We have an epidemic in this country of people who are not getting enough sleep, and if this problem is left untreated, a domino effect of health issues will occur. Moreover, it is made worse when drugs and caffeine are added to the mix, causing long term health consequences.
People lead busy lives in modern society and do not leave enough time for sleep because many of us work long hours, have families to take care of, and waste hours in the evenings watching television. Others will lay in bed for hours unable to fall asleep, or will fall asleep then wake up. As a result, the use of sleep aid drugs has risen by 150% in the past 10 years. Unfortunately, the major problem is that they are addictive and do not fix the root issue. In this article we will tackle the sleep conundrum and provide tips on how to improve your sleep at home.
Health problems from lack of sleep
Sleep is the way our body refreshes each day. Therefore, a lack of this refreshment can ruin your day in the short term, since you won't be able to go as heavy or as hard in the gym, you won't be as sharp at the office, you will not want to play with your pets or kids after work, and it can even impair you behind the wheel. In fact, there are thousands of car accidents every year attributed to drivers falling asleep at the wheel, so not getting enough sleep can literally kill you.
What's more, over the long term, not getting enough sleep adds up. That is, if you are getting 1 hour less of sleep that your body needs each night, then over the course of a week this is 7 hours less, and over the course of the month 28 hours less. As a consequence, you will notice that it will become harder to lose weight, your memory will get worse, your fitness will suffer, and your organs will become weak.
For an athlete not getting enough sleep is catastrophic, as this is the time your body is healing from your brutal workouts. Moreover, this is also the time your body repairs tiny injuries that can become nagging and chronic over time when you don't sleep enough.
Lack of sleep will cause the body to produce the hormone ghrelin, signaling the brain to eat more. At the same time, lack of sleep induces a drop in leptin, which signals the brain to stop eating because you are full. Consequently, once this domino effect is put into place, you will start craving more sugars, more carbs, and fatty foods. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to reverse this trend without fixing the sleep problem first.
GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that acts as the brain's natural calming agent. Without GABA the body has a hard time producing growth hormone and relaxing while we sleep. Furthermore, nerve cells will fire too frequently, leading to anxiety problems, including headaches and addictions. Thus, to be able to get a great nights sleep we need GABA to help us relax, but too many people are inhibiting GABA without even knowing it, which ruins their sleep at night. We will discuss how you may be inhibiting GABA later in this article.
The pineal glands in our brain produce the hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles - melatonin. Interestingly, due to the fact that it is tied to the light, melatonin will rise in the evenings after sunset, then drop around sunrise. Therefore, those who live in dark winter climates, such as Alaska or northern Europe during the winter, will have problems with melatonin, which causes depression. Moreover, the older you get, the less melatonin you produce. It is a very important aspect of our lives, since having a healthy melatonin cycle can prevent anxiety as well, and helps having the right GABA levels.
5-HTP and Serotonin
5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor in the body. It works in the central nervous system and in the brain by increasing production of serotonin - a chemical that affects body reactions, including sleep. Hence, it is very important to keep the right levels of serotonin, since low levels of this chemical are linked to depression. What's more, when GABA is low in the body, it will not be able to work with 5-HTP, which is why people will have a tough time falling asleep at night.
The #1 sleep killer is caffeine use. We hear that it is okay to have caffeine before 2pm as it won't influence our sleep, and this is wrong. Caffeine actually has a 6-8 hour half life, meaning that after 6-8 hours half of the caffeine you had will be left. So essentially, it will still be in your system when you are going to bed even if you drink it in the morning, albeit at lower levels. Just because you seem to be sleeping okay doesn't mean you are, as caffeine is a stimulant and it will prevent you from reaching stage 4 of sleep, which is where cellular repair takes place.
Another huge problem with caffeine is that it will inhibit GABA. As stated above, GABA is our way of relaxing, and it must be there to work in synergy with melatonin and 5-HTP, allowing us to fall asleep with a relaxing nights sleep. Your best bet is to slowly wean yourself off of caffeine, and you will definitely notice your anxiety will drop and your sleep will improve once you do this.
Keep in mind that pre-workouts typically have caffeine in them, as well as soda's, some tea's, chocolate, and other drinks. Many people will workout in the evenings and take a pre-workout, not being aware that they are taking a lot of caffeine in the process.
Additionally, you must be aware that decaf coffee still contains caffeine in a lot of cases, being just less than regular coffee, so don't be tricked when you hear 'decaf coffee.'
Foods and drinks to avoid before bed
Obviously, you want to avoid caffeine. However, there are many other foods you should avoid and foods that can help you fall asleep. Certain fruits like brocolli, bananas, cherries, and kiwi will put you in sleep mode.
On the other hand, you want to avoid spicy food and foods that may contain caffeine (such as ice cream and candy/chocolate). Unfortunately, caffeine is hidden in a lot of things that you might realize like fat loss supplements, energy drinks, breathe fresheners, some brands of oatmeal, and even jerky. What's worse - they might not show on the labels they contain caffeine.
