A lot of clients and friends seem to be suffering from poor sleep lately. Is it seasonal? Or is it a range of other issues that could easily be addressed? Read on…
I have been suffering from lack of sleep too (difficulty falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, about every 3 hours, then waking up 1-2 hours too early…leaving me feeling like absolute shit the next day). This has been going on for almost 3 whole months.
So I decided to share some information about the effect that poor sleep quality has on training, recovery, mental and emotional health, and also some remedies that worked for me, to fix the issue. These remedies are simple, and are NOT ‘bandaid approaches’ like prescription pills.
If you have disrupted sleep, struggle to fall asleep; wake too early (e.g. more than an hour before usual waking time, and unable to get back to sleep), don’t have enough ‘deep sleep’ (easily woken by sound for example), or any combination these things, your body and your health is compromised. Memory is impaired, immune system is weakened, headaches and/or migraines are frequent, performance on physical tasks is impaired (whether it’s training or day to day stuff), mental health is affected (more stressed, anxious, short-tempered, moody, unmotivated, generally feeling “down” for no real reason).
Sleep is incredibly important for performing at your best, and simply being able to get through the day without being clumsy, forgetful, stressed, or overwhelmed (or no more than usual if you’re normally this way!)
I believe consistent QUALITY sleep, and proper nutrition are so important for performance and recovery in strength training. To increase strength, or even just maintain the strength-level you worked so hard to reach, quality sleep is vital! A few days or weeks of shitty sleep, and you will struggle to put on muscle and/or drop body-fat, you’ll most likely gain fat. Your results in the gym will plateau, which in my book is going backwards.
I’ll use myself as an example. From August 2014 to Oct 2014 (at the time of writing this blog), I have been losing approximately 2 hours of sleep every night, I wake earlier than my usual wake-time and I don’t the slightest bit rested. My eyes feel dry, my skin feels all ‘crawly’ by the end of the day… The effects of poor sleep for me include: poor memory, fatigue, increased headaches, migraines, and weakened immune system (got a bad cold), and the most obvious and frustrating of all – my training went to shit… I simply could not handle losing the strength level I’d worked hard to achieve, and I still had more to go. I know I genuinely lost strength because I track and measure every training session using Recomposer. My 1RMs dropped by roughly 10kgs on all big lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift, leg press, military press, stiff leg deadlift). I value my training, so how could I enjoy the thing I loved if I was getting weaker? It was exhausting training clients and doing my own training on top of that while feeling like a zombie… So I did a lot of research to figure out how fix this situation for good!
Here’s what I got…
If you wake up too early unable to fall back to sleep you could try going to bed earlier (10pm, so you fall asleep by 10.30pm at the latest). If it works, then great. But this didn’t work for me, I just woke up even earlier, still losing those 2 hours! Fail. But below is what actually DID work, so give these things a good go, (for a week not one night!), unless you enjoy feeling like shit 24/7 from lack of sleep?
Avoid computers and mobile phones an hour before bed, at least. They emit blue light, which night disrupts the body’s sleep-wake-cycle, suppressing melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland (small gland in the brain); it helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Your body has its own internal clock that controls your natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours. In part, your body clock controls how much melatonin your body makes. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours. Light affects how much melatonin your body produces. source
Sleepiness should increase throughout the day, peaking just before you go to bed at night. This is ideal, as you want your sleep to be high at the beginning of the night. Making sure you’re exposed to bright sunlight, and high-quality lighting during the day, followed by decreased light exposure once the sun sets, will help maximise your natural sleep cycle so that you’re appropriately sleepy at the end of the evening. Noise occurs in three zones or levels: the mind, body, and the environmental level. If the noise is conceptually greater than your level of sleepiness, you will not fall asleep. More often than not, the reason why you can’t fall asleep is NOT because you’re not sleepy enough, but rather because you’re subjected to excessive noise, which, again, can be either mind/body/environmental-type noise, or a combination thereof. Typically, people will find between three to six different factors that contribute to the noise burden keeping them awake. Therefore, don’t give up if you’ve addressed the most obvious source of noise and still can’t sleep. source
Night time routine. It’s important to do things that clear your head of all the “noise”; thoughts, stress about work/life etc, anything that keeps you from winding down or calming down, and being able to have a restful night’s sleep. Deep breathing helps to focus on lying still and resting, instead of taking shallow breaths while you lie there overthinking and unable to relax.
