Good sleep is very important to support strength & muscle growth for a couple of reasons.
- During sleep we release anabolic hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone which are critical for your gains and actually, studies have shown that getting only 5 hours of sleep per night for a week will lower your testosterone production by 10 – 15%!
- Sleep is also important because your body needs the rest to recover from your workouts allowing your muscles to heal and also because you need to be well rested to have maximum energy to push yourself during your lifts. Remember, your muscles grow during the recovery period!
So if you are having a tough time getting good sleep at night, here are a few practical tips to help you catch the Zz you need:
1. Stay Away From Electronics Around Bedtime
Studies have found that electronic devices affect your melatonin levels. For those of you who don’t know, melatonin is a chemical that helps regulate your sleep patterns. In fact, there are two chemicals you should know about when it comes to your sleep: melatonin, because it regulates your sleep patterns and serotonin, because it is a pre-cursor to melatonin. Because your body uses serotonin to make melatonin an optimal level of both is very important for good sleep.
One example of how electronics reduce your melatonin levels was a study done with 12 people. The scientists had 6 people read a book for 4 hours before bedtime and the other half read from an electronic device like a kindle. They did this for one week and then switched the group for the second week. They found that for both weeks, melatonin levels on the group reading from the electronic reader was reduced by an average of 50%! The results the experts concluded was that you should stop using electronics one hour before bed.
2. Don’t Exercise Too Close To Bedtime
After a hard lift, the adrenaline is flowing, your heart rate is up, your body temperature is up and your brain is ultra-active. This combination can seriously affect your sleep. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your workout is over at least 2 hours before bedtime. Now, understand that I am not saying do not workout at night. Actually, early evening between 5pm and 7 pm is a great time to work out because protein synthesis in your body is at its highest maximizing muscle repair and recovery. The main point here is that you should finish 2 hours before bedtime. So if you go to bed at 10pm, just finish your lift by 8pm.
3. Keep Your Room As Dark As Possible
Any light in your room will go through your closed eye lids and get to the retina on your eyes and reach the hypothalamus which is the part of your brain that controls sleep. This can wake up your brain and mess up your sleep preventing you from getting into that deep sleep called Slow Wave sleep when hormones such as Growth Hormones are released. So, make sure your room is as dark as possible and turn off all sources of light including computers or cell phones if they light up when you get notifications or messages.
4. Get Exposed To Light As Soon As You Wake-Up
As you just learned, exposure to light can affect your sleep. In fact, light actually signals your body to stop melatonin production, which is the chemical that helps you sleep, and will signal for cortisol production so you can start your day. So as soon as you wake-up get out of your room and get in the light to shake off that sleepy feeling and get a good start to your day. This will also help you get into a steady sleep and wake up routine thus stabilizing your sleep patterns.
5. Stop Smoking
If you’re a smoker, you need to know that cigarettes contain nicotine which is a stimulant and also, many heavy smokers experience withdrawals during the night preventing them from getting to that nice deep slow wave sleep.
6. No Caffeine At Night
Again, caffeine is a stimulant so stay away from it at night. Also, remember that caffeine is not just coffee. It includes sodas, teas, chocolate and energy drinks like Red Bull and MONSTER!
7. Take Melatonin
Like mentioned previously, melatonin is very important to regulate your sleep cycles. If you are having trouble sleeping, you can try taking melatonin as a supplement. In fact, as you age your body produces less melatonin causing you to sleep less.
8. Once You Wake-Up, Do Not Go Back To Sleep
The rule of thumb from experts is that if you wake- up and cannot fall back asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed. The problem here is that if you force yourself to sleep again, you will start another sleep cycle and when you wake up and interrupt it, you will feel terrible. You will be tired and groggy and feel like you have not rested at all.
9. Try Sleeping With White Noise
This might sound a little silly, but rain noises or waves actually help distract your brain from its thoughts. You know those nights when you cannot sleep because you keep thinking about stuff? Maybe you have a test in school or stuff you have to do for work? These noises will distract you from the thinking and actually help you relax. They also keep you from waking-up throughout the night if there are noises like dogs barking or traffic.
10. Keep Your Room Chilled
Sleep experts recommend that you keep your room slightly cold to maximize your sleep time. When your body temperature is high, you affect your sleep. In fact, lying down in cooler sheets will trigger a drop in your body temperature which signals the production of melatonin and causes you to get sleepy. However, don’t make your room freezing because sleeping in sub-zero temperatures is not going to help your case either! Your room should be just a bit cold so that when you lay down and get comfortable under the covers, the temperature will be just right.
11. Have A Sleep Friendly Bedtime Snack
There are actually ideal snacks to have before bed. But obviously you should stay away from caffeine, sugary foods and foods that give you heartburn such as spicy foods. The best nighttime snack will have a mix of protein with complex carbs. This is because most protein snacks contain an amino acid called tryptophan which is a pre-cursor to serotonin and remember the body uses serotonin to make melatonin which helps you sleep.
The complex carbs are important because they help the tryptophan break the barrier from your blood to your brain which gets the process started. Good combination snacks to help you sleep would be protein with complex carbs. If you need help with picking the right foods some good protein options would be cottage cheese, Greek plain yogurt, cashews, milk and eggs. Good carb options are oatmeal, bananas, cherries and whole grain bread. Pick one of each type and also make sure you eat it at least one hour before bed because it will take time for the food to be processed and for the tryptophan to work.
Now go get some good sleep!