By David Nekava NASM CPT, CES Health & Fitness Professional AskTrainerDavid.com
YOU! Are nature’s greatest miracle…
Wouldn’t you agree that you deserve the best of health & vitality?
In our modern “on-the-run,” “go-go-go” lifestyles we often put our own health and well-being on the back burner in exchange for deadlines and other people’s agendas. Without question, rest and recovery is the single most important factor to address when it comes to sticking points in health improvement. We need uninterrupted, deep, restorative, fast-acting and consistent sleep in order to really shine.
We need to sleep like ROYALTY.
It’s easier said than done, absolutely….
To be clear, this blog post isn’t about the myriad of scientific reasons sleep is essential to health, but more a fast, practical guide to getting the best quality sleep possible in our mostly sleep-deprived world.
My Top 5 Tips
When it comes to sleeping like royalty, my top 5 suggestions of areas to focus on are: Consistency, Supplements, Sugar, Light, and Temperature.
Few points are as clear as this: the system that regulates our sleep, our circadian rhythm, is consistent. As a result—for optimum functioning—we need to keep the SAME schedule each day.
We are diurnal mammals, which means our cortisol waking response is highest when the sun first comes up and lowest when it goes down. A cortisol spike in the morning wakes us up, steadily drops through the activities of our day, then tapers at night so we can rest fully when it’s dark. This is true for every dog, bear, gorilla, and human.
Think of our circadian rhythm as a slow, but powerfully moving train. It moves in one direction. Although we can change it, it takes a huge amount of effort, and the brakes take a long time to go into effect.
If we want to establish quality sleep and start feeling better, we need to go to bed at the SAME time every night, and wake up at the SAME time every morning.
People are often misguided and think: “I sleep a lot on the weekends, but I still feel like crap Monday morning.”
That’s because our subjective feeling has much to do with our cortisol response. If over the weekend we slept in, then we conditioned our body to wake up at 10 a.m. Come Monday, we then wake up at 6 a.m. – 4 hours before our cortisol will spike to wake us up! No wonder we’re not “with it” until mid-morning.
“But, David, what if I like to stay up on Friday and Saturday?”
After I ask that we check our priorities, I advise still waking early but planning for a nap later in the day if we need it.
As a diurnal mammal, waking at the SAME time is too important to mess up.
“Can I take anything to help me sleep?”
Yes. But what we should take depends on what obstacle we’re trying to overcome. Please note that I would prefer our body do this “natural” process on its own, but if we’re struggling, here are some tips.
Several studies suggest that melatonin supplementation can help us sleep better and more deeply; however, please note a very important caveat. Melatonin supplementation doesn’t help us go to sleep or stay asleep if cortisol is in our blood stream. Cortisol acts like Pac-Man eating melatonin ghosts. If our problem is stress-related, melatonin won’t help. More on that later. For now, consider taking melatonin to help you sleep more deeply.
L-Theanine is an antioxidant found in green tea that appears to lower anxiety. For many, falling asleep is difficult because of a “racing mind.” If L-Theanine supplementation seems to help quiet the mind of schizophrenic patients, imagine how peaceful yours could be and how much easier you could sleep when your brain stops going a mile a minute. If your mind runs like an engine at night, consider taking L-Theanine to lower your pre-bed anxiety.
GABA is a neurotransmitter consistently found in large quantities in spinal fluid of “good sleepers” as opposed to insomniacs in whom these levels tend to be abysmal. A leading expert in natural medicine, Dr. Michael T. Murray, recently observed the following:
“PharmaGABA has been shown to produce relaxation as evidenced by changes in brain wave patterns, diameter of the pupil, and heart rate as well as reduce markers of stress including salivary cortisol and chromagranin A levels. In a head-to-head double blind trial with PharmaGABA, the synthetic GABA was not shown to produce these effects.7 It is possible that synthetic GABA, unlike natural forms of GABA, is not able to bind to GABA receptors. Once ingested, it appears that the PharmaGABA is absorbed easily and binds to GABA receptors in the peripheral nervous system leading to activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This arm of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for producing what is referred to as the “relaxation response,” a physiological response that is in direct contrast to the stress or “fight or flight” response. This activation of the parasympathetic nervous system by PharmaGABA is measurable within 5 to 30 minutes after ingestion.”
Consider taking PharmaGABA to help you wind down and relax.
3. Sugar (Blood Sugar)
When our blood sugar gets too low, cortisol is released into the bloodstream to break down glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. This is an important function because our body needs our blood sugar to remain relatively stable in order for our organs and brain to function properly.
However, this cortisol has a relevant side-effect. In short, it wakes us up.
In other words, mal-regulated blood sugar can interfere with the continuity of our sleep.
Do you wake up a lot during the night? Balance your final food intake of the day with a protein-, fat-, and fiber-rich dinner that includes limited simple carbohydrates. Additionally, abstain (the hardest part) from sweets or alcohol before bed.
Limiting our light exposure in the evening so our body’s natural hormonal processes can run their course is the key here.
Remember, we’re a diurnal mammal, which means our circadian rhythm evolved over millions of years during which the only significant source of light was the sun by day and moon by night.
Yes, then Prometheus brought down fire from heaven. Franklin discovered electricity. Edison invented the light bulb. Jobs put a smart phone in everyone’s hand, and Zuckerberg got us all addicted to social media. BAM.
In less than 0.1% of the time it took for our species to evolve a daily rhythm, we suddenly control light exposure and are virtual slaves to the brightness emitted by our environment and devices 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Unfortunately, our inner machinery hasn’t changed with the times, however. If you want to wind down and sleep well, you have to limit artificial light exposure as much as possible.
Turn off your electronics early in the evening. Read a paperback book. Turn down the lights in the house, and make sure your sleeping quarters are effectively light-proof. The dimly lit environs will trigger melatonin production and minimize cortisol.
I strongly suggest shutting off all light sources within an hour (ideally more) of going to bed.
Last, but not least, is our body temperature. The “dumping” of our body’s heat in order to drift into a peaceful slumber is also key. If we’re too hot, we won’t sleep well.
Our body will need to drop nearly 2 whole degrees for optimum sleepiness.
The good news is we don’t need to actually shiver. It turns out that being too cold will mess up your sleep as well.
Tips to get near the optimum temperature? Researchers suggest setting your thermostat to 68 degrees. Still too hot? Take a shower or bath before bed, and let the evaporating water do the work. Too cold? Wear the appropriate amount of clothing, or have the right bedding for your body’s needs.
Can you imagine the incredible health, weight loss, and performance opportunities that can come when we’re optimally rested each and every night? I can! Let’s do it!