The trick is building a sleep routine in today’s connected world.
Truthfully we all have a routine already, it might look something like this. You brush your teeth, set your clothes out for the morning, pack your next days meals and maybe check Instagram (we’ll talk about that in a second). There are things we do every night before we go to bed that with a few small tweaks, can turn mundane activities into a performance boosting program without any extra effort.
Some call it sleep hygiene, others say they have a sleep routine but the goal is the same, to create the proper sleep environment so that you get both high quality and quantity sleep that encourages a healthy hormonal and metabolic environment.
Anyone with children realizes what a proper sleep routine looks like because they perform it every single night. Yet when it comes to our own health,we think we’re fine by watching the news whilst playing a game on our smart phone before we shut the light off.
As a high performing athlete who trains (at minimum) once per day, it’s ridiculous to think that your brain and central nervous system can just shut off as quickly as you can turn the lights out. You need to slowly throttle your body down so your brain can get the signal to turn down its activity.
NBA hall of famer and six time champion with the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen was the first athlete I heard of that would take this sleep serious. Keep in mind, this was back in the 1990’s when there wasn’t any real sports science. Scottie used to sleep in a completely separate bedroom from his wife during the playoffs to ensure he got a restful nights sleep every night.
While Scottie didn’t know all the science, he was onto something. Sleep directly influences multiple hormonal pathways including your metabolism. Any hard training athlete or type A personality is gong to be hard wired and will have high levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline which impacts your adrenals glands and sets up a further hormonal cascade.
The consequences of a bad nights sleep compound during the next day
Keep in mind, this is not just in extreme cases of sleep deprivation, even one night of impaired sleep increases cortisol which causes dysregulated blood sugar and increased inflammation. Since all of your hormones work in unison, that dysregulated blood sugar and increased inflammation is linked to reductions in testosterone and growth hormone in addition to thyroid health. Gherlin and leptin, hunger hormones, will be off and thereby increasing fat storage, hunger levels and your ability or inability to use fuel properly (1,2).
This is all a result of circadian rhythm disruption that occurs from sleep deprivation.
The first step in your nightly performance routine involves getting into some form of relaxation. This includes quieter, calmer conversation with anyone in the house, shutting off the computer and other electronics, limiting busy work (laundry, cooking, etc) and being still.
Mediation and breathing exercises, even for power athletes, can often set your body up for a excellent nights sleep and any general relaxation activity, even a few quick minutes on your phone, is okay. It’s when you spend an hour on your phone that it gets bad.
Here’s how you can optimize your sleep to boost your performance tomorrow.
1. Sleep in a cold, dark room.
Is your room dark enough? Make it darker. You don’t want to be able to see anything in your room.
In a perfect world we have a tightly controlled interplay of the stress/adrenaline hormone cortisol and the relaxing hormone melatonin. As the sun rises, your body produces more cortisol so that you gradually wake up. To do this, your body also lowers the level of melatonin that it produces. Conversely, when the sun sets, and before smart phones, your body lowers cortisol and increases melatonin so you can get a good nights sleep.
In our current world where we’re always connected and have an increased level of anxiety due to our devices, we produce less melatonin and more cortisol which makes it harder to get to sleep at night. The more stimulated that we stay before bed, the harder it’ll be to finally get to sleep.
Research suggests that the best sleep temperature for hormonal and metabolic health is between 64 and 68 degrees fahrenheit.(3)
I want you to literally cover everything that emits even the tiniest bit of light. That includes the LED light that signals if your tv is on or off, any alarm clock or light that comes from your smoke detector or any other appliances.
Next you want to cover any external light such as your windows which you can easily achieve with black out curtains or any light from the hallway with a rolled up towel under the door.
What about my alarm? Since almost everyone needs an alarm I suggest that you either place it 5 feet away from your face down or in a drawer. You’ll still be able to hear the alarm but you don’t want to be woken up from a deep sleep because your phone lights up with a notification or if you receive a text message. Keep your phone on silent and place it far away from your head.
2. Pick the right mattress
I don’t often see the type of bed that you have mentioned and that’s likely because you already own a bed and they are expensive. Your bed must be big enough to allow movement during the night. This gets complicated when sleeping with a partner so ideally you’d have a king sized bed. The firmness or softness of a bed is highly individual and is virtually impossible to nail down due to the likely differences in surface preference between you and your partner.
3. No noise
There should be no noise coming into your bed room, you want to minimize your exposure to anything that you can hear. If you live in a community area (condo, apartment complex, etc), the easiest and cheapest fixes are to create white noise with a fan or purchase cheap plastic ear plugs. I know that seems like a stretch but ear plugs were extremely helpful to me, as a college basketball player, when I needed to get my rest before a big game.
4. Limit EMF
Electromagnetic fields or smog is rapidly becoming a hot talking point in terms of hormonal health problems. A recent study has linked frequent exposure to EMF waves as increasing the severity of auto immune disease. Right now the research is too new but I do think it’s a good idea to shut off your WiFi at night and place your phone on airplane mode at least five to ten feet away from your head.(4)
While nutrition goes beyond the scope of this article, I do favor 20% of my daily carbohydrates to be consumed two hours before bed. The insulin release will cause your nervous system to down regulate and you’ll sleep better.
The amount of fluid in and around a muscle cell itself is a signal for muscle growth and it’s extremely easy to check this box off. During the night you will get dehydrated and it will be worse if you sleep in a hot environment so time your fluid intake to end about an hour before you go to bed to avoid waking up frequently.
7. Sleep supplements
While there are a variety of supplements that may increase your ability to get a deep nights sleep in, I favor three for simplicity.
Magnesium Glycinate: There are numerous different forms of magnesium but the magnesium bonded with the amino acid glycine, magnesium glycinate, successfully passes through the digestive tract to aid in muscle relaxation.
Theanine: This amino acid, found in large quantities in green tea, can aid in relaxation and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
GABA: A neurotransmitter that works to reduce the activity of the central nervous system, it has a natural relaxation effect when taken before bed.