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Sleep: Don’t Fear The Sleeper

Importance of sleep

Want to lose fat and gain muscle? Want to improve your cognitive ability and decrease reaction time? Want to increase your ability to heal from illness and injury? Want to do it without taking expensive supplements or complicated diets? Sure, everyone does! Then let me tell you a little secret—sleep is one of the key factors for losing fat, gaining muscle, staying sharper, and living longer.

We live in an environment where sleep is the enemy and something that is actively avoided and delayed. Is there a cost to this habit? Yes, and it’s a high one! From the increases in chronic illnesses (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.) to deaths due to sleep deprivation, we are paying a high price.
 

"Red Bull Nation"

Humans are the only mammals that willingly delay or avoid sleep. Increased consumption of coffee and energy drinks—the fastest growing market segment for soft drinks—should be some indication that people are either avoiding sleep or are trying to cope with the aftermath of not getting enough.

Even if you are an athlete with your nutrition and exercise are dialed in, without the commensurate recovery (i.e. sleep) it is all for naught. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise. Remember, your body does not make changes or adaptations during a workout; your body only makes organic changes during sleep. Repair of damaged cells, the regeneration of DNA, the release and regulation of critical hormones are all reliant upon one thing: sleep.
 

Too Little Too Late

In general, most healthy adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night; but if you are regularly training hard your requirements might be higher. Professional athletes like Roger Federer, Lebron James, Lindsey Vonn and Michelle Wie, regularly get between nine and twelve hours of sleep! Many factors contribute to the amount of sleep you will need: environment, diet, medications, stress, and more. The trick is to find the amount of sleep you need, then get it on a consistent basis. Regardless if it is seven hours or ten hours, you need every minute of it if you are going to meet your potential!
 

The Benefits of Sleep

Testosterone and growth hormone levels, as well as other key hormones, elevate during sleep. This is part of the body’s physical and mental repair system. These hormones assist in recovery as well as strength and fitness gains, and they only release after we’ve been asleep for about 30 minutes. These hormone levels elevate every time you go through a certain phase of your sleep cycle. The longer you sleep, the more cycles you go through—and the more recovery promoting hormones will pump through your body.
 
