You may train and eat well enough to gain size and strength, yet struggle to hold onto your gains. You see nothing wrong, so you add variety, which just forms an illusion of progress. You miss a big piece of the puzzle: sleep.
Modern life harms sleep. Artificial light, caffeine, and stress mask our need for it. New studies claim though that the need for sleep is just 6-7 hours per night, matching what most manage to grab. The experts behind these studies also state that this range seems best for our health.
These track behavior told by the subjects though, and people fail to report their actions well. For instance, they eat much more than they would guess. Other factors, such as illness, may call for more sleep. Perhaps the healthy get by on less, but do they thrive?
Having little sleep also seems to show your work ethic. Add more cups of coffee or green tea, and you have many saying they feel better on fewer hours. Exercise makes you aware of this loss though, as even a small gain demands the best conditions.
While some people feel fine on less sleep, forcing a change is like having everyone wear the same shoe size. Do you trust some scientists looking for patterns in our unfit society, or trust your own sense of fatigue?
The best evidence shows that each person has their own sleep need per night, and this likely falls within 7-9 hours. Sleep debt, or the sleep that builds up when you get below your need, adds even more until you pay them back. While there are outliers that need far less, assuming you can join them may harm you.
A lack of sleep, more than any other cause for most, will halt progress. Our world calls for discipline to form the good habits to feel normal. Using zeitgebers will restore the conditions to get the sleep you need.
The German biologist Jürgen Aschoff was one of the founders of chronobiology. This field studies the inner rhythms of living organisms. He first used the term zeitgeber.
Zeitgeber means “time giver,” a cue that can change your inner clocks. Your clocks match closely with a 24 hour day and night cycle. These clocks are in many cells but mostly affect the brain, and helped us to live by encouraging action at the right times. We can also reset these timings or else we could not deal with a shift.
The main zeitgebers are:
- Social Activity
Humans evolved to do more during the day and less at night, so remember this when looking at each zeitgeber.
Light is the most powerful zeitgeber. Even cells beyond the eyes can sense light. The sun was by far the brightest source and allowed life to flourish.
Our bodies have not prepared for the light from our electronics, which allows us to stay active into the night. Too much light at night lowers melatonin and growth hormone. These hormones have many effects but also allow for sleep.
Try these tips:
- Feel sunlight for at least 15 minutes upon waking if you can. The sun is brighter than nearly all indoor lights, even on an overcast day. Get as much daylight as you can before night falls.
- Blue light at night acts like the sun and can harm our rhythms. If you need light, more so within a few hours before bed, use red, orange, or yellow hues. Candles will work well but least dim the lights. You can handle some light, as we did adapt to look upon fire, moonlight, and starlight.
- Cast out all light while sleeping by using room darkening shades and covering all sources.
- Unplug nearby electronic devices since their fields can throw off your rhythms.
- Exercise in the sun daily and either in the morning or afternoon. This will include some of the other zeitgebers as well.
Humans need each other to feel happy and healthy. This zeitgeber comes from using our minds as well. If not being social, at least working on daily projects, including on the weekends, could give you the same sort of effect.
Try these tips:
- Work and talk with other people during the day.
- Try to have a regular work schedule. A job with odd hours, that change often, will not settle your rhythms.
- Stay busy during what would be work hours on the weekends.
- Limit activities and work within a few hours of bedtime.
Noise occurs with activity, prompting us to feel alert.
Try these tips:
- Play music, use devices, and talk with others mostly during the day.
- Limit sound at night. Try using ear plugs. Use a fan or music, if it suits you, to drown out harsh noises at night.
Eating should encourage activity. Feeling tired after lunch occurs due to a dip in the signals from our clocks. The meal itself does not cause you to feel tired but instead shows a lack of sleep.
Try these tips:
- Eat large meals earlier in the day. Avoid too much food before bed. This competes for blood flow with the brain and may harm sleep.
- Though stimulants such as caffeine can offset fatigue, they can start a cycle of losing sleep at night yet using more to stay awake during the day. If tolerated though, 1 or 2 cups of coffee or green tea may help to set your clocks.
- Depressants such as alcohol may cause you to fall asleep faster but shorten the deeper stages of sleep. 1 or 2 servings of beer or wine may limit this effect and also settle your clocks.
- For most though, the costs of these drugs outweigh the benefits.
Warmth, if not too warm, urges activity while cold limits it. A drop in body heat will always occur after lunch and before bed though. You can aid or prevent this with these tips:
- Set the temperature at 68° or higher during the day.
- Keep it below 68° at night. Most can sleep well in 60-65° and should use more covers if feeling cold.
- Exercise will boost your temperature, which can balance out the dip during the day.
Exercise, like the zeitgebers other than light, is weaker but still matters. It always seems to move the clocks back, making you want to sleep sooner rather than later. More body heat may curb this edge though if training within a few hours of bedtime.
I suggest exercising every day and as early as you can. Every session does not need to feel brutal. On days away from lifting and intervals meant for rest, use aerobic exercise such as walking or jogging.
Exercising upon landing can also help you to deal with jet lag.
Using Zeitgebers to Sleep Better
A well-spent day brings happy sleep.
– Leonardo da Vinci
Though the body can adapt, it seeks routine. Using zeitgebers at the right times will have more of an effect if applied steadily. This explains one reason why shift work can take such a toll on health. It applies them without any pattern. If you must work like this, then apply these tips when you can. You also may need to use artificial light to replace the sun.
For everyone else, wake up at the same time each and every day. Try to exercise in the morning and eat a large breakfast. Let your bedtime vary, at least until your habit forms, but wake up at the same time even on weekends. Take short naps, no longer than half an hour, if you need them. Though this may feel tough at first, stay the course and you will sleep well.
Consider these last issues:
- You may wake up in the middle of the night at first. Humans may have slept in two parts prior to the rise of electricity. Perhaps this took place since the length of most nights extends past our need for sleep. Stick with the plan though, while cutting out naps, and this issue should fade.
- Trust yourself to find the best time to rise. Research appears to reveal three classifications: hummingbirds, larks, and night owls. Hummingbirds are flexible, larks prefer the morning, and night owls prefer the evening. Our genes therefore may drive us to rise earlier or later. Know though that our ancestors still went to sleep much sooner than many today, as sunlight dictated everything. Most everyone rose between 5-9 AM.
- The body stops you from sleeping for too long, as you will feel too awake to sleep. Do not worry about too much sleep but still go to bed earlier instead of sleeping in when tired. If anything, know that a poor rhythm makes you feel alert when you would rather sleep.
Fitness depends on exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Allow any of these to falter and your body will fail you. Use zeitgebers to sleep well, at last completing the puzzle to reach the progress you want.