One PED You Shouldn't Resist

Michael Rutherford

Coach

Kansas City, Kansas, United States

Olympic Weightlifting, CrossFit, Strength and Conditioning

I’ve found athletes at every level will go to extremes to improve their game. Powders, pills, lighter equipment, better shoes, expensive coaching programs, and banned substances. 

 

How much would you pay for a performance enhancing drug (PED) that provided reduced body fat resulting in improved lean body mass? Or maybe it gave you faster reflexes, reduced inflammation, and increased your strength? How about something that would improve your skin, balance your hormones, and reduce your cortisol?

 

 

I've got a really good drug for you then, and it's free. What is this drug, you ask? It's sleep.

 

Skipping Sleep Is Bad for You

There is a negative to ignoring this PED and the consequences are significant. Sleep deprivation in some cases can lead to increased risk of cancer, reduced sex hormones, compromised immunity, and an increase of stress hormones along with insulin resistance. In addition, lack of sleep can cause an immediate risk for you and your loved ones when it comes to daily safety while driving your vehicle with a reduction in reaction time similar to that of drunk driving. When it comes to taking inventory of sleep rituals, most of us, including top level athletes, lack tracking the details of our sleep.

 

Identify Your Level of Sleep Deprivation

Homosapien is an amazing machine. Normally, we adapt so well to challenges that low levels of stress are tolerated easily. However, when it comes to poor sleep habits, things become more complicated. Some possible signs of sleep issues are:

 

  • Hitting the snooze button—the most insane creation ever developed.
  • Excessive tiredness upon rising.
  • A powerful desire to nap.
  • Experiencing brain fog.
  • Microsleeps or dozing off at meetings, while driving (oh, Lord no), during movies, or after meals.
  • Heart rate variability decrease. This would need to be examined over weeks or months, but if training load, diet, and lifestyle are consistent then this could be an indication of an issue.
  • Snoring or other bumps in the night. Around four million people are walking around with undiagnosed sleep apnea. If you share a bed, your partner might be able to confirm your noises.

 

There could be other things indirectly related to your overall health like digestive issues, headaches, strong caffeine and/or nicotine dependency, and weakness.

 

"I've always loathed the necessity of sleep. Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs." - Francis Underwood

 

I’ve worked mostly on a default basis with sleep. If someone experiences ailments yet cannot recite their sleep practice over the last week, I assume their sleep could use some work. The good news is that surprisingly small changes can fix it.

 

Hacks for the Small Problems

These are my absolutes when it comes to fixing a sleep concern. Try all of these first before you move to more extreme approaches.

 

Consistent Bedtime and Same Rise n' Shine

This means keep your bedtime and waking time within 30 minutes of your norm despite the day of the week and your schedule. It can be frustrating and a tad anti-social, but that Monday sleep hangover will be a thing of the past. Also, make certain the room is totally dark.

 

 

Cold Bedroom Thermostat (60-65° F)

Naturally our body temperature drops as the day ends. This is part of the biological signalling that we need to sleep. Sometimes our body stays too warm and dropping the temperature in the bedroom can trigger the sleep response. If your room is already too cold, and your roomie is keeping you in the frozen tundra, put on an extra blanket or wear socks to bed.

 

Final Feeding Three Hours Before Bed

Whenever possible you should stop eating or drinking three hours before bed. If you have the correct caloric intake during the rest of the day you should be fine.

 

"Two hours of sleep before midnight is worth four hours after." - Charles Atlas

 

Cut Your Caffeine

Make it a rule to cut off your caffeine at noon each day. The halflife for coffee is around seven hours. A DNA test can reveal your level of sensitivity but most people consume much more than they need.

 

Limit Alcohol

While alcohol sounds like a good idea to help you relax in the evening, it will have a rebound effect and you will awake once the alcohol has been metabolized. At minimum, your deep sleep is impeded if you drink alcohol in the evening. Studies on students who drank after studying for exams performed worse than students who studied the same amount but did not drink alcohol. I’m not a choir-boy, but I can confirm all of this from my own personal experience. If you want restorative slumber be sure to minimize your alcohol.

 

No Screens One Hour Before Bed

If you must work on the computer, watch television, or use your smartphone within one hour before bedtime, consider using blue light spectrum glasses.

 

Exercise Earlier in the Day

Exercise can stimulate some individuals to the point of insomnia. If you get buzzed up after you workout then you should consider moving your session up to an earlier time of day.

 

Once you have checked off on all of the above, then log your sleep for 30 days and note how much better your look, feel, and perform.

 

Hacks for the Bigger Sleep Concerns

If you are still suffering for poor night night routines, you can introduce one of these practices. Only introduce one at a time and test your results.

 

  • Consume some high glycemic carbohydrates with the evening feeding.
  • Consume a small amount of casein thirty minutes before bed.
  • Eliminate your afternoon nap or make it only a 5-10 minute power-nap.
  • Meditate.
  • Take a hot bath followed by a cool shower.
  • Use a magnesium supplement, which leads me to a final point.

 

Sleep supplements are a no-no if you think taking them will make up for having a poor sleep routine. They could even be more damaging overall. For instance, melatonin is a hormone that triggers sleep, which does nothing for your insomnia and will inhibit your own melatonin production via the negative feedback loop.

 

Harness the Power of Sleep

This is probably isn’t the first article you’ve read on sleep and it probably won’t be the last. What I hope is that this article will inspire you to take serious inventory of your sleep habits and, if they are broken, you will commit to improving your sleep practice with a 30-day sleep challenge.

 

I’m a health and fitness practitioner, not a sleep scientist nor a physician. At the end of the day, if you have concerns or doubts you should consult a physician and discuss the need for a sleep study. Serious sleep issues need to be diagnosed by a sleep professional.

 

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