Aromatherapy oils can be beneficial; your senses have the biggest impact on your mind. Bergamot and geranium oil, among other essential oils are known for their for calming effect on the brain. The sense of smell is a very powerful; think about how different scents make you feel and how they trigger different memories. An electric oil burner is safer to use than a candle-lit burner if you want to leave it on overnight.
Meditation music for relaxation is profoundly effective. I discovered “binaural beats” – sound waves that help relax and calm the mind, helping you to drift into a deep sleep. When signals of two different frequencies (sounds) are presented, one to each ear, the brain detects phase differences between these signals. The brain processes this anomalous information differently when these phase differences are heard with stereo headphones or speakers. A perceptual integration of the two signals in perceived in the brain, producing the sensation of a third “beat”. Changes in consciousness are associated with binaural-beats. source. Delta (1 to 4 Hz) and Theta (4 to 8 Hz) sound waves help your mind relax and therefore induce a deep sleep – I fell asleep a lot faster listening to binaural beats. On You Tube you’ll find a lot of meditation channels such as ‘binaural beats sounds’ with playlists for sleep. It was hard to find tracks to download so I just listen to what I found on You Tube.
After doing all of the above, I was still waking through the night and waking up too early was hit-and-miss. So I went to a health shop and got a herbal tincture from a naturopath who I used to work with. The tincture had roughly equal parts passionflower, lemon balm, california poppy, withania (ashwagandha) and skullcap (look them up!). These herbs, when combined correctly, relax your brain, have mild sedative effects, and help achieve a deep sleep without a ‘groggy ‘ or hangover feeling the next day. This was a wonderful thing! It worked! The first 2 nights using it, I slept amazingly (10ml dose 1hr before bed), and 2 weeks into it I’m still sleeping amazingly. Safe to say this stuff is awesome. I think doing all of the above first, getting a good routine in place, was important before taking the herbal tincture. If I ever have the problem occur again, I’ll be onto these herbs quick-smart. I highly recommend this option over any prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pill or herbal even sleeping tablets off the shelf. Tinctures are more potent and pure, and based on your particular sleep problem it can be mixed up with the most suitable herbs for you. I know I don’t respond to valerian or hops (in fact it wakes me up more, the opposite of what’s supposed to happen!), and a lot of off the shelve herbal sleep tablets contain these two herbs. So a tincture was the best option. Thank goodness for herbs!
I found the below points really helpful, on how to improve your sleep pattern. (full list here on Dr Mercola’s site).
TV, computers or other artificial light-emitting devices: do not use these 1-2 hours before bed.
Water and other fluids: do not drink anything at least 1 hour before bed to reduce the need to wake through the night for the bathroom.
Darkness: use black out blinds or curtains or an eye mask. The tiniest bit of light, even from an alarm clock can decrease melatonin.
Noise: use earplugs if you constantly get woken up by noises.
Alarm clocks, phones, ipads: if they have to be in the bedroom, you need to put these devices at least 1/2 metre away from your body as they emit blue light.
Your bed is for sleep! it should be for sleeping not working or studying or watching tv, if you associate your bed with relaxing and falling asleep, your body will adjust to ‘switching off’ and feeling more sleepy when your head hits the pillow.
Bed time: If possible, o to bed so you can fall asleep before 11pm, because the adrenal system recharges during this time. Going to be bed too late affects your body’s detoxifying processes, and can lead to digestive problems.
Routine: Do things at night that will clear your head of all the “noise” that prevents you from having a restful night’s sleep. e.g. deep breathing; aromatherapy oils; meditation music.
This obviously isn’t a comprehensive analysis of sleep and everything that can be addressed, but the above is what I found to be important and helpful to begin correcting my sleep pattern.