Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is essential for optimal health, peak mental performance, and, most importantly, for survival. It’s also necessary for optimal physical performance and recovery from exercise, and sleep deprivation is one of the surest ways to diminish your performance in the gym or in competition. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, get strong, or just improve your overall health, sleep is critical to your success, and enhancing the quality of your slumber is a simple and effective way to maximize your results.

Table adapted from wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep

All mammals and most other animals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and fish need to sleep. Despite its prevalence among all living creatures and the fact that it consumes 1/3 of our entire life, we rarely take the time to think about what sleep is and why we need it. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines sleep as, “the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.” Basically, it’s a period of time – usually about eight hours – when we have no control of our body or awareness of our surroundings – the exact opposite of how most of us are the other 16 hours of the day. More importantly, however, it’s a time when many of the physiological processes necessary for restoration and survival take place. These processes include:

  • Growth and development – especially for infants and children, which is why they require more sleep than adults
  • Learning, memory, and creativity – sleep is when the brain makes most of its neural connections, and sleep deprivation can impair memory and concentration
  • Proper immune, endocrine (hormone), and nervous system function – adequate sleep optimizes the hormones necessary for optimal health, muscle building, and even fat loss
  • Recovery, repair, and regeneration
  • Dreaming – an historically popular but little-understood topic of scientists and philosophers, especially Sigmund Freud and John Locke

While we often focus on getting the appropriate quantity of sleep (e.g., 7-10 hours), the quality and timing of sleep are just as – if not more – important. In order to improve these areas, consider the following general recommendations:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning
    • This will help establish a healthy circadian rhythm
  • Go to bed before midnight
    • It’s been said that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight (so sleeping 10 PM – 6 AM will be more beneficial than sleeping 2 AM – 10 AM)
  • Don’t do anything in bed except sleep (or have sex)
    • This way your brain will associate being in bed with sleeping
  • Exercise during the day
  • Avoid stimulants late in the afternoon or evening
    • The more sensitive you are to stimulants, the earlier you should discontinue their use
  • Turn off the TV and computer at least an hour before bed
    • Television and the internet keep your brain stimulated which can make falling asleep more difficult
  • Do something relaxing instead
    • Stretch, do yoga, meditate, or get your meals and clothes ready for the next day
  • Avoid drinking a lot of liquid before bed
    • That way you won’t have to wake up to pee
  • Make your room as dark as possible and keep the temperature around 65-70 degrees
    • A cool, dark room can enhance your quality of sleep
  • Supplement with natural sleep aids.
    • 5-HTP, GABA (see also: phenibut and picamilon), L-glycine, L-theanine, valerian, jujube, passion flower, hops, chamomile, kava, skullcap, and lemon balm

Getting a good night’s sleep is a key component of achieving optimal health. It is a necessary time for growth, recovery, and repair, and practicing good sleep habits is a simple and effective way to maximize your physical and mental performance to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.