How to FINALLY get some sleep

If you’re a current client of mine, in my FB group or you’ve been a fan of my page for even just a couple of months – you’ll know how big I am on sleep as a foundation for health, fitness, body composition and stress management.

I average a good 8 hours of sleep each night, with about 45% of this being deep sleep. It’s relatively easy for me to fall asleep and to wake up at the same time each day, yet the past few weeks has presented a challenge for that ritual in the shape of a little white kitty.

Between 2am and 5.30am EVERY night, he’s been waking us up multiple times. I don’t even know if he wants food, or he wants to play, or he’s just being an asshole – but it’s wearing both me and my partner down. I can sleep a bit longer if I need to on most days of the week, but my partner can’t, and his job is very stressful and so lack of sleep will affect his health, productivity and overall well-being far, far worse. (On another note, if you’re finding your cat being an asshole an issue, this Reddit thread gave a lot of great advice!)

So why exactly is it important to get more / better sleep?

Well, “they” say that nutrition is the primary driver of results, but I think that sleep comes even before that. 

Sleep will affect not only your diet choices, your intensity levels for training, your recovery and capacity to hit higher volumes without overtraining, but sleep also affects your hormones, recovery and metabolism.

Lack of sleep reduces satiety hormones, increases hunger hormones, increases cortisol, affects your insulin response, can induce insulin resistance and contributes a significant amount of stress to numerous processes within your body.

Lack of sleep last night means that you’re going to be more likely to overeat today, less productive at work, more likely to accumulate bodyfat (particularly the visceral kind around your midsection that is metabolically active and induces all kinds of health issues), more likely to abuse caffeine (which prevents your sleep from improving) and more likely to suffer from mood disorders. It is hypothesised that during deep wave, REM sleep, we dream so that we can filter through the things we’ve been exposed to that day and to conduct a little bit of noctural problem solving. In studies where people have been prevented from reaching deep, dream state sleep, subjects have reported higher instances of stress, depression and anxiety.

Even if you’re just reading this article because you want to hack your sleep to get leaner – you have to appreciate that getting leaner involves reducing your stress response, managing cortisol levels and being in a healthy mental state to make good choices! So beyond just getting jacked and lean, sleep will affect each and every fitness and health marker you can think of – from your resting heart rate and blood pressure, to your conditioning levels, to retaining your muscle mass, to your mental health and your capacity to regenerate and repair tissues.

Sleep deprivation is linked to;

Obesity and metabolic syndrome
1. “Reduced amounts of sleep are associated with overweight and obese status. Interventions manipulating total sleep time could elucidate a cause-and-effect relationship between insufficient sleep and obesity.”
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/486346

2. “Where chronic sleep restriction is common and food is widely available, changes in appetite regulatory hormones with sleep curtailment may contribute to obesity.”
https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062


3. “The neuroendocrine regulation of appetite and food intake appears to be influenced by sleep duration, and sleep restriction may favor the development of obesity.”
https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/16459757


Diabetes and insulin resistance
1. “Chronic sleep loss, behavioral or sleep disorder related, may represent a novel risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes.”
https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00660.2005

2. ” A sleep duration of 6 hours or less or 9 hours or more is associated with increased prevalence of diabetes mellitis and impaired glucose tolerance. Because this effect was present in subjects without insomnia, voluntary sleep restriction may contribute to the large public health burden of DM.”
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/486518

3. “Sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite.”
https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/262524

4. “The consequences of disruption to the circadian system and sleep are profound and include myriad metabolic ramifications, some of which may be compounded by adverse effects on dietary choices. If not addressed, the deleterious effects of such disruption will continue to cause widespread health problems; therefore, implementation of the numerous behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions that can help restore circadian system alignment and enhance sleep will be important.”
https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/37/6/584/2691715

Stress, blood pressure, strokes and cardiometabolic risks

1. “Chronic sleep deprivation causes an autonomic imbalance and decreases intracellular Mg, which could be associated with chronic sleep deprivation-induced cardiovascular events.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S07533322048000762.

2. “Chronic sleep deprivation that impair brain function and contribute to allostatic load throughout the body. Allostatic load refers to the cumulative wear and tear on body systems caused by too much stress and/or inefficient management of the systems that promote adaptation through allostatis.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049506002289

 

Depression & cognitive function
1. ” There was an association between becoming chronically sleep deprived and becoming depressed”
https://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2006/01000/Evolution_of_Sleep_Quantity,_Sleep_Deprivation,.20.aspx

2. “Both these sleep reduction groups, though, did show decrements on the FEFT, which we interpret in terms of dearousal increasing distractibility, which the sleep‐reduced subjects could not overcome with effort.”
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/acp.2350090103

3. “Sleep deprivation is a chronic stressor and that the resulting allostatic load can contribute to cognitive problems, which can, in turn, further exacerbate pathways that lead to disease.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049506002289

4. “Sleep loss causes impairments in cognitive performance and simulated driving and induces sleepiness, fatigue and mood changes.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444537027000063

5. 1. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad132132?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Journal_of_Alzheimer%25E2%2580%2599s_Disease_TrendMD_0

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3307962/

Cortisol, inflammation and immune system dysfunction
1. “Increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines following sleep loss could promote immune system dysfunction”
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-014-0260-2.