Melatonin Chart
 

Setting the Stage for a Perfect Night’s Sleep

Hopefully you’re now convinced that you should commit to getting more—and better quality—sleep. For a good night’s sleep, it’s necessary to stack the odds in your favor. Try the following for the best chance at a restful and productive night’s sleep:
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to follow this (within reason) even if you are on the road or in a different time zone, so that you don’t disrupt your set sleep cycle. My instructor, Guro Dan Inosanto, travels nearly every weekend to teach workshops. He gets up at the same time every day, around 4:00AM PST. When he is on the East Coast, he’s still getting up in time to be at a workshop that starts at 10:00AM. Instead of suffering from horrible sleep deprivation because of his teaching, training, and traveling schedule, he is still going strong at 78 years old.
  • Use "sleep aids" sparingly if at all. Some studies show promise for the use of melatonin to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and reducing the number of awakenings. But melatonin supplements have not been show to necessarily increase total sleep time. Other studies show no benefit at all with melatonin supplementation. If you are traveling, or trying to recover your natural sleep cycle, then a dose of a melatonin supplement might help get you back on track… but it might not be beneficial to take it every night. Melatonin is extremely important. It holds the key to sleep, cellular and DNA regeneration, the release of growth hormones, and it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.
  • Sleep in a dark room. Block out all sources of light in the room, including ambient light from clocks, night lights, phone chargers, etc. "Black out" curtains are another option if you live in an urban environment with a lot of "light pollution" from the outside invading your sleep space. If you can’t block out all of the light in the room, then get a high quality sleep mask.
  • Eliminate sources of noise. One of the best investments I’ve made in the past few years was replacing the windows in my bedroom. The old ones allowed as much noise into the bedroom when they were closed as when they were open! Try to make your sleep space as quiet as possible but a little white noise from a fan or even a white noise machine (or an app on your phone) can help you drop into sleep faster. Ear plugs are another alternative. Many different wax or foam are available, and you’ll need to find what’s the most comfortable for your ear configuration that also blocks an acceptable amount of noise.
  • Cool is better than warm. Keep your bedroom as cool as possible, somewhere between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal. Even if you are sleeping under several blankets, the ambient air will need to be cool to help you quickly fall into a deeper sleep.
  • Ice, Ice Baby. If you are up to trying something a little more extreme, take a ten minute ice bath one hour before bedtime. After your body has returned to normal temperature after an ice bath, the aftereffects of the cold will help you drop into a deep slumber. Alternately, you can take an ice pack, "ice cape", or ice blanket into bed with you. I was told by several people that an ice pack or ice blanket (or cape) across your shoulders will lessen the time it takes to fall to sleep. Tim Ferris mentions this in The Four Hour Body and I’ve heard it from athletes as well.
  • Establish a Sleep Ritual. Create a routine that allows you to relax and transition into sleep mode. Turn off the television, phone and iPad—get away from all electronics. Read a book, listen to relaxing music, or do something that is not too stimulating. Remove anything that generates blue light from your environment prior to sleep. Dr. Chris Hardy, author of Strong Medicine, recommends wearing "blue blocker" sunglasses in the evening as well as switching the lights in the bedroom over to yellow tinted "bug lights" or any type of light bulb that doesn’t generate blue light.
Strong Medicine Sleep
  • Just say no to drugs. Regular use of prescription sleep medications can lead to long term problems. I have talked to a number of doctors, and they only prescribe them with great hesitation. Instead of a prescription medication, you can always try natural sleep aids—at least they don’t come with several pages of warnings and possible fatal side effects. Tim Ferris recommends Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea, and other brands seem to work well, too. I have had several people recommend certain aromatic oils.
  • Don’t go to the (blue) light! Light is the most powerful stimulator of the circadian system and can have positive or negative effects. Broad spectrum light stops the production of melatonin and pushes us into a waking state. This spectrum of light, in particularly blue light, is the most impactful on our circadian clock. How much blue light do you get? If you have incandescent lights on while watching television or using your computer or phone, then you are bathing in it.
  • Sunglasses at night? How can you minimize blue light in the evening to make a smoother transition into sleep? There are two easy, inexpensive, and effective ways. First, eliminate your exposure to blue light 2-3 hours before your bedtime by turning off the television, phone and computer, and by installing lights in your evening living space that have a low blue light emission. Low blue light bulbs are those that have a yellow or orange color to them and are have a low CCT (Correlated Color Temperature). Inexpensive "bug lights" work well but there are other low cost alternatives on the market that you can find with a little research. The second way is to wear "blue blocker" glasses. Yeah, I know the old "sunglasses at night" thing sounds a little weird, but they work.

Sleep Like a Baby

These ten tips will have you sleeping like a baby in no time at all. Try one or several to see if they work for you. I would recommend setting up your sleeping space to be optimal first, then work from there. If you have any tips or thoughts on how to get to sleep faster and easier I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Until we meet again – Sleep Well!
Michael Krivka, Master RKC
 

Michael KrivkaThumbnailMichael A. Krivka, Sr. – Master RKC: Michael A. Krivka, Sr. is a Washington, DC native who has been involved in kettlebell training for over a decade. He is a member of the RKC Board of Advisors and the RKC Leadership Team under Dragon Door (where he has been listed as one of the top reviewed RKC’s in the world for the last five years). He is also the author of a bestselling eBook entitled "Code Name: Indestructible" and is in the process of finishing up several other eBooks on kettlebells, body weight, and the integration of other tools into an effective strength and conditioning program. Mike has traveled extensively throughout the United States teaching Russian Kettlebells to military (USMC, USN, USA and USAF) and law enforcement personnel (FBI, DEA, USSS and CIA).
 
 

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