A Crash Course To A Better Nights Sleep
Sleep is, second only to nutrition, the key factor in your recovery from training and daily stress. But what IS it? We know its important, we know we need more, and we know it could be of better quality, so is it a simple case of making more time for sleep, or is there more to it than just getting to bed for 10.30pm?
Sleep is broken down into non rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and REM sleep. NREM is then broken down into three progressively deeper stages (stages N1, N2, and N3). N3 is considered deep sleep, categorised by hugely reduced brain activity, slowed breathing and reduced heart rate. REM sleep is characterised by vivid dreams, muscular paralysis, and rapid eye movements, it typically occurs during the latter stages of the night, with the first half of the night being predominantly NREM.
NREM and REM sleep occur in cycles of around 90 minutes throughout the night, but the exact distribution of cycles alters from person to person depending on genetics, stress and other factors.
Why is it important?
During sleep, your reduced brain function allows your central nervous system to recover from the stress of both daily life and training. It does this by replenishing important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and adrenaline which are responsible for keeping you alert and motivated – we’ve all felt that lethargic feeling after a few bad night’s sleep, this is why.
Secondly, your body uses sleep as the time when it is able to repair and build tissue, whether that is from exercise or injury. During REM sleep, you are paralysed by two chemicals called glycine and GABA, which affords your body the perfect opportunity to go to work. You do the VAST majority of your growing/recovering during this sleep cycle (which, as mentioned above, happens most during the latter stages of a full night’s sleep) so cutting down on your time in bed can dramatically impair your results in the gym.
Finally, during sleep your body increases output of growth hormone, which aids in your recovery from training, and growth of new tissue; insufficient sleep means less natural GH release alongside dysregulated cortisol – not good!
What else happens if you don’t get enough?
Insufficient sleep obviously impairs the above. Your GH release is lower, cortisol goes out of whack, the neurotransmitters responsible for alertness are unable to replenish making you feel progressively more tired as the days go by, and you have less time during which your muscles can grow.
Sleep deprivation also effects how you handle carbs. After just 6 days of having 4 hours sleep per night, glucose tolerance can be reduced by 40%! This may be due to effects on GH or cortisol, or it may be because sleep deprivation impairs your immune system, increasing inflammatory markers (2).
Finally, sleep has effects on leptin and ghrelin – hormones that control your appetite. So not only are you not handling carbs well, you’re eating more!
So what do you do? Sleep improvement is, and isn’t, quite simple. But to make a start, just follow these few tips and start to make some headway:
1 – Switch off electronics.
Electronics work on the blue light spectrum; this tricks your brain into thinking its daytime, which impairs the production of melatonin, needed to help you sleep. It’s also distracting, we’ve all been there, tucked up in bed for 10pm and we decided to ‘quickly’ check Facebook, next time you look it’s 10.40pm and now you’re annoyed you’re getting up at 5.30am and won’t have long enough to sleep. Be diligent, get to sleep.
2 – Supplement with magnesium. Most people who train are magnesium deficient to some degree as our regimes dictate that we need more, but magnesium is vital for sleep. Supplement with oral or transdermal ZMA, and if you need a source, I’d recommend checking out Awesome Supplements. I would personally, if you are highly active, supplement with both oral and transdermal, I usually see people simply not getting enough, so for active folks I recommend a daily oral supplement, like Daily Dose, then Recovery Spray after training.
3 – Eat some carbs. Carbs release insulin and serotonin, both of which make you drowsy and help you sleep deeper. Contrary to what you might expect, the simpler the carb, the better – bowl of cereal anyone? (Many also neglect overall calories and carbs when training hard, make sure you are on top of your calorie and carb intake as a whole).
4 – Don’t be afraid to powernap, life is tough, stressful, and throws all sorts at us, a 20 minute can do us wonders (just don’t sleep for 20-50 minutes, you’ll be in REM and wake up groggy).
5 – To repeat, make time for sleep. It doesn’t work if you don’t prioritise sleep, prioritise it, its REALLY important.
Want to REALLY geek out on sleep? I’ve talked a lot about it generally on my podcast, Ben Coomber Radio, but I recently did two shows with sleep expert Nick Littlehales, a mind blowingly clever guy when it comes to sleep, check out shows 194 and 195 here:
If you are someone looking to get geeky with your nutrition as a whole, maybe looking to do an online nutrition course sometime in the future, then check out the Body Type Nutrition Academy, our online nutrition course: http://bodytypenutrition.co.uk/academy/
Ben Coomber is a performance nutritionist (BSc, ISSN), educator, speaker and writer. Ben run’s Body Type Nutrition, an online nutrition coaching company that also runs a multi-level, online nutrition course, the BTN Academy. Ben has the UK’s #1 rated health and fitness podcast on iTunes ‘Ben Coomber Radio’ with regular Q&A’s and expert interviews. Ben also owns Awesome Supplements, a brand offering clarity in the confusing world of supplements. Connect with Ben over on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram.
For everything else visit: http://www.bencoomber.com
1 – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673699013768
2 – http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jc.2003-031562