Pre-bed rituals to do and not do
The hours leading up to bed can be a big factor in your ability to fall asleep and have a good nights sleep overall. If you workout too late your metabolism will stay up and heart rate going, which can impact your sleep. Moreover, having a large meal too close to bed is not a good idea, as your body will be trying to digest the food.
TV watching is very common, and it would be foolish to suggest not watching TV at all (although this is the best option). Therefore, watch something neutral, and not a horror movie that can excite your brain while you sleep. Interestingly, it is actually not recommended to read either, but yet again, if you decide to read, just choose something that is neutral, not something that will cause you to have sleep interruptions. Hence, if you do either of the above, you should meditate to clear your mind before bed, so that nothing is on your mind. In fact, 15-30 minutes of yoga, followed by the corpse pose, is a wonderful pre-bed idea. In addition, a nice relaxing bath with lavender oil will relax the muscles and mind.
Another huge mistake that people do is create a poor sleep environment. Things that should not be in your room are:
- Alarm clock: This sounds crazy, but you look at the alarm clock dozens of times without even realizing it at night. You do not want to know what time it is at any time while you sleep. Nonetheless, if you absolutely must keep an alarm clock in your room, face it away from you!
- Pets: Dogs and cats like to sleep with us, but they shouldn't. They will snore, move around, and cause interruptions to our sleep. Get them their own bed to sleep in.
- TV and computer: I mentioned earlier in the article that melatonin is related to light. Consequently, if either of these are in your room, they can trick your body into adjusting melatonin at the wrong time. You should keep all artificial light out of your room.
- Noises: It could be a ceiling fan, loud fridge, bad neighbors; whatever it is, you want to keep your bedroom sound free and quiet. This can be difficult if you live in an apartment, but the good news is you can invest in a sound machine, which can drown out noises. Besides, you may consider investing in a DC ceiling fan. They are more expensive, but their motors do not make noise, and they will save money on your electric bills in the long term, which makes up the cost.
- Dirty room: Making sure the floors are swept of pet hair and dust is important. If you cannot breathe at night its hard to sleep. Moreover, you might want to get rid of your carpet too. Also, clean sheets make a huge difference. In case you are allergic, use natural and unscented detergent.
- Improper pillow/mattress: People spend more on their cars, heck people spend more fixing up their cars with rims and a stereo system, and only after that do they invest in proper pillows and mattresses. However, you spend 1/3rd of your life in your bed, so make sure you invest in the right pillow and mattress, as this will reduce so much tossing and turning at night.
Bottom line is - your bedroom should be used for two things: sex and sleeping.
You should improve your diet, exercise more, and stress less at work to improve your overall lifestyle. Some people have work schedules that will harm their sleep patterns, and this is understandable, as we have bills to pay. However, keep in mind that on the long term it might not be worth it to have a job with oddball hours. We did not evolve to wake up at 9pm to go to work until 6am, for example. Howoever, it is also a problem if you have to wake up at 5am to go to work. You should aim to wake up a bit after sunrise and go to bed after sunset, which is not realistic in today's world, but the closer you get to that, the better.
How much sleep?
The Mayo clinic recommends a full 7 hours of sleep per night for adults. Nevertheless, this number is too conservative for athletes and bodybuilders. Athletes should strive for 8 hours of good quality sleep, even if they feel they don't need it to function. Too much sleep isn't good either, but with our busy schedules most adults never have to worry about that.
Anabolic steroids and sleep
Abusing anabolic steroids can lead to sleep disruptions. This is due to the strain they can put on the organs and lipids, as well as the excess water retention causing a domino effect of symptoms, including insomnia. If you are on cycle and start experiencing sleep problems, you need to consider support supplements like N2guard to help with your organs and lipid health. Moreover, you should also reduce your water retention with an AI (aromatase inhibitor), such as liquidex or aromasin. Usually, that combined with lowering your AAS doses will solve the problem.
Another noteworthy recommendation for those about to start a cycle, is that you should never do so if you are already having sleep problems or anxiety.
We hear on fitness forums of people complaining about not being able to sleep, and then there will be a dozen responses from people recommending this drug or that drug to fix the problem. Do these drugs work? Probably yes, but they work by putting a band aid on the problem, and not fixing the root cause of the insomnia. In fact, psychologists have come to a common agreement that 90% of all insomnia cases are secondary to other psychological or physiological problems. They are also addictive, so once you start using them it will be difficult to wean yourself off, and they are harsh on the liver. Do you want to be dependent on a pill for the rest of your life just to sleep?
Aside from the foods mentioned earlier in the article, which can help you sleep, and using meditation/yoga relaxation techniques, you can also use natural herbs to help sleep. GABA, melatonin and 5-HTP supplementation will help improve your sleep. In fact, N2sleep is a supplement that contains all of them, plus more ingredients to help you get a great nights rest, and fall asleep fast. It is a far smarter option than using addictive and harsh sleep aid drugs.
Want to read about Sleeping problems on our forums? check out these threads: