Published: Summer 2008
Wake up and be ON YOUR FEET at the exact same MINUTE every morning for ONE MONTH.
What more should you know? Dispel the idea of creating a set bed time. Go to bed within a two hour range of times when drowsy, DO NOT force yourself to be in bed at the same time every night.
I tried it out: Waking up and being on my feet every morning at the exact same minute for a month (and going.) I chose my rise time to be 9 a.m. The first few mornings I'd awake to the alarm clock and FORCE myself to be standing on my feet immediately. This is hard but it gets easier after one week. After two weeks it gets even easier, because you start to wake up a few minutes before your designed wake up time and it gives you a chance to lay in bed for 5-10 extra minutes and stretch and take some deep breaths to help ease you up. The magic happens after one month. If you can do this for one month you'll find, amazingly, it gets even easier! You'll find it almost impossible not to wake up at your designed time and you begin to take a certain pride in your body's almost mystical ability to wake up at the same time, on the dot, without an alarm clock.
Insomnia has an anxiety component to it; And when we start meddling with the idea of strict bed times we set ourselves up for failure. Why? We do not need the same amount of sleep every night. If you force yourself to bed you're trying to force yourself to sleep. That will create a sleep performance anxiety. Some nights you'll need more or less depending on what you've been doing during the day. I need anywhere from 6-9 hours. The 8 hours of sleep each night idea is a load of dogmatic crap. Have a range (For me waking at 9 a.m. I go to bed between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am); Some nights I'm alert at midnight, reading books and relaxing. Other nights I'm absolutely struggling to maintain consciousness.
When you begin to struggle to stay awake, go to bed! If you ignore your drowsiness for about 20-30 minutes you'll find a sleepless night might be in store for you. Some nights you might not get drowsy at all. But, if you maintain an ultra-regular wake up time you'll find it easy to fall asleep even during those nights when you aren't very sleepy. Be reasonable.
Take a hot bath: A nice hot bath will relax you and accelerate the release of melatonin. Take a hot bath in the dark and you have a recipe for massive melatonin secretion. If you try it, take the bath a few hours before bed so you have time to cool off.
Put food on your stomach: Sleeping while hungry is very difficult. I've been eating a sleep stack for over five years now. I believe it's essential for strength training athletes, even tricksters, to mitigate any prolonged fasting. Keep the nutrients coming in all day long all the way up to sleep to augment exercise recovery and blunt cortisol (a catabolic hormone that robs you of your training efforts.)
Switch ends of the bed you sleep on: An emergency strategy when frustrated with insomnia. It sometimes mysteriously works.
Sleep with a glass of water by the bed: Without it, you'll keep thinking about how thirsty you are, if you get thirsty; Or you'll be getting back out of bed to get a drink.
Brain dump: Sometimes we have our best ideas when we are lying in bed trying to sleep. Keep a notepad by your bed and dump it all out so you can stop worrying whether this revelation will be remembered in the morning.
Sleep restrictions: Don't do anything in bed but sleep and have sex. This will discipline your mind to associate the bed with sleep, so its apt to actually fall sleep when you get in.
Soporific environment: The sheets should be clean, not itchy or with ants (I have ants in my bed as of writing this. Why? I have no idea). The room should be dark, quiet, have fresh airflow and be cool. The more comfortable and peaceful your sleeping environment, the better your sleep will be.
Listen to music: I find it makes me restless when sleeping.
Toe tensing: Have you ever read the one about tensing your toes, then up to your ankles, then your knees and then up to the hips, all the way up the body and then relaxing completely? Ineffective. Idiotic.
Sleeping drugs: Over the counter sleep aids (like diphenhydramine HCL), will often help you fall asleep but create disruptions in your REM sleep cycles. Even though you are actually sleeping, you aren't getting much out of it. As for prescription sleep medication, clinically diagnosed insomnia is only a symptom of another problem (Stress. Mainly stress.)
Count sheep: Awful!
Warm milk: Gross!
Piss in the bed: ...?
Getting 6 hours of unbroken sleep is better than 8 hours of fragmented sleep. 8 hours or more of unbroken sleep is even better! So stay asleep. Most people reading this should be of the athletic persuasion and these types typically do not have problems staying asleep. My two general suggestions are 1) Wear earplugs so when the fire alarm goes off in your house from an electrical malfunction you burn to death. 2) Don't drink too much before sleeping, otherwise you wake up with a full bladder three hours after lying down (or you wet your bed.)
ZMA: A proprietary formulation by SNAC of Zinc, Magnesium Asparate, and vitamin B6 is sold by a myriad of suppliers. This supplement is a staple I've used for a long time now and can report positive results. I'll at least leave special instructions: Take it on an EMPTY STOMACH before bed. If you want to eat a meal right before bed take it 45 minutes before said meal.
Melatonin: Yes, you can buy this as a supplement in 1 to 3 mg doses (doesn't matter which) and for a miniscule price ($3 for 90 nights.) In my experience, melatonin is best used temporarily to reset your sleep patterns. Take it right before you want to sleep. The effects are barely noticeable, I wouldn't count on it being a panacea; But it's dirt cheap so giving it a shot isn't a big deal on your wallet.
Valerian root: At 1 gram I've noticed it can produce a mild drowsiness. I would not purchase it again.
