Sleep is something that every living creature on this planet needs. Yet for some reason, most people (that have grown out of their teenage years) either look at it as a waste of time or as a commodity that they will simply get more of later. I want to look at reasons why we need sleep, how much we need and ways that we can optimise our lifestyle, nutrition and supplementation habits to get the most out of sleep.
Why do we need a good night’s sleep?
When we sleep, our body recovers from the previous day. We go through two different types of sleep NREM and REM, each with separate phases that occur through the night. All phases of sleep are important. Without one phase, the others suffer. Many hormones are released through the night including melatonin which would have to be the most well-known - synthesised from tryptophan through a number of enzymatic processes – Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone, Growth Hormone, Somatostatin and a list of many more. These are all activated by negative feedback like most other reactions in the body, so it becomes quite technical to go into detail. But the point of the matter is that sleep is when our bodies grow and recover and, our brains learn (or more accurately store what we have learned that day into long term memory).
So how much sleep do we actually need?
It’s largely underestimated how much of an impact not getting enough sleep has on the body. A lack of sleep not only results in a dulled sense of fatigue through the day. Chronically, it also results in impaired immune and endocrine systems and also an increase in proinflammatory markers such as C - reactive protein and Interleukin-17, this shows correlation to increased risk in inflammatory diseases such as Cardio Vascular Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Between NREM and REM sleep, a cycle is divided into 5 stages. This cycle lasts around 90 minutes to complete, but is of course different from person to person. The ideally we should go through about 5 of these phases. That’s an average of 7.5 hours. Optimal hours are going to be more than that, sitting around 9 hours for an adult – 6 phases, 90 minutes more – but to be realistic, can we fit this within our working week? Unfortunately most people are only getting around 6 hours. And making matters worse, they’re getting disrupted mid-sleep by the ever looming week day alarm.
What lifestyle changes can be made to help?
Modern lifestyles inhibit optimal sleeping patterns. Work, training, study… Game of Thrones, etc. can get in the way of a good sleep. Making some minor changes and using some handy tools can help get the most out of sleep. Taking these into consideration can be not only beneficial to athletes but to those who are looking for better health.
· Give yourself an early bed time. Allow enough time for at least 8 hours.
· Reduce screen use time at least an hour before bed. That includes TV, phones, tablets, computers etc. All of these devices emit a high amount of the blue light wave frequency. This interferes with melatonin production, interfering with your quality of sleep. Alternatively invest in what’s known as a “Anti-Blue Light Screen Protector”
· Meditation helps get your body into a relaxed state and progressively reduce chronic stress. There is also evidence to suggest that meditation before bed improves REM state and in cases can help with lucid dreaming. Which is an article in itself really.
· Daily exercise also improves sleep quality. A rest day doesn’t mean it’s a “Do nothing physical day”. Some light activity like a walk or cycle around the neighborhood will help.
· Avoid stimulants later in the day. Caffeine is the most obvious one. Coffee, pre-workouts and energy drinks.
Dietary and Supplemental Help
While on the market – pharmaceutical market – there are plenty of options to help you get to sleep. Even as a more natural option, Melatonin can help you get to sleep. These supplements can actually interfere with your sleep cycles. As mentioned above, the body uses negative feedback to balance hormones through the night. Throwing a dose of melatonin in there has potential to just cause more havoc to the rest of the system.
· Foods that are high in Tryptophan such as meats, eggs, seeds and cheese (to increase uptake of tryptophan through the blood brain barrier consume with an insulin spiking carbohydrate food a few hours before bed to avoid creating issues with sleep. Post workout meal is perfect for this)
· Supplements with the ingredients Phenibut, ZMA, choline (the variants of) and herbs such as Valerian, Passion Flower, Ashwaganda and Rhodiola among other things can all help with a better sleep and improve recovery. Some in fact even make it easier to get back to sleep when interrupted through the night.
Considering these things, you can find that you’ll have better sleep, resulting in better recovery, better growth, stress levels, energy levels, appetite balance, and a better over-all view on what you’re doing day to day.