Many focus on training and nutrition but ignore sleep.
Most of those past the beginner’s stage know the folly of such thinking. Lifters especially become aware of how well-rested they need to feel to train hard and recover well. They understand that those small improvements over your previous best require enough good sleep and that lacking it will limit progress, even more so as a natural trainee.
Most would agree that a great workout always follows a deep sleep. Modern life harms our sleep though. We support strange lifestyles made possible through electricity, and many battle insomnia.
Many more fail to recognize their level of sleep deprivation, relying on caffeine and stress to get through the day. They never establish a routine and feel poorly. Though society supports this, we have ourselves to blame.
Those that do research will learn to improve their sleep hygiene. They ensure a dark, quiet, and cool room. They use comfortable bedding materials. They try to get up around the same time each day. These steps will help, but this all is incomplete.
The Right Conditions for Sleep
Many find they sleep soundly after visiting the beach or when they go camping. They labor through a long day of yardwork, watch a sport outdoors, enjoy their time at an amusement park, and attend to a picnic. This leads to the best sleep they ever had.
People assume this occurs rarely, perhaps associating it with the event alone, and never analyzing the qualities that they all share that led to their success.
The ancient farmer’s life brought about good sleep. They had a consistent schedule filled with hard work. After tolling under the sun for most of the day, they relaxed without electricity that could otherwise keep them up far into the night.
You may spend all day achieving little, especially on the weekends. You then practice good sleep hygiene, expecting to sleep well. To your disappointment, you never feel that sensation to drift off.
Though your circadian rhythm’s perception of time, which gets delayed from all of the light you saw that night, may eventually coax you to relax, this happens far too late.
Your sleep-wake homeostasis is a system in your body that judges how many hours you have stayed awake. It also seems to evaluate their intensity. Humans evolved with more activity than most experience today, and our bodies expect this activity to understand the time of day and to run smoothly.
This system ideally works alongside your circadian rhythm to have you feel just as you desire at a certain time, either awake or tired.
Inconsistent and lazy lives cause these systems to desynchronize.
We want to stimulate both physical and psychological repair to sleep our best. You need to be active during the day in multiple ways. We can call this practicing good wake hygiene.
These activities do not just set your internal clock correctly, but are in themselves stimulating. You therefore feel even more alert and full of energy through the synergy. This topic gets less attention versus good sleep hygiene, which tends to focus on our nighttime settings.
Consider these tips to practice good wake hygiene.
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.
– Victor Hugo
- See and feel as much bright light as possible.
Light is the most powerful zeitgeber, a cue that helps to set the internal clock. You need as much exposure as possible starting when you first get up. With most of our time spent indoors, we do not get as much bright light as we should.
You will notice that the events leading to a restful sleep all involve time spent outdoors during the day. We need this light to feel our best then and also as a contrast to darkness so that we release melatonin and other chemicals that facilitate sleep at night.
Consider using a lightbox when indoors. These have more lux, a measure representing the intensity of light, than most indoor lights. Turn on all of the surrounding lights once you leave your bedroom. If you can get up during or after sunrise, open up the curtains.
Consider walking outside earlier in the day. The sunlight stimulates Vitamin D synthesis, which also in itself works to keep you alert.
We can even respond to light without seeing it, so do not ignore light from directions beyond your sight.
- Exercise daily.
Too much intense exercise will harm your progress, but you can still go for an outdoor walk or jog every day. Light aerobic exercise feels less demanding yet seems more important for better sleep, perhaps related to the increased blood flow.
- Raise your internal temperature.
We know that your body temperature peaks during the morning and late afternoon through early evening. This coincides with peaks in your alertness derived from your circadian rhythm.
Exercise helps to generate some of this internal body heat. You can also experiment with making your room temperature either slightly colder or warmer than normal, though within a reasonable range, not too far from 68° F or 20° C. These both provoke responses that result in more body heat that may help to give you more energy.
- Interact with people.
Try to interact with people during the day. Have some fun and excitement with others. Spend time with those you wish to see and that make you feel happier, those that you feel a deeper connection with and perhaps those that adopt a similar schedule as well. An isolated life does not make for good sleep, which only really seems possible in today’s society.
- Hear more loud noise.
Although this can come from social activity, you can also try listening to music. It can come from a public place, such as a café, which provides ambient noise that tends not to interfere with concentration.
- Eat food earlier.
