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The Sleep Solution

Sleep is essential, we know.

We know a lot of healthy bodily functions occurs when we sleep, and the opposite when we're deprived of sleep, but...

How do we optimise sleep?

1. Light:

  • If we consider the circadian rhythm from an evolutionary perspective, during the day, when its light outside, we want as much natural light exposure as possible, and when its dark outside, and light is reduced, we want to replicate that. However, now we have artificial light from lights, TV, phones etc, all of which are stimulatory - the opposite of what we need at this time.

  • The artificial light produces more blue light, which replicates the sunlight frequencies, at a time where we require more red light and similar frequencies.

  • The result? - circadian misalignment, with changes in melatonin secretion which could have up to a 2hr delay to falling asleep + the resulting sleep cycles.

So whats the solution?

  • Get outside. Try to get more natural light during the day - a minimum of 15-30 mins in the morning.

  • At sunset, flip the switch - less blue artificial light, more red light. If you still need to watch TV or use phones or laptops, consider blue light blocking glasses, or f.lux app or similar to reduce the intensity of the blue light + change the light frequencies.

2. Food + fluids:

  • Fluids - when we consider wake ups to pee during the night…the question we need to ask is: did you wake up, THEN realised you needed to pee, or did you need to pee SO you woke up?

  • The first, possibly needs to address sleep quality, the 2nd, possibly need to address fluid or food intake pre-bed.

The Solution - if fluids are the issue:

- Consider a fluid curfew by reducing fluid intake 1-2hrs before bed without compromising daily intake of water.

  • Food too close to bed - this has the potential to cause gastric distress, fullness and looking back at the circadian rhythm - potentially delayed melatonin onset.

The Solution - similarly to the fluid curfew:

- Consider using a food curfew around 2hrs before bed.

  • Composition of meals - high sugar, fatty meals are more likely to cause gastric distress and have a faster energy release which could impact desire or ability to fall asleep quickly.

The Solution -

- Try a higher protein and fibre meal as the last meal rather than high sugar and/or fatty foods.

  • Alcohol - alcohol consumption can affect the sleep cycles by increasing deep sleep and reducing REM sleep.

  • In addition, we may see disrupted hormone secretion for encouraging sleep. As a result, you’ll most likely fall asleep quickly but with poor sleep quality as you may be in more a sedated state rather than a natural sleep with regular sleep cycles.

  • Lastly, alcohol has a diuretic effect + could make you need to urinate more frequently during the night

The Solution -

- Try to limit amount and/or frequency of alcohol intake, especially before bed.

  • Weed - this can have similar affects to alcohol whereby we can see a sedative effect, and potentially increase light and deep sleep, with reduced REM sleep.

  • However, the effect and magnitude of the effects can depend on the strain of weed, dosage and how its consumed i.e. smoked, with/without tobacco, edibles etc.

The Solution -

- Try to limit frequency of use, especially before bed - experiment with dosage, strain and type of consumption.

3. Habits:

  • Bed time + wake up time - a lack of regular bed time can disrupt circadian alignment and melatonin secretion timing which could impact time to fall asleep and quality of sleep.

The Solution -

- Set a consistent bed time + wake up time - can be slightly different on weekends but try not to make it too drastic.

  • Day-time napping - if timed incorrectly or if its too long, it could impact brain wave activity and get a so-called ‘jet lag effect’.

The Solution -

- Use only if required, and keep it away from bed time. If necessary or helpful, consider controlling and experimenting with the duration and timing of naps.

4. Stress:

  • Acute or chronic? - firstly, we need to consider is it a short or long-term issue, and try to become aware of the cause e.g. stressful situations, deadlines, arguments, etc.

The Solution -

- If it’s acute with no obvious case, it could be a physical stressor from training. To solve this, try a deload period in training then look for changes the following week.

- If it continues, look to reduce training volume, then look for changes again.

  • Sympathetic dominance of nervous system - if you find yourself in a frequently ‘fight or flight’ mode due anxiety, worries, stress, etc.

The Solution -

- Attempt to create a parasympathetic dominance; Try to calm the mind, especially before bed with work curfews, reading a fiction book, mediate, breathing drills, etc.

  • Over-active mind - If you struggle to fall asleep as you’re over-thinking situations or following day work, etc.

The Solution -

- Try using a gratitude log - write things down that you’re grateful for to change your focus to a more positive mindset.

- Write lists or notes for the next day of any thoughts or to-do lists with any actions required so you know they’ll be addressed and not have to worry about forgetting.

5. Bedroom Conditions:

  • The Bat Cave - the conditions of a good environment for sleep are as dark as possible; you could try blackout blinds, or an eye mask.

  • Temperature - our bodily temperature makes a significant difference - just think about sleeping during a heat wave - just doesn’t happen right? - we want a cool environment; you could use a fan or keep windows open.

  • Noise - ideally as silent as possible; consider ear plugs if required.

6. Supplements:

  • Stimulants - such as caffeine from energy drinks, coffee, pre-workouts, etc can significantly affect sleep. Caffeine has a 3-7hr half life depending on the individual so consider reducing overall caffeine intake, and using a curfew based on the half life; try to limit consumption after 2-3pm. In addition, try to use caffeine only for performance when its needed.

  • Prioritize good sleep + nutrition for energy rather than relying on caffeine. We want to avoid a cycle of poor sleep, needing caffeine which leads to poor sleep again + repeat.

  • Use non-stim pre-workouts if training later in the day; consider utilising nootropics and pump ingredients to create focus, alertness and good blood flow for the pump.

  • Beneficial supplements for supporting sleep - With recommending supplements, we should consider them as the last priority. First, we could address the lifestyle and sleep factors we’ve mentioned, then consider the use of supplements.

  • Adaptogens - in this situation pre-bed, they can have a relaxing effect to reduce stress, anxiety and a calming approach to promote natural sleep. e.g. ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea.

  • Magnesium bisglycinate + zinc - can help with calming CNS.

  • 5HTP - its a precursor to serotonin in the body so supplementing will help to increase serotonin release - serotonin helps to fall asleep.

  • L-theanine - can increase caffeine clearance + calm the mind.

So now we’ve covered potential issues with sleep, and solutions to address them. But you may feel somewhat overwhelmed with a whole host of potential fixes. So how do you know what changes to make?

  1. Start by working backwards from the time you need to wake up. Then we can figure out what time you need to get to bed to get 7-9hrs of sleep.

  2. Is there anything stopping you from falling asleep quickly? If there is, take a moment to understand what that is, and check the related solution.

  3. How will you measure quality of sleep? An app? Or how you feel? Decide what is most appropriate for you. Implement and determine if theres an issue with the quality; if there is, as above, determine the issue and apply the appropriate solution.

  4. Lastly, only aim for 1-2 solutions at a time - don’t just throw shit at the wall to see what sticks.

To finish, here’s a sleep cheat sheet for ‘optimising’ your sleep in order of morning routine, daily activity and bed-time routine. Again, if they’re easy enough for you to make small changes, this is a great sequence. But your first aim is to target 1-2 things to address, and see how they impact your sleep.


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