If you’re any kind of strength athlete, then you should absolutely worship at the altar of sleep. Sleep is your ultimate tool for building more size and power, as well as for increasing your energy levels so that you can train longer and harder during the day.
Failure to get the right quality or quantity of sleep can leave you feeling tired and listless, it will reduce levels of testosterone, increase fat and generally make you less effective both in and out of the gym. It is the single most effective way to upgrade your performance across the board and yet many of us take it for granted and don’t give it the respect it deserves.
So what can you do to enhance your sleep and start growing more and training harder? What helps you sleep at night? Let’s find out…
Sleep will help you to exercise harder and get better results. But at the same time, exercise also helps you to sleep better. This is what you call a virtuous cycle – where one thing improves the other and that improves the first thing.
But there are particular types of exercise that will be more beneficial when it comes to sleep. And what’s particularly effective is running or walking. That’s because these forms of exercise are both cardiovascular, which works your circulatory system and leaves the body feeling tireder and therefore able to fall into a much deeper sleep.
At the same time, both these types of exercise are very regularly outdoors. When you train outdoors, this means you get more fresh air which helps to improve sleep and you get more sunlight. Sunlight is important because it triggers the production of vitamin D – which is a vitamin that acts like a ‘master hormone’ and encourages the production of melatonin and others at the right points throughout the day.
So what else helps you sleep at night?
The key is to help your body get into a resting state after a day of exertion and concentration. This means you need to avoid anything that will arouse your physiology and to instead focus only on things that help to slow your heartrate and reduce brain activity.
The best way to do this is to give yourself a ‘window’ of time before bed, during which you avoid anything that causes stimulation and allow yourself to wind down.
That means no TV, no computer and no mobile phone. All these things produce light in a particular wavelength that the brain interprets as being the same as light from the sun. This encourages the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and blocks the production of melatonin. In short, we become alert and wired rather than relaxed and tired. And it doesn’t help that most TV, games or music are going to stimulate you further.
Likewise, you should avoid anything that’s stressful. So the ideal scenario would be to sit somewhere quiet and to read by a low light. Reading helps to focus the mind and prevents you from worrying about the day’s activities. Meanwhile, focussing on the text will help to make your eyes tireder, which will also help sleeping at night.
This also means that you shouldn’t try to sleep right after working out. Most people can’t sleep after exercise but if you give yourself a couple of hours, your system will be able to wind back down and your heartrate will slow.
What can also help is to take a nice warm bath. This will help to relax your muscles and your mind, while the heat encourages the production of testosterone and growth hormone for a more anabolic night’s rest.
It’s also possible to use some supplements that can help sleeping at night. One example is valerian root, which encourages the production of GABA in the brain and relaxes the muscle. Try not to rely on these though!
Finally, another important tip is to make sure that you go to sleep at a consistent time every night. This can make a big difference because it will let your body get into a rhythm. Go to sleep at the same time every night and you’ll wake up at a similar time each morning. This in turn means your body will start to learn the cues that it’s time to wind down and you’ll be ready for bed just as you need to be as a result.
What if you’re struggling with real insomnia? In this case, you should definitely speak with your GP who can help you improve sleep habits and potential prescribe medication.
But something you can try on your own in the meantime is CBT. CBT is ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’, which is a psychotherapeutic approach that helps you to change the way you think. In this case, the problem is feeling pressure to get to sleep!
Some people who struggle getting to sleep find the whole experience very stressful. Thus, they end up lying in bed trying to force themselves to sleep and getting very stressed when it doesn’t happen right away.
As a result, they are increasing their heartrate and their levels of stress-related neurotransmitters. Ironically, their desperation to get to sleep is what prevents them from doing just that!
The solution? To forget trying to get to sleep. Simply improve sleep habits and then lie back and enjoy resting. Even if you just rest then you’ll still be getting some benefit and you’ll feel better tomorrow. Take pleasure in being able to lie back and feel comfortable with no pressure to do anything or go anywhere.
And the moment you start to really enjoy unwinding – with no pressure to doze off – you’ll find that you wake up and it’s the next day!
There are many more techniques that can help with your sleep and exercise but for now, try these and see if they help.