Welcome to the 21st century where majority of your time is spent behind computer screens and mobile phones. We are busy people living fast paced lives. Becoming more and more sedentary in our lifestyle spending less time doing the basics, and more time looking for the magic pill that will change our lives. In reality that day will not come, the sooner we come to realise this the better.
We have discussed time and time again the basic fundamentals everyone can be doing to improve their performance and recovery as lifters. Training, Nutrition, Hydration, Conditioning, Therapy the list can go on, but I’m wanting to dive into something a little deeper today, Sleep!
You may not have the knowledge of a coach or the finances to pay for one but understanding all the objectives on this list can drastically improve your performance as a strength athlete.
Sleep is one of the objectives that not many coaches discuss the importance of.
To give you a bit of background on sleep itself we have 2 main types of sleep, slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep (REM Sleep). Slow wave sleep is best described as, when the hypothalamus connects with the nervous system and endocrine system via pituitary gland triggering signals that we are falling asleep, it allows your heart rate to slow and starts the sleep cycle. REM sleep is when your body is paralysed but your brain is exceptionally active; regenerating and storing memories.
Had a solid 8 hours sleep last night but only 4 hours the last 3 days, got a heavy squat session today and wondering why you just don’t have the same energy and enthusiasm as before? This is because your brain releases a cerebrospinal fluid that washes away any neurotoxins and cell-damaging proteins from previous days activities, allowing the brain to effectively communicate when you are conscious. You can’t simply catch up on sleep as the signalling cells are too overwhelmed with the days stressors to efficiently perform their duties.
Further on we will discuss some of the other functions that are impacted due to lack of sleep, but simply put, trying to catch up on sleep may increase inflammatory numbers but when it comes to attention span, hormones, cortisol and many other side effects, these will never be fully recovered without sufficient sleep consistency.
Take a step back and look at all these objectives, and make the judgement call where are things lacking and where can you be improving. Did you know that sleep deprivation is deadlier than food deprivation? Lucky for you we have collaborated some data from recent studies to further explain the importance of sleep and the effects it has on your training and everyday life.
Heading to the gym later today or perhaps you have just come back, let me ask how many shots of coffee or scoops of preworkout you devoured before having to get amped up for your killer session. Let me rephrase I have no issue with your addiction to caffeine, I live for that shit. Some good head banging, fist pumping music, the gym crew got you all ready to hit those programmed numbers. Reality is, if you’re relying too heavily on these measures to ensure you can get through your session, there is something deeper going on. SLEEP, how much on average are you getting, the professionals always say 7-9 hours, nah that ain’t right, I’m up watching the replays of Ninja Warrior or slaying dragons in the latest video game trend.
It seems to simple to cull back on these addictions and actually get to bed at a reasonable hour before kicking into your daily routine. Sleep quality and quantity affects your recovery, mood, energy, body composition, cognitive function etc. We know its important right. So why aren’t we getting enough of it?
That’s right I noted body composition in there, studies have shown that for those who are dieting and sleeping on average 7-9 hours actually lose more fat and retain more muscle than those sleep 4-6 hours a night. (taking into account these were middle aged, moderately healthy people studied, not powerlifters) This was due to the change in metabolic rate encouraged from more sleep. As your leptin and ghrelin hormones are those that act to regulate your energy homeostasis.
Simply put your hunger and satiety hormones are not functioning well losing the ability to judge hunger, causing fluctuations in insulin response.
I would be confident in stating, everyone reading this is more interested in recomping than losing muscle. As cytokine levels are also diminished, these are the protein receptors that regulate a good balance of hormonal and immune responses. Lacking the ability to recover from inflammation caused by training and every day activities.
If your priorities are set with good training and consistent nutrition than why not spend a little more time laying in bed, it will only emphasize the positive effects of those two.
Failing to get enough rest is particularly detrimental for your strength and hypertrophy, but why? Doing so reduces circulating levels of two of your primary anabolic hormones – testosterone and IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor). By reducing both of these hormones reduces the body's ability to perform protein synthesis from 2 major pathways. Along with this, sleep deprivation also causes the release of cortisol produced from the adrenal gland, inhibiting the performance of protein synthesis. However it is important to note that, cortisol is produced through training related stressors and is completely normal and healthy.
So why is protein synthesis important? Simply put it is the fundamental process where individual cells build their specific proteins. If protein synthesis fails to occur, cells have difficulty dividing, repairing themselves or contributing to the organism as a whole. This will lead to muscle atrophy, slower recovery capacity and poor fusion of cells.
By sleeping more you are guaranteed faster recovery, better cell production meaning more responsive brain function, increased mood and energy balance throughout the day and with all this comes a harder hitting session.
There are some simple steps you can follow to help you get to sleep.
1. Commence downtime when you start consuming dinner, this means, step away from your phone or laptop. Chat to friends or family, or if you live alone put on the TV.
2. Along with good dinner keep up your healthy supplement regime meaning 1.5g of fish oil and 300-400mg of magnesium. These will help reduce the acute cortisol caused from training.
3. This should be finished up around 8-9pm and at this stage we want to introduce my personal favourite melatonin. (for those who have poor sleep quality)
4. If you have a deadline or busy work schedule wake up earlier the next day to get a head start, staying up past 10pm on your laptop will not provide you with efficient attention span. Put together a diary or daily planner for the tasks you have to do and relax!
5. Finish off with some breathing drills, foam rolling or stretching your body will appreciate being released before going to bed.
Catching up on sleep over the weekend is definitely beneficial to inflammation but optimally we want to be increase our daily sleep markers by 15-30 minutes each week allowing overall improvements across each of the topics discussed above.
Before we wrap up, I want to discuss a little further why Melatonin is my personal favourite sleep remedy for those who struggle getting quality sleep. Melatonin is a neurohormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and it is well known for causing and regulating sleep.
Melatonin’s primary role is to help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep (as a hormone, that's its main job). But there are some demographics that tend to have irregular melatonin production in their body. Smokers tend to be less responsive to supplementation, and older people tend to not produce as much during night time. People we have found to be most responsive are shift workers, those who fly often and suffer from hormone imbalances, but general this is regulated through other supplements. So melatonin has a great deal of benefits for you body when it comes to sleep, particularly stimulating growth hormone release, which is crucially important for IGF-1. Our recommended dosages, particularly when starting off is around 3g per night exceeding more than 10g is a sign there may be some other underlying issue for poor sleep.
Now that’s a wrap, if I haven’t convinced you of the many benefits that come with sleep, taught you some of the implications with lack of sleep and given you some relevant tips to help you improve it, than we’re all fucked. But seriously, try it, you never know you may wake up feeling refreshed and actually feel better!