Try to eat most of your total food earlier in the day. If you prefer not to eat a large breakfast, as many evening types do, try having a big lunch. Dinner can be larger if not planned too close to bed. This also has a practical effect, as too much digestion can make it difficult to sleep.
With meals, it seems more about your body figuring out your patterns. It uses these breaks as a form of time-keeping, knowing how close it is to bedtime. Trying then to have consistent times for each of your big meals can help.
- Take a nap if it leads to more activity.
Everyone will feel a dip in alertness during the afternoon, even if they are well-rested. This can be a good time to take a nap. If it leaves you too sluggish or disrupts nightly sleep though, then just power through this time, which you will bear if you sleep well at night. Even as short as 15 minutes can help you feel more alert through the evening.
- Consider the judicious use of stimulants, other drugs, and supplements.
Many will be more prone to stay active with a little coffee, tea, or yerba mate in their system. Even alcohol, as a depressant, can help spur creativity if used at least 4 hours before sleep. These seem to have a small net benefit toward health according to most research, if taken in small amounts like 1-2 cups.
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep though. Some people tolerate them better than others, though they may affect you without you knowing it. Without sufficient sleep, no drug will overcome your deficiency. You may begin a deadly cycle of higher doses or new drugs, fostering an addiction.
Restrict caffeine ideally to the morning or early afternoon at the latest. If having alcohol later, pair it with dinner. Know yourself and be honest; we all vary in how these affect us. Try to stick with smaller doses or remove them entirely if it prevents sleeping at night.
Other compounds such as creatine and vitamin D also associate with activity, so having them through food or supplements during the day makes sense.
- Avoid excessive comfort.
The abruptness of a quick cold shower, a splash of water on the face, or anything that feels jolting and a bit uncomfortable can give you a brief remedy. This may accelerate the boost in alertness that arrives in the morning.
Keep showers and baths short during the day. We know that a drop in temperature occurs during sleep. Any sort of large shift in temperature can make you feel sleepy. An overly relaxing position, such as laying on the couch, may make you feel lethargic as well.
- Push yourself mentally.
Try to learn something new every day. Read books at your desk. Concentrate. Engage in creative work. Try to create something, avoiding a life dominated by consumption. This will make you happier as well, though you may not realize it at the time.
- Encourage competition.
Compete with others and yourself, both physically and mentally. Competition can boost testosterone. We evolved and continue to live in a relentless world. Wanting to achieve more is innate, though nowadays we have the more of a choice to decide what truly matters to us.
Consider setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Try recording them in a journal by hand so as to remind you. You do not have to do this, but for some, it can help. The key is just to work on things you enjoy with an eye for the future. Work hard today so you can help yourself and others in a great way later.
Try to keep track of your time, setting goals within certain blocks to earn your comfort at night.
- Confront stress.
Handle problems during the day. Deal with work issues and relationships while it remains bright outside. Many will fret at night and suffer the next day, making poorer decisions.
- Try other creative solutions.
Combine these tips uniquely. For example, you could fulfill more than one of these tips by getting groceries in the morning or day instead of at night. Walk with a friend. Use electrical devices during the day.
- Will yourself to act, at least at first.
Habits are hard to break. It seems that the only way to overcome the most stubborn ones involves sheer willpower, at least at first.
Just like how smiling can make you happy, so does acting energized give you energy. The motivation will get you going until the habit takes over.
Sleep deprivation in the short term may be needed to reset your cycle. Stick with it and reap the benefits to come.
Practice Good Wake Hygiene
I suggest organizing your day into blocks. Stay active in the morning and late afternoon through early evening. Slow down during the afternoon and middle-to-late evening. Try to form a consistent pattern.
All of this activity may increase your sleep need slightly, but it also improves efficiency. Olympic athletes often sleep close to 9 hours and sometimes more. You may also sleep more at first as you pay off your sleep debt. This small price results in feeling motivated, getting healthy, and making great progress in fitness and life.
Set a cutoff point for activity, perhaps 2-4 hours before bedtime. Dim the lights, maybe start a fire, avoid exercise, limit socialization and loud noise, stop any sort of work, and so forth. Allow yourself to relax and get comfortable. Read a book, watch a show, or play a game. Form a ritual based on these steps. Prepare for bed with good sleep hygiene in mind.
You need enough sleep to promote anabolism or to rebuild from exercise. Your mind works much the same way, in that sleep consolidates memories. As steroids demonstrate the great power of hormones, do not ignore this natural solution to optimize your own.
Have good sleep hygiene. This solves only part of the problem though. Practice good wake hygiene as well.