Lots of things we do to improve our bodies require effort.
Whether it’s controlling our food intake or pushing ourselves at the gym. It takes mental and physical effort to get better.
There is one thing you can do that doesn’t require masses of willpower, doesn’t make your muscles burn and it improves your physical and mental functioning as well as making it easier to gain more muscle and lose more fat.
What is it?
You have to get really good at sleeping.
Sleeping Your Way To A Better Body
This post shows you how to get the most out of the most restorative function we have.
I don’t know about you but I love sleep. If I had the time to sleep more i would. If I could sleep 10 hours every night I think I would!
Waking up from a good night’s sleep is just the best way to start the day.
You feel refreshed, your head is clear and your muscle tone is better. You’re already winning.
You make a coffee, because hell, who doesn’t love coffee? But you realise that if you didn’t have one, you’d still function.
You get to work. Tasks you have to do feel easier, you’re more resistant to stress, and not only that, you don’t get as hungry either.
You finish work and head to the gym and the workout that you found hard last week when you were low on sleep suddenly feels easy,.. weirdly easy.
After your workout, you’ll recover better and get better results because of it. If you’re losing weight, you’ll lose more fat and less muscle.
Doesn’t that sound like a great day? Just from sleeping a little better?
Benefits of Sleeping More
If you’re chronically sleep deprived, you probably have faint memories of how life was when you’d wake up refreshed. You know you feel better with more sleep. Here are some of the benefits you might have forgotten about.
Being sleep deprived makes you more hungry, have trouble saying no to the wrong foods? It could be ghrelin, your hunger hormone. When you are sleep-deprived, ghrelin (our hunger hormone) shoots up and leptin (our satiety/fullness hormone) drops significantly. This imbalance can be quickly resolved by restoring proper sleep.
Makes you think doesn’t it.. Could a big part of the obesity epidemic be down to the fact that we’re all sleep-deprived? It’s plausible.
Thinking Is Easier
When we’re sleep deprived, we’re not dumber, we just have to work a lot harder to be smart. You know how it is when you’re tired and you find yourself getting sidetracked from what you’re doing, like your focus decided to take a holiday.. That’s sleep deprivation.
Some research is now linking IQ with sleep habits though, so who knows?
Better Body Composition
Losing weight often means losing muscle, at least the way that most people do it. That said, sleep is a massive factor in this, along with protein intake and exercise. Those who sleep less lose less fat and more muscle (end result = not that good). Those who sleep more keep more muscle, lose more fat and look more awesome.
Pretty good reasons right? But did you know that you actually do even better in some areas when you oversleep?
Benefits Of Even More Sleep
Studies on athletes who increased their sleeping to 9 or more hours per night showed significant improvements in performance. Lots of commonly used supplements can’t achieve that! While this is definitely overkill for someone who is mostly sedentary, if you’re planning to kill it in the gym and want to maximise your recovery, it’s a powerful tool.
Making Time For Sleep
I know, it’s easier said than done. If you work a lot, have young children, or have odd shifts at work, getting a good night can be a challenge.
If you can make time for an awesome night’s sleep, you should.
If you can’t, you need to maximise the quality of your sleep. It still makes a difference!
Ideally you’ll sleep at a similar time each night and rise at the same time each morning. This is important because most of us can’t sleep on command. You have to be tired to sleep properly.
Creating The Need For Sleep
I had difficulties with sleep through my entire adolescence. I think a good deal of this was the fact that my life wasn’t really that physically demanding. I was bored at school, I wasn’t doing tons of exercise and teenagers have tons of energy! For years I got by on waaay below average levels of sleep.
Nowadays I wake pretty early and get in some form of training most days. By the time I’ve back from work at night, I fall asleep in no time.
It’s my experience, and a lot of studies indicate, that you sleep a lot more easily if you make the most of the day.
Exercising in the day makes you fall asleep faster and it improves the quality of your sleep. You shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime but making some time for exercise daily, even if it’s pretty light (going for a walk, jogging etc) will help you sleep better.
We have something called a circadian rhythm, which is our own 24 clock. It gets us up and makes us sleep at certain times. Sunlight affects our circadian rhythm, it makes us wake up in the same way that lack of light makes us sleepy. Getting some sunlight during the day makes us more awake during our waking hours allowing us to fall deeper asleep during the night.
