If you are a strength athlete of some kind, then I’m sure you have your training all planned out, your nutrition is on point, and you only use the best supplements. However most of us forget that recovery is absolutely crucial to making progress. To maximize your recovery, you need a good night’s sleep, or you will be paying some big consequences in the long run. Improving my sleep quality is one thing I learned a long time ago, and always made an effort to get my 8 hours of rest. According to studies the average adult gets 7 hours of sleep each night, with a third getting less than 6.5 hours. I will say that everyone is different, and I know some top athletes that feel great on only 5 hours of sleep. Personally I need at least 8 to feel at my best. When I get less than 6 my energy is lower, and my training suffers, which is a top priority of mine. For the most part we all have busy lives, and getting to bed an hour early is difficult at times. However being busy isn’t always the real reason we don’t get enough sleep. Many of us stay up late to watch TV, watch the end of the game, and reading pointless facebook statuses. A lack of sleep can cause many detrimental health issues such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
Up until recently, I was always tired, no matter how much sleep I got. When I had a day off I could easily sleep 12 hours. However despite getting plenty of sleep I was still tired, and had no idea why. I could be driving at 2 in the afternoon, and literally be dozing off at the wheel. This affected my training a great deal, as I would need constant stimulants to get me energized to train. Over the last couple of years I have put on about 20lbs from when I started strongman competing at 231lbs. With this weight gain my neck has also increased to the point I can’t button up any dress shirt I own. Of course I thought this was great, and was proud of my increased neck size like any meat head would be. I had come across an article about a powerlifter experiencing the same, and when he was checked out by his doctor he was told he had sleep apnea. Come to find out anyone is at a risk for sleep apnea when their neck is larger than 17 inches for men,and 16 for women. Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is constantly interrupted during their sleep. When breathing is interrupted the brain, and other parts of the body are not getting enough oxygen. The long term effects of sleep apnea are: high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, diabetes, depression, and headaches.
Once diagnosed with sleep apnea I now sleep with a Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure Machine (CPAP). It took a few weeks to get used to but the change in my energy was a complete 180. I now sleep through the entire night, and wake up feeling rested. I also look like Bane when I go to sleep which is another added bonus of sleeping with a mask over my mouth.
What we all really care about is how this translates to getting stronger. With a better night’s sleep I am far more motivated to train, and studies show that with less sleep, or poor quality, that our motivation to train (among other things) is way down. As we all know having mental toughness is one of the biggest aspects of making progress in not just the gym, but anywhere in life. I’m going to sound like a sleep commercial, but it all starts with a good night’s sleep.
There are five stages of sleep, with stages 1 and 2 being the lighter stages. During stages 3 and 4 is when Growth Hormone (GH) secretion occurs. Growth hormone is crucial to being lean, building muscle, and even mental clarity. Reaching these stages of sleep is why it’s so important to make sure you are fully rested. Also I have no proof of this, but I know anytime I have been injured no matter how small it is when I have had a bad night’s sleep. Having an increased risk of injury should be no surprise as we are less focused, and more likely to let our form go when we have less sleep. Having sleep apnea for so long I would barely reach stages 3 and 4 due to gasping for air from periods of not breathing. There is also a stage 5 where dreams occur. Again if you have sleep issues like I did then you will either not dream, or never be able to remember your dreams. Remembering my dreams was one of the first things I noticed when I was able to sleep with a CPAP.
Now that we understand how important sleep is let’s go over some ways you can improve it:
I know this isn’t easy for everyone, but going to bed at the same time every night makes a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. Our bodies like to be in a rhythm, and when the time you go to sleep is all over the place, you will have trouble falling asleep, which is another reason why people get poor quality of sleep. Make it a priority at least during the week to go bed at the exact same time every night. Your training will be the same way. I like to train at the same time every day, and when that schedule is thrown off I don’t feel right training at night for example when I am used to the morning.
In your bedroom make sure there is absolutely no light coming in at all. I make my bedroom into a cave with my entire window blocked off. Our bodies are very light sensitive, so just a little light shining through can disrupt you. Also if you have a big alarm clock that glares in your face, turn it around. Not only will the light not be shining on you, but if you have a tendency of waking up then you won’t be checking the clock every hour too.
Make sure there are no noises that can disrupt you. Sometimes this is out of your control, so it’s a good idea to have some white noise to cloud other sounds out. A loud fan will generally work well here. You can also sleep with ear plugs if you live in an especially noisy area. I grew up next to a house that had roosters that would wake me up at 5am every morning. This would have been perfectly fine if I had to wake up at 5am every morning, so instead of going hunting I slept with ear plugs and my problem was solved.
Having a routine before you go to bed can be a great help in falling asleep faster. Watching movies, television late at night can be very stimulating that can keep your mind racing for a few hours after. Also doing stressful work before bed can do the same.
Our bodies also like to sleep in a cooler temperature, around 66-72 degrees is ideal. For myself nothing is worse than not being able to sleep because you are too hot.
This is an obvious one but of course, avoid caffeine and other stimulants later in the day. If you train later in the day then I would recommend taking a smaller dose to start to see how your body reacts.
Start applying these habits and you will feel more energized and motivated to train harder and longer. If you think you could have sleep apnea by all means go for a sleep study, because I assure you it will be life changing.