We all do what we can to recover from our treacherous WODs. Protein shakes, carb-loading, excess water consumption, foam rolling, flossing, etc.
Yet, many of us are missing the lowest hanging fruit on the recovery tree: quality sleep.
Over the past year, I’ve taken gradual steps to optimize my sleep. It all started when I decided to wake up at 445AM to hit the first WOD of the day. Operating on a mere 6 hours per night became a distant reality.
Sleep quality and quantity are imperative to your success.
Consider the following:
- Human Growth Hormone releases during sleep. This helps your body maintain and repair muscles.
- One night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as someone with type 2 diabetes.
- Insulin resistance translates to decreased sex-drive, obesity, and aging.
- Fatigued driving can be as bad or worse than drunk driving.
- Graveyard Shift workers are more likely to suffer from diabetes and cancer.
- Sleep Debt is a myth. Catching up on sleep on weekends is a flawed approach. It doesn’t work. The damage is already done.
Daily Sleep Ritual:
The word ritual comes from the Latin word “ritus”, meaning “a proven way of doing something.” A ritual is a small sequence of actions that put you in a certain state of mind for getting something done.
For starters, go to bed within the same 30-minute window each night. Augment that by waking up within the same 30-minute window each morning. We tend to get ready for everything else. We get ready for a date, we get ready for exercise or a sport, we get ready for work. But, when it comes to sleep, many of us tend to stumble into it or pass out from exhaustion.
Try this first:
- Only two things should happen in your bedroom. Sleep and Sex.
- Optimize for both by eliminating any and all distractions.
- This includes all electronics (phone, tv, laptop/tablet, e-readers, etc.)
- Your room should be so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
- Black out curtains should do the trick.
- Ditch the nightlight.
- Try to fall asleep before 10 PM.
- If you aren’t asleep by 10P, you may get a second wind and have trouble falling asleep until well past 12A.
- 10 PM – 2 AM are the regenerative hours. Often referred to as “Money Time Sleep”
- Try to get direct sunlight on your skin or in your eyes between sunrise and 830AM.
- This will signal the start of the day to your body. Have you ever woken up early and stayed inside all day? Chances are you had trouble falling asleep that night. The lack of sunlight exposure could confuse your body’s biological clock.
- A great night of sleep begins the moment you wake up in the morning.
- Avoid screens for at least 90 minutes before going to bed.
- Avoid caffeine 8-12 hours before bedtime. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours. So if you have 200mg of caffeine, after 5 hours, you’d still have 100mg in your system. After another 5 hours, you’d have 50mg. Etc.
- Cycle your caffeine intake: Take 2 days off per week. or 1 week off per month. or 1 month off per quarter.
- Optimal room temperature is 68 degrees F. If that’s too cold, wear loose fitting clothing.
- Warm Bath / Shower 1.5 hours before bed.
- Rolling and Mashing to down-regulate with a foam roller or lacrosse ball
- Dr. Kelly Starrett says, “Spend 5 to 10 minutes ‘ungluing’ your abdominal musculature. Roll back and forth. Stop where it’s uncomfortable. Breath into that ball. It’s safe, effective, and it triggers your parasympathetic system to turn on.”
- Magnesium Supplementation
- Use a topical spray right before bed. Spray chest, neck, shoulders, and one area of the body that is experiencing soreness
- Air Humidifier
- Great for cold winter months when you can’t let fresh air flow through your bedroom
- Sleeping Position – Maintain the integrity of your spine.
- Pillow should be appropriately sized to your body. The smaller you are, the smaller pillow you should use. There should be little to no angle in the spine between the upper back and neck.
- Side sleepers: Use a pillow between your knees.
- Back sleepers: Ditch the pillow altogether if possible. propping your head on a pillow will decrease blood flow to the brain.
- Stomach sleepers: Half Military Crawl Position. Raise one knee. Raise the same arm and tuck hand under the pillow. Face that way. Other arm and leg should shoot straight down.
- Meditate – Use an app like Headspace or Calm to help
- I recommend 10-20 minutes twice per day. Upon waking and a part of your nightly ritual.
- Cut out (or at least reduce) blue light exposure
When all else fails:
- Air Ionizer:
- Oxidize odors, fungi, mold.
- Bind to dust, pollen, dander – making them bigger and easier to remove while cleaning
- Plants in the bedroom – The English Ivy, The Perennial Snake Plant, or Jasmine.
- Ground yourself:
- Make it a regular practice to get some quality time with your bare feet on the ground. Aim for conductive surfaces: soil, grass, sand (at the beach), and even living bodies of water like the ocean.
- ChilliPad – Cooling system for your bed.
Sleep & Food:
Avoid gut-damaging chemicals that can hinder serotonin and melatonin production. Strive to eat organic, locally grown, unprocessed foods for the bulk of your diet.
- Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, beef, oysters, chicken, and cremini mushrooms
- Vitamin C
- bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, kiwifruit, strawberries, citrus fruits, and papaya
- turkey, chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, hemp seeds, bananas, pumpkin seeds, almonds, yogurt, and leafy greens
- bananas, leafy greens, potatoes, broccoli, cremini mushrooms, and avocados
- kale, collard greens, mustard greens, sardines, sea veggies, and sesame seeds
- Vitamin D (best method is Sunlight)
- swordfish, salmon, tuna, mackerel, shiitake mushrooms, and oysters
- Omega-3s (heat sensitive)
- chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, halibut, salmon, and flax seeds
- tart cherries, walnuts, ginger root, asparagus, pineapple, tomatoes, bananas, oranges
- Vitamin B6
- bananas, cashews, peanut butter, almonds, avocados, fish, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, sea veggies, and eggs
- green leafy veggies, seeds like pumpkin and sesame, spirulina and Brazil nuts
If you need to eat something close to bed-time, focus on high fat / low carb. This will ensure your blood sugar stays stable.
The best breakfast option for most people is to go with some protein (like eggs, steak, or salmon), veggies (cooked and/or raw), and some healthy fats (like avocado, coconut, olives, or nuts and seeds).
Avoid commercial breakfasts like that plague (cereal, oatmeal, croissant, bagel, pancakes, etc.)
Sleep & Exercise:
You actually don’t get in shape at the gym while you’re exercising. Instead, you’re tearing down your body while working out. Creating thousands of tiny micro-tears in your muscle fibers. When you leave the gym, you’re actually in worse shape than when you came in.
- Workout in the morning
- Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of participants who worked out at three different times: 7:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., & 7:00 p.m. They discovered the people who exercised at 7:00 a.m. slept longer and had a deeper sleep cycle than the other two groups. In fact, the morning exercisers had up to 75% more time in the reparative “deep sleep” stage at night.
- Lift heavy weights using compound movements
- This will trigger the optimal hormonal response
- Running for long distances can increase muscle loss through a process called gluconeogenesis. Muscle is your body’s fat-burning machinery. If you lose muscle by running too much, you will depress your metabolism. If you don’t keep running day after day, you’ll start getting fat.
Sleep & Attire:
- Boxers, loose-fitting pajama bottoms, basketball shorts, basic T-shirt if you want, or go naked
- Shorts, a T-shirt, or boxers, flowing lingerie, yoga pants or “tights” that don’t strangle your legs and hips, loose-fitting pajama bottoms, or go naked
If you want more detailed information, I encourage you to read Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.