Poor sleep will not only prevent adequate recovery from the gym, it can wreak havoc on your health. Let’s take a quick look at several hormones influenced by sleep that play a major role in proper rest and recovery:
Cortisol - This stress hormone will keep you from winding down at night, preventing your body from reaching deep, restful sleep stages. Elevated cortisol is also a catabolic nightmare. One of cortisol’s main contributions to the body is mobilizing energy substrates for the body to utilize as fuel. Excess cortisol will find your body breaking down hard-earned muscle tissue to provide energy to its unrested and improperly recovered-self.
Insulin - The ultimate nutrient partitioner. Insulin is a storage hormone that tells muscle cells or fat cells to gobble up amino acids, glucose, or triglycerides. Insulin sensitivity determines what ratio of those nutrients get partitioned into muscle cells and fat cells. Having high insulin sensitivity for your muscle cells is ideal, as that will promote muscle gain, retention, and recovery. Poor insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells is an unfortunate recipe for fat gain. Studies show just a little bit of sleep deprivation can reduce insulin sensitivity, resulting in more of the food you eat being stored as fat.
Melatonin - The sleep regulator. This hormone is responsible for controlling your circadian rhythm and letting your body know it is time to go to sleep. Melatonin isn’t so much influenced by sleep as it is an influencer of sleep. Having an irregular sleep schedule, being exposed to bright lights when it's dark, as well as other things, can change the secretion timing and efficacy of melatonin, challenging your body’s opportunity for a restful night of sleep.
Got it? Good, now on to the list:
1. Form habitual sleep patterns
Going to sleep at approximately the same time every night is a great way to lock-in your circadian rhythm and maximize the effectiveness of melatonin. In fact, just getting into a regular nightly habit before bed can help your brain relax and prepare itself for sleep. Just make sure your regular nightly habit doesn’t involve a glass of red wine the size of your head, as that will prevent your body from entering deep sleep cycles where restoration really ramps up.
2. No electronics or blue light before bed
Put the electronics away 30-60 minutes before bed. The blue light emitted from electronic devices can have a stimulatory effect on the brain, preventing you from unwinding and falling asleep. If you are unwilling to part with your precious electronic devices, you could consider running “red light” apps on them. Red light apps such as f.lux or twilight, will reduce the emission of blue light from the devices, limiting the stimulatory effect they have on the brain. You could also purchase blue light blocking glasses and wear those an hour before bed. Not only will they block blue light from your electronics and light fixtures, they also look fantastic.
3. Reduce room temperature
Research has become available showing optimal room temperature for sleep ranges from 60-67 degrees. While there is a bit of variance in range, the key point is that you would likely benefit from reducing your room temperature if it is above 68 degrees. In fact, some research finds that temperature may play as important of a role in the sleep cycle as light and darkness does.
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4. Breathe correctly
Do you snore moderately to heavily? If so, it is likely affecting the quality of your sleep.
Are you a neck-bearded, mouth-breather? Can I borrow your Fedora? Just kidding, I already have one. If you are a mouth breather (Fedora and neck-beard optional) you may fall victim to the paradox known as the “Bohr effect”.
This interesting phenomenon dictates that in the presence of high carbon dioxide levels, or higher acidity of the blood, oxygen will be released from their hemoglobin transporters to deliver oxygen to cells in need. However, If you are breathing through your mouth constantly, you may be gulping excess oxygen, actually preventing oxygen from releasing off of hemoglobin, thus depriving your cells of the oxygen they are in need of. Therein lies the paradox of gulping oxygen while simultaneously being deprived of oxygen. Solution - learn how to breathe through your nose.
Getting back to snoring, there are mouth guards that can help alleviate snoring symptoms, or if the problem is severe enough, you may look into whether you have sleep apnea. Any of you large bastards that are approaching 18 inch necks are at an increased risk of sleep apnea because of the sheer mass of the neck and subsequent pressure on the neck cavity. Sleep apnea is a fast track to a whole host of medical issues. Be cognizant of the potential problem.
5. Black it out
We talked about blue light from electronics having a stimulatory effect on the brain, but any light while you are trying to sleep is going to disrupt the release of melatonin making it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you are a person that sleeps with the TV on, please punch yourself in the genitals. Then, take the TV and move it into another room. The bedroom is for sex and sleeping only, well, and building forts out of pillows, blankets, and clothes from 3 weeks ago that you still haven’t folded ye...DAMMIT DON’T JUDGE ME. Anyway, keep your room dark, no night lights, no TV, if you have street lights shining into your bedroom you may consider investing in black-out curtains.
6. Use supplements
Melatonin- Can help augment your natural melatonin production, helping you to fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer. If you have trouble falling asleep, try a rapid dissolve formula. If you have trouble staying asleep, you may want to try a time-release formula. Anything from 1-5 mg should do the trick.
L-Tryptophan- Why did the turkey cross the road? False. It didn’t. It fell asleep before it could. A turkey’s muscle tissue has a high concentration of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin which can have a calming or relaxing effect on the body.
GABA- One of the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitters. GABA helps wind your brain down and can also aid in promoting calmness and relaxation. As a bonus, GABA can be an especially potent stress reducer if the moment calls for such a thing.
L- Theanine- Is an amino acid that has anxiety reducing properties, and can also help with focus, mood, and slowing down brain activity. Great for people who can’t shut their mind off when they lie down to sleep.
In a world where being busy is something that is applauded, sleep happens to be a vastly underrated component to a proper training regimen. Yes, you can sleep when you’re dead, but you’re going to go 6 feet under already looking like a skeleton.
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