When you sleep you are secreting growth hormone and testosterone, your immune system is elevated, and your brain is able to organize and consolidate any information and physical skills that you have learned during the day.
Related: The Best Natural Sleep Aids
There is an ever-growing body of research supporting just how important sleep is for optimal health, as well as physical and mental strength. However, it seems that overall most people don't sleep as much as they should or as they would like.
So why aren't people sleeping as much as they should and what can be done to maximize the benefits of sleeping?
Can't Sleep? Here Are the Common Enemies
Enemy #1 - StressOne of the biggest enemies of sleep is stress. As a society we have never been more stressed then we are now. We are constantly bombarded with stress from work, relationships, training, as well as from our environment.
Proper management of this stress from life and training will allow for you to turn off your brain and enter into a deep, restful sleep that will make you leaner, smarter and more muscular. Some simple ways to deal with life stress are meditation and simple time management strategies like keeping to a set schedule where clear times for work and rest are defined and proper effort is made to adhere to it.
When you are always stressed, the levels of cortisol in your body are chronically elevated which has been shown to cause a number of problems like sugar cravings, excessive body fat storage, along with trouble reaching advanced stages of sleep. Take charge of your life and reduce stress to help control your cortisol levels and facilitate your bodies ability to go into more advanced stages of sleep.
Enemy #2 - Artificial LightingAnother big sleep disrupter is artificial lighting. This may sound crazy but, we were originally meant to sleep when it's dark outside and wake up when it's light outside.
Artificial lighting, especially blue light that is emitted from screens of TV and mobile devices, can shift your body's internal clock known as circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is responsible for influencing the times in which you feel drowsy or alert. This rhythm is thrown off when the light receptors in your eyes are exposed to high energy blue light which blunts the production of melatonin, an important hormone responsible for regulating sleep and all the benefits that come with a full night's sleep.
Ensure that you reach restful sleep by dimming the lights after sunset and turning off the TV and phone the last couple of hours before bed. This will allow your body to start producing melatonin at the proper time which will allow for you to reap the maximum benefits of sleep.
Enemy #3 - AlcoholAlcohol is another obstacle to achieving deep restful sleep. Moderate drinking of alcohol before bed will also spike cortisol which again hinders the advanced stages of sleep from occurring and where the benefits of sleep all take place. Blacking out from drinking is even worse. This is considered loss of consciousness not sleep.
When you pass out from drinking it may seem like you are getting deep sleep you are in actuality skipping over an entire night of sleep. Do not mistake what is being said here. A drink or two with dinner every so often is different from a night cap right before bed. You can still enjoy a drink with dinner when your body has enough time to metabolize the alcohol but, there should not be any alcohol left in your system before bed.
Steps to Improve Your SleepSo, what's the recipe for an optimal nights sleep where you will become stronger, leaner, smarter and all around healthier?
As always we start with the basics.
First, pick a bed time and stick to it consistently to ensure that you are keeping to your circadian rhythm. Next, have some noise and light discipline. Turn off most of the lights in your house or dim the lights an hour before bed, turn off the screens and unplug from technology.
Some may find it useful to meditate at this time to calm from the day's stress. The important part here is to keep a set routine that signals to your body that it's bedtime. Then ensure that your room is pitch black, quiet, and cool. If you really want to go all in get some ear plugs and a sleep mask.
Finally, if you really are wanting to optimize the benefits of sleep, there are supplements that you can take such as melatonin, magnesium, GABA, and 5-HTP which have all been shown to help with quality of sleep and relaxation. A great resource on optimizing sleep is Dr. Kirk Parsley. Check his work out for more insight on sleep and performance as well as supplement usage for sleep.
In summary, sleep is perhaps the most important thing that you can do to optimize your performance in and out of the gym. When you sleep you become leaner, more muscular, and smarter so don't miss out on reaping the benefits of sleep.
You can improve sleep by destressing, unplugging from technology and minimizing artificial light, and eliminating the night caps if you drink. If these basic methods don't work give the mentioned supplements a try and find what works for you. Sweet dreams.