2. “A significant decrease following the sleep condition was noted for cortisol concentration immediately after and 1 hour postexercise.”
http://usdbiology.com/cliff/Courses/Advanced%20Seminars%20in%20Neuroendocrinology/Sleep%2016/Blumert%2007%20JStrengthCondRes%2024h%20sleep%20loss%20weight%20lift%20exercise.pdf

3. ” We found that a change in the sleep-wake cycle is often one of the first responses to acute inflammation and infection and that the reciprocal effect of sleep on the immune system in acute states is often protective and restorative.”
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00011-006-6067-1

Impairment of muscle growth, strength and recovery
1. “Sleep debt decreases the activity of protein synthesis pathways and increases the activity of degradation pathways, favoring the loss of muscle mass and thus hindering muscle recovery after damage induced by exercise, injuries and certain conditions associated with muscle atrophy, such as sarcopenia and cachexia.”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987711001800

2. “Inadequate sleep impairs maximal muscle strength in compound movements when performed without specific interventions designed to increase motivation”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244018300306

Gastrointestinal disorders & diseases
1. “These data demonstrate that, during sleep, the computational power of the central nervous system, including all cortical areas, is engaged in restoration of visceral systems. Thus, the general mechanism of the interaction between quality of sleep and health became clear.
https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-integrative-neuroscience/jin005

2. “Sleep disturbances such as sleep deprivation have been shown to up regulate these inflammatory cytokines. Alterations in these cytokine levels have been demonstrated in certain gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastro-esophageal reflux, liver disorders and colorectal cancer.”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882397/


 

Some changes you can make today, that will have a positive outcome on your sleep;

Turn off your screens

If anything, it’s our modern day lifestyles that contribute to the health clusterfuck that is sleep deprivation. We spend more time than ever sitting down and being sedentary, and we do it in front of screens. Whether it’s our phones, laptops or a television – all of these devices emit a wave of light which suppressed melatonin production, the hormone which is reponsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle.

Having more than just one hour of exposure to electronic devices during the evening has been linked to a higher prevalence of sleep disorders and deprivation.

How electronic light device affect the human body. Taken from “Timing of light exposure affects mood and brain circuits” Bedrosian & Nelson Translational Psychiatry volume 7, page e1017 (2017)

Problem solver: Have a specific time each night where all electronic devices are turned off. I would suggest this occurs around 2-3 hours prior to the time you want to go to sleep. DO NOT have your television in your bedroom, ever.

Keep your room dark and cool

You should not be able to see more than 1 metre in front of you when attempting to sleep, and your room should be temperature controlled or as best controlled as possible. Sleeping with a fan or the AC on can help some people, as will having the right kind of bedding for the time of year. Many times, waking up throughout the night can be a result of changes in body temperature.

Problem solver: Buy some blackout curtains and get your room as dark as possible. Wear light cotton clothing and if your room is too hot in Summer, figure out a way to cool it down that won’t keep you awake.

Get some early morning sunlight

To increase your alertness during the day, and to set your circadian rhythyms, you will want to get as much light in the morning as possible, and as little light in the evening as possible. As much as your lifestyle and work allows, try to get some early morning sunlight in the hour or so after you wake up. If you can, move your workouts to the earlier hours of the day  and adjust the intensity based upon how well rested you feel. 4 hours of sleep the night before isn’t going to help you with your HIIT session or your 1RM test today.

Then when you get home, once the sun has gone down, mimic the amount of natural light in your home. Obviously by turning off screens, but also using dimmer, softer lighting that isn’t coming from overhead. Use dimmer switches and lamps instead of harsh flourescent lighting.

Problem solver: Get some natural light in the day, reduce the amount of light at night.

Stress less

One of the biggest issues which busy people will face is the ability to shut off from work, or to stop thinking about what you’re going to have to do today, or what you forgot to do today, or when you have to do something, and how you have to do it, and who you have to do it with, and when you’re going to have to contact so and so and why didn’t they get in touch with me about this project.

One of my biggest issues is forgetting to follow up someone that day, and then getting anxious about it that night when I remember. The key is to just write everything down. Use a diary during the day to keep track of your tasks, and use your time wisely. Do what you can in the time you have available, and ask yourself if it REALLY matters that something wasn’t achieved. If you need to improve your productivity, seek out some help with a time management course or keep to do lists.