L-Theanine: I really wanted to like this supplement, but I found its effects to be mostly unnoticeable.
5-HTP: Ditto. I really wanted to like this supplement too, but I didn't feel anything.
A sleep stack is basically a meal eaten right before going to sleep. When you fast, your body breaks down muscle protein into amino acids necessary for the more important organ system functions. The primary purpose of eating such a meal would be stave off the catabolic effect of fasting for the duration of your sleep while also providing nutrients used for growth and repair of tissues. Eating anything before bed is better than nothing for this purpose, but there are some foods that are suited for the overnight fast.
Since we aren't eating for over 8 hours, we need something that digests slowly. Casein protein is a very slow digesting protein, cottage cheese is rich in casein and highly anabolic. Fats tend to stick around and digest for a long time, there are many convenient sources of fats to choose from. You may also add a starchy carbohydrate source to the mix like oatmeal.
My favorite sleep stack: Scoop out a heap of cottage cheese and mix it with 1/2 scoop of whey, 1 serving of psyillium husk powder, and 1 serving of milled flax seed and/or walnuts. 1 serving of oatmeal on the side or mixed in with everything else. Voila! This bolus will sit on your stomach and provide nutrients for hours and hours. Might as well add in a vitamin C supplement and a vitamin E supplement, and I usually take several fish oil tablets to top it all off. Fish oil is... Super. This sleep stack has stood the test of time for me. I've been eating it for almost five years now and it's served me well.
Substitution: Cottage cheese is the foundation of this stack. If you don't have any, try to get some or try to get used to the taste; It really is an awesome food. But if we were to substitute with something else, meat would be your next best bet. A chicken breast would work. The fat source can be just about anything, nuts seem to work well with the stack.
If you feel like taking a nap, keep it between 15-30 minutes. If you sleep too long you'll enter REM sleep and waking out of this stage of sleep can leave you very groggy for hours. Also I would not recommend taking a nap too close to your normal bed time. Taking a nap is a generally a good idea, one of my long time weight training mentors takes naps religiously; He calls them growth naps.
Here are a few suggestions to make the transition from awesome sleep to an awesome awakening. First, expose yourself to bright sunlight as soon as you get out of bed, this will help regulate your biological clock and halt melatonin release. This has also been shown to boost Lutenizing hormone (which has positive connotations for testosterone production) / both men and women can benefit from this LH/Test boost . Plus the sunlight gives you Vitamin D of course. You might as well do some light calisthenics outside to get the blood flowing. Next, skip the hot shower since hot water relaxes you and signals the body for melatonin release; This is not what you want in the morning. Take a cool shower or take a very short, warm shower (navy shower); Or, like me, don't shower in the morning because its pointless. Finally, eat breakfast and hydrate yourself. A tall glass of cold water is a treat upon waking. You might want to take a small dose of caffeine and/or some nootropics. Most people use caffeine as a crutch, imagine using it (sparingly) after maximizing your sleep hygiene!
In the book Brain Rules, Dr. Medina shares an experiment involving a sleeping, electrode probed rat after maze navigation.
The brain replays information learned during the day over and over again while you sleep! Information like: 720 twist. Backflip. 540 kick. You name the trick, your body is replaying it while you sleep. We've all experienced the phenomena of sleeping on a problem and waking with the solution. I've awoken with many solutions to technical tricking problems. The neurons of your brain are on fire while you sleep categorizing, organizing, and repeating information encountered during the day.
Idea: Go through certain tricks of interest in your mind in preparation for sleep so you can review it while sleeping. This is my anecdotal advice, as I've awoken with many solutions to tricking problems by recollecting them right before going to bed.
Blood supply to the muscles is increased, and metabolic activity decreased during sleep providing an opportunity for tissue growth and repair. Also, growth hormone reaches its daily peak during deep sleep. What's growth hormone do? Growth hormone stimulates body cells to increase in size and undergo more rapid cell division than usual. It enhances the movement of amino acids through cell membranes and increases the rate at which these cells convert said molecules into proteins. It has positive effects on erythropoesis (red blood cell production) Yeah, GH is anabolic. It also increases the rate of lipolysis (fat burning.) I think what tricksters would be most interested in is growth hormone's ability to stimulate reproduction of cartilage in the case of injury. Why do you think so many pro athletes dope with it when their goals aren't muscle growth? Answer: Because if they don't they'd fall apart.
Even a modest loss of sleep reduces the body's immune response. Natural immune-system modulators, such as interleukin and tumor necrosis factor increase during slow wave sleep. The hell with cancer, I'm going to sleep to increase my tumor necrosis factor count!
Along with the impairment of the learning, regeneration, and immune functions, we have...
Daytime Drowsiness: Duh.
Negative mood shifts: Depression and/or increased irritability.
Reduced interest in socializing: The reason you have no friends.
Weight gain: Sleep deprivation is associated with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This is a risk factor for diabetes in the long run. In the short run you just get fat.
Reduced productivity: Concentration, critical thinking, creativity, motivation, decision making function, communication skills, complex task management, perceptual ability, short-term memory cognition, and finally motor skills and coordination all suffer with sleep deprivation.
Most people have absolutely shameful sleep hygiene. I encourage you to put my suggestions to use, wake up everyday refreshed and capable so you can throttle it, and take advantage of those slow individuals with poor sleep hygiene. Survival of the most rested!