Mental stimulation is like physical exercise, it’s good for our health but shouldn’t be done before bed. It’s better to get work-related activities done during the day and save the monotonous activities until the evening.
There’s been a ton written about sleep rituals. I’m a pretty pragmatic guy, you I won’t be suggesting ear candles or essential oil baths. Just the stuff that is likely to work, and that people will actually do.
Ideally you’ll take care of business during the day and have your evenings to yourself. I don’t always have this luxury myself, but it is definitely the best way to do things.
Smartphones, as well as computers and tablets, emit something known as blue light. If you’ve ever looked at a computer in a dark room and noticed a blue hue to the room, this is why.
Blue light suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone which makes you sleep. If you use a smartphone late at night then you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep and have poorer quality sleep.
If you absolutely must use your phone, search for a blue light blocking app. These change your screen to an orange hue which blocks blue light. If you use your phone a lot around bedtime, you’ll find yourself getting tired when the blue light is blocked.
Get your thoughts off of your mind. This is a really useful tip if you play over things in your head when you should be sleeping. You can keep a pen and pad next to your bed jot down anything as it comes up. I personally keep a diary and write in it before I wind down, even if I haven’t got that much to say. This is helpful for rationalising and solving problems as well as promoting good sleep.
Cool, Dark Room
A cool, dark room is perfect for sleep!
The worst thing about summer has to be tossing and turning when it’s too warm to sleep! We sleep better at cool temperatures, our body temperature has to drop a bit for us to nod off.
The dark helps us sleep. Light suppresses melatonin which is needed for sleep. Eliminate as much light as you can. If you want it to be darker then get a sleep mask.
Avoid Stimulants and Food Before Bedtime
Try to leave a bit of time between eating and sleeping for better sleep quality. Limiting alcohol is best too. Although alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, it often reduces sleep quality throughout the night.
Caffeine is obviously a poor choice before bed, nicotine can go either way. Sometimes withdrawal or psychological dependency can inhibit sleep more than the stimulating effects of nicotine, you might need to experiment here. Abstaining before bed is best if it doesn’t cause you to crave it too badly.
Do The Boring Stuff
A great way to unwind is to do something boring before bed. Washing up is a great example of this. Reading can be good, but frankly it depends on your nature. I always found it woke me up.
Doing mindless chores that keep your hands busy while letting your mind go quiet put you in a good state for a good, restful sleep.
Napping is a skill that I never got really good at. Some people seem to be natural nappers while others can’t imagine sleeping during the middle of the day.
Napping offers a quick way to energise your body and brain when you’re sleep deprived or need a little boost. Naps are effective for those who have had a full night’s sleep too! Most naps are 20-30 minutes and this seems to be a good amount of time to nap. Napping only runs through part of the sleep cycle however, so unless your nap is 90 minutes or longer, it won’t include all of the benefit you get from sleep, but it should refresh you and give you a boost.
The Power Nap
A power nap is a short nap that doesn’t involve any deep sleep. These are typically 20 minutes but can range from 10-30 minutes. Benefits include enhanced alertness, motor skills and mental functioning.
The naps are kept short to avoid entering deep sleep, this avoids or reduces the effects of sleep inertia, which is that groggy feeling you sometimes get when waking up in the morning.
The Caffeinated Power Nap
Some people have a cup of coffee of caffeine pill before they take a short nap. Caffeine typically takes around 30 minutes to have an effect on the body so it kicks in shortly after waking. This has been found to be quite effective.
Naps of around 90 minutes are much more restorative but they also have far more potential to disrupt your sleep schedule. These can be used at times when your schedule does not allow enough time to sleep at night. They’re not very practical for most people.
Polyphasic Sleeping was recently popularised by Tim Ferriss, the idea is that you eliminate your normal nightly sleep and replace it with a number of naps at regular intervals. There are claims that this allows you to be rested with substantially less sleep (as little as 2 hours per day!).
While there are some people who may be able to function like, it just doesn’t work for most people. Some people with a rare gene mutation can get by on less sleep, and the rare success stories could possibly be attributed to this, but for most people lots of good quality sleep at night, which is most conducive to sleep, is a great way to look, feel and perform at your best.
Until next time,