nap before 3 pm and 2. Don’t nap
for more than 30 minutes.

8. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed
time. Some people may have to stop all of these around mid-day in order to be
ready to sleep at night. So be prepared to experiment with this one as needed.

Try using some or all of these
tips to help change your habits if you are struggling with sleep. There will
always be obstacles in your way, like the significant other who doesn’t have
sleep problems and wants to watch TV in bed or the dog who insists on sleeping
with you and constantly wakes you up. You need to decide in the face of these
obstacles what is more important to you, sleeping or having the dog in the bed
(for example). If you find that even after implementing these changes, you are
still dealing with insomnia, it might be time to seek help from a
psychologist/therapist who can work with you to improve your sleep hygiene. Remember,
sleep is a learned habit, so therefore bad sleep can be unlearned most of the
time with a little work!

Chris here. For those looking for better sleep, I might also recommend some magnesium like Natural Calm or using Blue Blockers, but I really like Jackie’s tips because they are not only practical and tangible action items, they are also free! 

If you have any sleep tips or questions for Dr. Halpern, leave them in the comments!

Jackie Halpern is a licensed psychologist who received her doctoral degree from La Salle University in 2010. She completed her internship at the Syracuse VAMC, with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and continued this work during her post-doctoral position at the Philadelphia VAMC, where she worked on a study examining sleep interventions for Veterans with PTSD and sleep disturbances. Currently, she is working full time at home raising her 1 year old son and plans to return to the field soon to continue treating anxiety and mood disorders.


CrossFit Regional: Rules Clarification and Comparison Videos

This first video has made the rounds today, so I’m curious as to what you think. To see some context, check out the other videos of Ryan Fischer actually performing the “no reps” and then another video of Austin Malleolo doing the same workout in a different Regional competition.

Dave Castro reprimands Ryan Fischer at 2013 SoCal Regionals:

Ryan Fischer “no reps” at 2013 SoCal Regionals:

Austin Malleolo performs WOD 5 at Northeast Regionals:

Having been a judge at the Regional level, I can attest to the fact that it is a hard and unforgiving job. Looking at Ryan’s reps (regardless of Austin’s video) I thought they were good reps. HOWEVER, I can see where the judge is coming from since it’s such a thin line between what a bounce is and what it is not. The fact is that the judge made a call. Saying you’re going to bleeping kill someone is a pretty serious thing to say in my book. I can understand that Fischer is competitive and wants to win. I could even understand if he put up an argument. But to say what he did takes it to a whole new level. Security should have gotten involved and he should have been tossed. Anyone in any other sport that says that to a ref gets a red card, suspension, and probably fined.  This reminded me of Ronnie Teasdale’s behavior at the OC Throwdown:

Castro on the other hand should have handled this behind closed doors. I don’t think it was professional nor necessary to call him out in front of other people, let alone make it a feature video on the CrossFit Games website. You want to send a message to the other competitors and future Regionals? Fine, kick him out and explain why. Release a press statement. But don’t resort to embarrassing him in front of his peers. Plus assigning him one judge who JUST so happens to be an MMA/UFC fighter…Trying to send a message much?


BarBelles I – Final Data Results

If my post Weightlifting Lessons from Natalie Burgener was any indication, I am behind on my postings. I usually have three to five blog ideas on any given day, but unfortunately I’m not a stay-at-home husband who can write all the time. But I digress.

Ok data geeks, here are the final results of most of the BarBelles girls. The intent of my program is to take women who have been doing CrossFit for at least a year and give them that extra boost to break through plateaus. How? By getting them stronger, quicker, and more explosive. After eight weeks of regular strength training sprinkled with short, heavy metcons, I think the results speak for themselves. 

Every lift went up for each of the girls, and not only by a few pounds, but by ten, twenty, even thirty pounds! There were 23 instances where lifts went up by more than 20%. (highlighted below) Most folks would be happy with 5-10% increases, but 20%?? How about 14 instances of 30%+ improvement? Deadlifts went from 170# to 215# (Sarah), box jumps went from 30″ to 36″ (Joy), pull ups went from 4 to 12 kipping and from 0 to 3 strict (Kate), and 400m sprints went from 2:00 to 1:30 (JNa). These ladies were showing up and doing work, no question about that.


Many are now using their previous 1RM for 5+ reps. By having them swing the 45 and 55 pound kettlebell, now the 35 pounder seems like a joke. Some of these women have been doing CrossFit for 3+ years (like JNa’s story), but by focusing on strength and explosive power, they can now handle metcons and strength workouts better. Wait, metcons? Oh yes, like cutting your “Annie” time in half. 

In addition to lifts like back squat, front squat, deadlift, press, bench press, power clean, and power snatch, the ladies also focused on bodyweight strength and power. Jumping on boxes higher than ever before, finally getting full push ups on toes, and yes, pull ups (both kipping and strict) were all focused on. As you know from CrossFit and the Need for Strict Pull ups, too many people rely on bands for too long. If you are one of those people, check out my post on How to Get a Strict Pull Up. 

Right now I am in the middle of the second cohort of ladies for BarBelles. Already we are seeing incredible progress. After only three weeks, one girl got a non-banded kipping pull up (after doing CrossFit for 1.5 years). Others are continuing on their linear progression and already hitting their previous 1RM for 5 reps. We are in the fifth week, so I’m excited to see the results at week 8. 

I should note that none of these ladies got “bulky” or “huge” for the skeptical women out there who are afraid of strength training. Many of these women are the same size as when they started, or have even lost inches around their waist and hips. 

A side effect of BarBelles is getting women comfortable with being at our strength classes. Since it’s more of an open format, it can be intimidating to walk in and be amongst many guys. As a group of women, they had a purpose and a template to follow, thereby feeling more comfortable to go to strength class in the future.

So yes, ladies (and guys too). If you have been stalling in CrossFit workouts because for the first year or so you made amazing gains, but have since petered out, consider this: strength training, sprinting, and explosive power WILL get you better not only at those things, but also at CrossFit. We see it in Regionals and at the Games: strength makes a difference.