This single thing can boost your testosterone and growth hormone (get those gainz!), improve your memory, balance your blood sugar and hormones, boost your immunity, and help control body weight. And the list goes on. Must be illegal, right? It probably causes stroke, paralysis, and death. As a matter of fact, this wonder drug has ZERO negative side effects, does NOT require a prescription, and is 100% FREE! I guarantee that you are using this medical miracle already, just in the wrong dosage. Today we’re talking about SLEEP.
What Happens During Sleep?
Sleep is super weird. Everyone does it, but no one really knows why. We are just starting to get an idea of the amazing and necessary things that happen while we are zonked. A big one for athletes is the production of TESTOSTERONE and GROWTH HORMONE. These two hormones peak during deep, slow-wave sleep. This sleep phase is toward the end of the sleep cycle, so cat naps aren’t helpful here. You need to get to that coma-like state for these hormones to get released. Once they’re released, your body goes into protein synthesis overdrive, building and repairing cells throughout the body. If you want to get the most adaptation (read #GAINZ) from your training, you NEED to hit this phase of sleep.
Don’t worry, you non-bros, sleep isn’t all about getting swole. Your brain does some crazy stuff while you are sleeping. A major benefit of sleep is allowing your brain to flush out toxins and waste. Most of your body can do this pretty easily through your blood, but your brain is somewhat separated from your blood and is working all day. It isn’t until everything is shut down that it can clean up. It’s like a big office building. The cleaning crew can’t come through in the middle of the day when everyone is there working.
Another way to think about sleep is as the opposite of your fight or flight response. When you have a fight or flight response, your senses are heightened and hormones are pumping to make you super-humanly fast and strong and alert. In order to have that response, everything else, like critical thinking, digestion, and maintenance, get temporarily shut down. During sleep it is reversed. Your senses are shut off, your muscles are paralyzed, and all the maintenance and what-not that didn’t seem as important during the day gets taken care of.
“I’m Good With a Solid 5 Hours”
That so? You ever walk into a room that has a strong smell? What happens after a few minutes? You stop smelling the smell, right? The smell didn’t go away; your brain just got annoyed with the “it smells in here” signal and stopped acknowledging it. The same thing happens with sleep deprivation. The first night you miss a couple hours, you wake up feeling crappy, but after a couple nights you think you feel fine. In reality, after three nights in a row of missing two hours of sleep, your reaction time and problem-solving skills are worse than someone with a 0.1 blood alcohol level. So you can pull an all-nighter studying or get eight hours of sleep and take a couple shots and get the same grade on your test.
The problem is that we glorify missing sleep like it is heroic. “I’ve been awake for 30 hours, but I’m totally good to run this nuclear power plant.” And then Chernobyl happens.
Let me ask you something. When the time comes for you to decide to buy a house, make a business deal, make a left turn in front of an oncoming car, do you want to have a clear and functioning mind or do you want to be drunk? I know there are those of you who are reading this thinking, “I’m a great driver while I’m drunk.”
I have a news flash for you. NO YOU AREN’T! And those of you who are thinking, “I’m a great driver on 5 hours of sleep,” NO YOU AREN’T!
Not convinced you need more sleep? Do you want to develop diabetes? (I am all about the scare tactics.) If you miss four hours of sleep, your body stops metabolizing blood sugar, blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released, and you wake up pre-diabetic. Chronic sleep deprivation, and you are waking up pre-diabetic every morning. And this isn’t middle-aged obese people, this is EVERYONE. It doesn’t matter how clean you eat or how fit and lean and muscular you are, you wake up pre-diabetic. If you want to gain weight quickly, this is how.
In addition to your blood sugar being all jacked up, missing sleep makes you crave carbs. LEPTIN is the hormone that tells your brain when you have eaten enough. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body stops producing leptin, and starts making its counterpart, GHRELIN, which tells you you are hungry. Like I said, if you want to gain weight quickly, just don’t sleep.
P.S. - If you are thinking, “I’ll just pop a couple pills, down a shot, and get my 8 hours,” I have some bad news for you. Passing out from pills or too much booze is passing out. It isn’t sleep. It is the same as getting knocked out by a punch. You don’t look at a K.O.’d boxer and say, “Oh look. He fell asleep.”
I guess Mike Tyson is a sleep specialist. Who knew?
When you get knocked out by a fist, pills, or booze, your brain and body are not doing the things they do during sleep. Sorry. You’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.
Save Me From a Sleepless Demise!
The good news is that there are easy ways to get enough sleep. #1 is prioritizing. Sleep needs to become an untouched block in your schedule. You want to block out 7 to 9 consecutive hours for sleep. A great way to confront sleep issues is to use a countdown timer for your alarm clock. That way you are forced to count backward from when you plan to wake up and put into the timer how many hours of sleep you are going to get. This is likely to be shocking and painful at first, but it is for your own good. Eventually it will start counting down from 7, 8, or 9 hours, and it will feel so good!
Possibly the fastest way to improve your sleep quality is to darken your bedroom.
Obviously blackout shades are the first step, but all light needs to go. Some studies have even suggested that light hitting your skin can trigger wake-up hormones to start flowing. Phones, clocks, and smoke detectors should all get their flashy light parts covered.
Do you have trouble falling asleep and then wake up tired?
Your CIRCADIAN RHYTHM might be off. This internal clock runs based on the sun. If you work inside all day under artificial light, your body is probably getting confused about whether it’s daytime or not. Indoor light is usually around 2,000–5,000 lux (a measure of light intensity), while outside it is usually around 100,000 lux. A little bit of a difference. Compounding this is the fact that fluorescent lights do not have the full spectrum of light, meaning there are colors missing. Tests have shown that people exclusively exposed to artificial white light have trouble falling asleep. When exposed to blue enhanced light, their circadian rhythm got back into its cycle. This is because our eyes are most sensitive to blue light. The best way to fix this problem is to make it a priority to get outside during the day. This can be as simple as taking your lunch outside, and maybe taking one or two breaks to step outside for a couple minutes. Another option is to get blue enhanced light bulbs and put them in a lamp in your workspace. This can help ground your circadian rhythm.
Speaking of light, computer, T.V., and phone screens are really good at giving it off, particularly blue light. Maybe staring at a screen right up until the moment you decide to go to sleep isn’t the best idea. That light coming in is confusing your body about whether or not it should go to sleep. Turn them off early—an hour before going to sleep should be good.
Obviously, other lights should be at a minimum as well. The best way to achieve this is to develop a bedtime routine. Ritualize when you sip some Sleepy Time tea, brush your teeth, change into PJs, turn off screens and lights, read a book, etc. This routine will serve as a sleep primer. Your body will learn that when you start doing these things it is time to go to sleep (kind of like Pavlov’s dogs, and possibly with even more drool).
My final solution for catching Zs is breathing. Just remember 4-7-8. As you’re lying in bed, breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, and breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat this 4 times and find yourself suddenly transported to dreamland. Or at least more relaxed. Hey, I’m not a miracle worker, sheesh.
OK, just one more. This is my personal favorite for getting to sleep. COLD SHOWERS.
Think about when you're out in the freezing cold for a while and then get into a warm car or house. It's an instant snooze fest, right? That same feeling is easily achievable by taking a freezing cold shower and then climbing into bed. Cold showers have a whole bunch of other benefits as well, but for now suffice it to say that if you want to get right to sleep, this is the way to go.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your 7–9 hours of sleep every night. Your performance in the gym, the office, the home, and life in general truly depend on it. Try a couple of these suggestions to set yourself up for success. If these don’t work, maybe Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” will. Give it a listen and let me know if it helps. Pleasant dreams!