Make Sure to Catch Those Z’s

Contributed by Strength Coach Chris Sanchez, CSCS.

Your workout routine is systematically written out and scientifically planned down to the smallest detail. You are always on time and never miss a workout. Your nutrition is so on point it’s not even funny. Your macronutrient breakdown is a perfect 48.26% carbohydrate, 22.44% protein, and 29.3% fat. You drink enough water to hydrate 3 people. You’ve spent $400 on the latest and greatest supplements. All this going for you, and yet, you’re still not making progress like you’d like to. WHAT GIVES?!

You may be failing to address one of the most important aspects of reaching your performance or physique goals. This of course, if you couldn’t guess from the name of the article, is sleep! Sleep may be one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to reaching your goal of deadlifting 500lbs or fitting into that super cute bikini come June. If you’re not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis, you are flat out robbing yourself of numerous benefits that come along with hitting the hay.

“Sleep is the cousin of death.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

“I’m on my fifth cup of coffee today, I’m good to go.”

If you find yourself ever saying these things on a regular basis, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Getting a lack of sleep doesn’t just result in you being groggy for the day. Even a modest lack of sleep can lead to a higher risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, Type II diabetes, weight gain, and even cancer. I don’t know about you, but none of those things sound too appealing to me. As you can see, a lack of sleep goes much deeper than just superficial physique or short term performance goals. Being sleep deprived has a much more serious detrimental effect on your long term health. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it can also produce irritability, anxiety, depression, slower reaction time, loss of motor skills and coordination, reduced ability to think clearly, remember properly, and make critical decisions on a daily basis. So yes, you’re affecting your health in the long run and the short run when you stay up 1-2 extra hours to watch those Friends re-runs (Oh that Chandler!)

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So how much sleep do you actually need? The younger you are, the more sleep you’re going to need to be fully energized and alert for the day. From puberty to about age 26, you’ll need about 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night. Raise your hand if you know ANY high school or college student getting that amount of sleep on a consistent basis. Yeah, me neither. Anybody older than this can function on a solid 7 ½ to 8 ½ hours of sleep per night. However, it should be noted that this means a solid 7-8 hours, with at least 6 hours being straight through. You won’t exactly be getting the full benefits of a deep sleep when you wake up every 2 hours to toss and turn.

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So what are the benefits of a deep sleep? For one, take all of those negative effects mentioned one paragraph ago, and erase them for the most part. I’m not saying you won’t get diabetes if you get 8 hours of sleep every night but eat nothing but fruit rollups and Twinkies, but hey, it’s a start. You will however, increase your glucose metabolism (the process by which simple sugars found in many foods are processed and used to produce energy). This will result in higher levels of energy throughout the day and who doesn’t want or need that? Lack of sleep also keeps cortisol levels elevated which can cause high amounts of stress (boo!) and eat away at your hard earned muscle (AW HELL NO). Getting enough sleep puts cortisol levels in check, therefore lowering your stress and preserving your six pack. Other hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, naturally rise during a good night’s sleep which will aid in muscle development, tissue repair, as well as optimal bone development. Your cognition, reaction time, and coordination will also improve dramatically. These things will help you drive in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, or cause you to hit the brakes 0.5 seconds earlier to avoid a car accident. There are other numerous benefits such as improved mood, memory, sex drive, increased creativity, etc. You name it, and sleep will more than likely help improve it.

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So here are some tips on how to optimize your sleep so you can kick copious amounts of ass on a daily basis.

1. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. This may prove to be a challenge on the weekends, but do your best. Not that you don’t already know this, but if you go to sleep at 4 a.m. on Saturday night, you’re going to throw off Sunday’s sleep schedule. Then Monday’s will be off. Then Tuesday’s. Then Wednesday’s…..

2. Try to create a bed time ritual. Take a hot shower, read a book, or do anything that relaxes you. This will help you fall asleep quicker.

3. Put away your phones, tablets, computers, etc. an hour before bed. (But I just posted a picture of Professor Snuggles and I need to see who liked it!) No you don’t. Some research suggests that using electronic devices close to bed time will actually make it harder to fall asleep.

4. Get comfortable. Dark, quiet, and cool rooms usually make for the best environments to fall asleep. Get yourself some blackout curtains (well worth it, I can’t sleep without mine), earplugs, a fan, or whatever you need to create an environment meant for sleeping.

5. Get some exercise during the day. Regular physical activity can promote more restful and deeper sleep. Careful about your timing though, if you exercise too close to your bed time, you might actually have trouble falling asleep.

6. Try to get your caffeinated drinks in before 2 p.m. Anything after this and the alertness caused by caffeine can actually linger around until when you want to fall asleep.

Try to implement these tips and see if your sleep improves. When your sleep improves, I guarantee your quality of life will also take a turn for the best. And if you want a more in depth look at how important sleep is, check out “Sleep to Win!” by Dr. James B. Maas and Haley A. Davis. Happy Sleeping!

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