“Jesus, didn’t they think it might do damage? Didn’t the public raise Cain about it?”
“I don’t think you fully understand the public, my friend; in this country, when something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Sleep is important
Your sleep sucks, and I don’t mean in the metaphorical sense like black holes (I am with you, Stephen Hawking). Your sleep is very likely abysmal. And this is a problem. This is a huge problem because you want to lean out, build strength, run further faster, and improve your human potential. And every single one of those laudable goals are supported, nay driven, by your ability to recover.
We are always telling you that training is important, but only if you fix your diet. And then we peel the next layer back and tell you that diet is important, but only if you are sleeping like a champion. So let’s get to that foundation of quality sleep. I want to give you a few ideas on things you may be doing that inhibit quality sleep, and after we have dissected those I will give you some ideas you could use to augment your sleep game.
Routines are incredibly helpful for so many things. Implement this routine with your significant other: immediately upon seeing him or her at the end day, go in for a hug and squeeze tight. One or both of you have been at work all day so it is important to set the stage for the evening’s interactions. Another routine you might be a part of is up-regulating your central nervous system for a heavy lifting day – aka warming up. If you are experiencing stasis in your training, try to improve your warm-up and see what happens!
But the most important routine as it pertains to training is your before bed routine. What you do in the minutes and hours leading up to sleep is crucial. Life is a series of situations for which you need to be flipped on and flipped off. Let me give you some tips on how to down-regulate or wind down for sleep time.
- Create a routine. Your routine may involve music, reading, stretching, or any number of relaxing actions, but it should not include anything with a screen emitting blue light. Get the TV out of the bedroom, and no matter where you put it do not turn it on before bed. Same thing with the phones, tablets, and laptops. If you must do work on your computer in the evening, I recommend downloading a program called f.lux. It slowly dims the blue light out of your screen beginning at sun down. Blue light is the wavelength that tells your body to “wake up” via cortisol release.
- Replace your bedside lamp with a red or orange light. Do your night time reading or getting ready for bed stuff with the overhead light switched off and the creepy red lamp switched on. No Kindles or similar devices. Stick with the old paper and ink.
- Eliminate all ambient light from your room. Digital clocks, routers, modems, computers, phones, night lights, and light that creeps in from outside should all be covered up completely. Some of this requires moving items out of the bedroom. If an item must stay, tape over the light source. Hang heavy drapes if outside light sneaks through your blinds. Your room should be completely dark – Milton said it best: “no light, but rather darkness visible.”
- Sleep in a cool room. Let your air conditioner rest during the day while you are away to allow yourself to splurge with a cooler nighttime temperature.
- Create some white noise. They make white noise machines, but a simple ceiling or floor fan would work just as well. A fan has the added benefit of moving some air around which might just help keep you cool.
- If you are like every other sensible person in the world then you are brushing and flossing before bed. Do your melatonin secretion a favor and don’t blast yourself with the bathroom light. Do you have a separate light over the toilet? Turn it on instead of the light above your mirror. Or you might invest in a non-blue light night light to put in the bathroom.
- Do a mind dump before bed. If you are a person who lays awake at night thinking about the tasks you have to accomplish tomorrow, try to get those out of your head and on to paper. It is often our fear of forgetting a task that keeps us awake at night and not necessarily the task itself. Right before bed write down a bulleted list of everything on your mind. That way you have taken those worries and put them out of sight and mind.
- Three dietary aids that I have found helpful are chamomile tea, valerian root (I use in a tea), and Progenex Cocoon. I have also had athletes who have found ZMAs to be very helpful. Supplementing with melatonin can be problematic because it suppresses future melatonin secretion for some undefined period.
Think about your sleep
Sleep is a mandatory behavior. Everyone of us must do it. Fix mandatory behaviors before you try to fix optional ones like working out, stretching, meditating, etc. Fix the sleep first, then you can layer more complexity on top of it.
If your sleep is broken, you are broken.
P.S. – The gym’s mortal enemy, Real Madrid, had a recent article from BBC published about how seriously they take their sleep.
P.P.S. – Lebron James and Roger Federer both sleep upwards of 10 hours per night. I don’t know sports good, but I hear they are above average in their respective fields.