I also tend to get emails and messages about work all kinds of times day and night, and even on the weekends. In order to reduce the stress I felt from not replying straight away, I remind myself that no one is going to die if I don’t answer their question about noodles at 11pm.

No one needs or expects me to answer within 20 minutes of sending me a message.
No one expects me to reply to their emails at 9pm on a Friday night.

And in fact, if you DO start replying to work as and when it comes in, people learn that you’re available 24/7 and you end up teaching them to expect that response in the first place. Manage expectations by giving your boss, clients or other colleagues set working hours. If they contact you outside those hours – don’t respond. Put it on your to do list or check your emails first thing the next day and follow up.
If anxiety hits you before you’re about to go to sleep, write down what it is that you need to do tomorrow and then let it slip from your mind. Don’t try to NOT think about it, though. Just remember that you have to do it, and then remind yourself that it’s on your list and you can do it tomorrow.

If you generally need help to let go and stop caring about stupid shit, regardless of the time of day, Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is spectacular.

Problem solver: Use strategies during the day to be more productive and to reduce work related stress. Don’t feel bad about not replying to messages or emails after a certain time.

Don’t abuse food or caffeine

One of the biggest issues we have is using stimulants as a crutch. If you didn’t sleep well last night, you’re probably thinking that you’ll be able to get through this workout, meeting or other event better if you smash an extra coffee today.

DON’T.

Drinking caffeine or using stimulants will give you an extra hit of energy – for about an hour.
What it will also do is increase your cortisol response, (over)stimulate your immune system, promote gastrointestinal issues and impair your sleep that night.

If you really want to fuck up your sleep even worse, have more coffee.
Oh – and have more sugary food too! One of the most common reasons people wake up in the middle of the night is due to post-prandial hypoglycaemia. This is where you’ve smashed something high in simple carbs in the few hours before bed, and then you’re woken up in the middle of the night because your blood sugar has plummeted. We already know that sleep deprivation can impair glucose tolerance, so smashing the chocolate bar / muffin or extra servings of carbs that day is not a wise choice. The only thing that can make up for a lack of sleep is SLEEP. Caffeine, stimulants and sugary shit will make things WORSE.

Problem solver: Have a set amount of caffeine each day, limited to before 12pm – and do not change this routine no matter what. If you’re extra tired that day, make sure to follow your bedtime ritual (as we will cover below) and follow the instructions above regarding screen time and early morning sunlight as closely as you can.
Using things like Valerian tea within the hour before bed can also help. Oh – and if you’re prone to getting up to pee late at night, don’t risk peeing yourself just because you smashed a shitload of water in the hours before you’re due to lie down. #commonsense

Make a bedtime ritual

My partner calls me a grandma for this, but fuck it – I need my sleep! I will go to bed around the same time every day (9.30-10pm) except for Saturday nights. Electronic shut off time is 8pm for my phone/for any work related contact and even for checking social media and replying to messages from friends, and 9.30 for the TV. Before I go to sleep, I do the same thing every day;

1 – Last meal and last drinks by 8.30pm
2 – Have a warm shower
3 – Brush my teeth / clean my face
4 – Play with the cats
5 – Read a book in bed
When I go to bed I read until I can no longer keep my eyes open, and then I turn the lights off. This ensures I’m asleep by 11pm every night and then I naturally wake up around 6.30-7.30am.

You can also use a particular scent, music style or other sense-based trigger to get you in the mood for sleep. Burning a particular incense or oil, using a room perfume or using a scented fabric softener for your sheets can help your brain wind down and recognise when it’s time for shut eye. Make sure the only time you use it is in the hour or so before bed.

Problem solver: Create a daily ritual that you use to get you in the mood to sleep. Avoid screen time and go to bed around the same time each day. Do something only mildly stimulating before turning the lights out.

Some further reading and listening;

I’ve just finished reading Night School by Richard Wiseman and I’d highly recommend it as an insight into everything covered in this article, along with some really interesting historical information on the pioneers of sleep science, and how your dreams can actually be used as a form of therapy or insight into your daily life.

This podcast with Joe Rogan and Matthew Walker is AMAZING. If this article hasn’t convinced you of the power of going the fuck to sleep, this will.

Sigma Nutrition (my FAVOURITE podcast of all time!) have covered the science of sleep no less than five separate times;

Amy Bender: Sleep better – this episode gives practical and science based recommendations for improving the quality and quantity of sleep.
Danny Lennon: Effect of Sleep on Appetite Regulation, Food Choices & Glucose Metabolism

Need help to un-fuck your sleep?

All coaching clients will be assessed for their sleep quality and duration, and provided with recommendations specific to their needs for how to improve and facilitate a better nights sleep.
Drop a coaching enquiry to me at elissa@directionalstrength.com

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