How to improve your sleep quality
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
From all the natural anabolic factors that we can control, sleep might be the most important one. His importance cannot be overrated - especially when you put higher physical demands on your body by training in addition to the stress from daily life. Depriving yourself of sleep will jeopardize your regeneration and therefore negatively impact your training performance, drive and tolerance towards intensity. The best training programs and nutrition protocols are worthless, if you rob yourself of the essential sleep.
Having a good sleep and also enough of it on the other hand will promote the physiological mechanisms that are responsible for letting your body adapt to the training stressor. During sleep the body's concentration of anabolic (muscle building) hormones increase, whereas catabolic (muscle destroying) hormones like cortisol decrease. Besides the release of growth hormones like somatotropin, sleep also enhances your muscle recovery through muscle protein synthesis.
What defines a good sleep?
Being aware of the importance of sleep is one thing but what characterizes a good sleep and how much of it is required? Answering this question we cannot orientate on the general sedentary population where the subjective feeling of an individual sleep requirement highly differs (usually between 6-9 hours). Since we are involved into real training we put a higher demand on our body and consequently our sleep requirement must be logically greater. Therefore at least 8 better 9 hours of good sleep are my recommendation. Those time frames are pure sleep and don't include the time needed to fall asleep!
Good sleep is characterized by falling asleep within 5-15 minutes and sleeping through the night without any interruption. Due to the fact that our biorhythms rely on hormone and neurotransmitter systems, which themselves are heavily influenced by sunlight and its absence, going to bed before 12pm is crucial. There's an old wisdom stating that each hour sleep before 12 pm counts double and I want to encourage you to believe that!
Optimally one would go to bed around 10-10:30 pm and automatically wake up between 6-8 am without relying on any alarm. This biorhythm is in our DNA, modern life just made it more challenging to stick to it.
How to improve your sleep
Just going to bed at recommended time unfortunately doesn't work as easy as we would like it to. As I mentioned nowadays our body systems and rhythms are negatively influenced up by modern life's stressors and bad habits we tend to develop when rushing through our busy lives. We just simply cannot roll a stone in front of our cave entrance and fall asleep without being bothered by anything as we used to during mankind's early stages. Nowadays there are just too many "important" things preventing us from going to bed on time: this project that we still need to work on in the late evening hours, or a few more episodes on netflix that we have to watch, or all those interesting things in our fb newsfeed and so on.
From working with my clients and my personal experience I found the following tips essential for sleep improvement:
No screens (TV, smartphone, laptop etc.) 1 1/2 - 2 hours prior to bedtime! This is due to the blue lights interfering with your melatonin production (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) and increasing your alertness levels. If you cannot cut the screens for that time frame, at least get yourself a pair of blue light filtering glasses to reduce those negative effects.
Eat your carbs in the evening and not in the morning. They help to make you sleepy due to increased insulin. And you are better off with the infamous carb coma at night, not after lunch.
Playing classical music during the first hour of bedtime affects certain brain waves and helps in producing neurotransmitters that are associated with sleep. Classical music from the baroque period (Bach, Händel, Mozart and Haydn) proved itself the most helpful in this context.
The sleeping room should be as dark as possible. Try to get rid of all those artificial light sources (street lights, house lights etc.) from outside, since they just confuse our body and make it harder for us to get ready to fall asleep (just like those blue lights mentioned above). Also make sure the room is not too hot. The best room temperature for a good night's sleep is around 18-20 °C.
Avoid drinking caffeine (from any source) in the late afternoon and evening.
Avoid tyrosine rich foods in the evening (like red meat, soy, cheese), since the promote dopamine levels.
And last but not least the most important one: Clear your head of negativity and don't take the problems of the day into your bed. Mindfulness and meditation can help to mentally detox yourself of the days struggles and might help to achieve the calmness, which is required to fall asleep within 5-15 minutes.
I wish you a good sleep! You owe it to yourself.