It’s 2 PM and you can’t keep your eyes open.
You stare at your computer screen, realizing all the work you still have to do, and yet you can’t seem to stay alert and focused.
Maybe another cup of coffee will help.
You get to the gym after work and you feel weak. You can’t ever seem to get stronger and you feel like your body hasn’t changed at all.
You get home and although you don’t feel super tired, you just can’t seem to work up the motivation to do anything. And I mean ANYTHING – your girlfriend is complaining that you never seem to want to get physical with her anymore.
What’s going on? Do you have some sort of disease or disorder creeping in? Do you need a new supplement or medication?
Of course not. What you need is sleep. Good sleep.
Unfortunately good sleep isn’t as easy to come by as you might think. With a few tweaks though, you’ll be on your way to reaping the benefits.
Why Is Sleep Important
Besides the fact that it keeps you from dozing off during that lecture or meeting that you were supposed to be paying attention to, what’s so great about sleep?
For starters, your first dip into deep sleep for the night is when a huge portion of your Growth Hormone (GH) is released. GH is a potent fat burner and protects you from muscle loss, making it an incredibly important asset to your fitness game.
Without good sleep, this GH boost is reduced and your nutrient partitioning (where Calories go when you eat and where they come from when you burn them) will deteriorate.
This is also because lack of sleep has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity. Insulin pushes nutrients (specifically carbohydrate) into your body tissues. If your sensitivity to insulin is poor, your body has a harder time storing those carbohydrates, increasing the likelihood that they’ll end up as fat while reducing the chances of them getting to your muscles.
And possibly most importantly (especially since you’re on this site) is the fact that sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce Testosterone levels by 10-15% (this happens through a reduction of Leutinizing Hormone [LH] from reduced activity of the pituitary-gonadal axis – all discussed in the TestShock book).
What else happens when you miss out on all-important sleep? Increased blood pressure. Increased risk of heart disease. Decreased immune function.
And outside of hormonal and fitness-related effects, lack of sleep also impairs learning, memory consolidation, coordination, mood regulation, focus, attention and willpower.
Quite a laundry list of effects.
Quality Verses Quantity
When it comes to perfecting sleep, we can’t only look at how much you get each night.
That’s because quality is equally as important as quantity. We’ve all had nights where we’ve slept 9+ hours and still woke up feeling exhausted (this is especially true if you had a fair bit of alcohol the night before, a topic we’ll discuss in a bit).
Quality of sleep is best determined by looking at the amount of time spent in deep sleep and REM.
Each night when you tucker off to dreamland, you start off by passing through stages of light sleep. As you continue to slumber, you eventually shift into the more important “deep sleep” stage, and then end your sleep cycle by hitting a phase of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) before shifting back into light sleep and repeating the process (usually 4-6 times per night).
Deep sleep is where most of the hormonal effects of sleep take place, like the huge burst in GH. It’s critical to physical recovery, as the activity in your heart, muscles, and organs all slows down and allows much needed relaxation.
REM, on the other hand, helps with adaptations in your brain. It’s believed that this is where memory consolidation occurs, and it’s the phase that the majority of your dreaming takes place.
So obviously if quality is linked to the amount of deep sleep and REM you get, you want to maximize the amount of time you spend in each stage.
Note: When the quantity of your sleep drops, your body tries to make up for it by increasing the percentage on time spent in REM sleep. That’s the reason why the Uberman sleep schedule – six 20-minute naps during a 24 hour period – is able to work. Your body adapts to spend most of each 20 minute nap in REM sleep in order to provide enough REM for your brain to continue functioning. Unfortunately it does this at the cost of reduced deep sleep time, which is why this schedule wrecks havoc on your hormones and physical recovery.
5 Tips for Rapidly Improving Sleep Quality
If you need to improve the quantity of your sleep, the solution is simple: Go to bed earlier and/or wake up later.
More sleep = more sleep. Nuff said.
But when it comes to improving the quality of your sleep, we need to look at certain habits that have an effect.
Luckily, a few simple changes are all that is needed.
The following 5 tips will work wonders for enhancing your sleep.
1. Follow a predictable bed time routine
If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, you’ve probably heard of Pavlov’s dogs.
The gist of this experiment was that a bell was rung whenever these dogs were fed. After doing this a bunch of times, the researchers were able to make the dogs salivate just by ringing the bell.
The stimulus of hearing the bell had become associated with eating for these dogs, so that now the bell could cause the same physical effects as actual food could.
Humans are the same way.
By following a nightly routine, you can train your body to associate that routine with sleep. Each night when you run through it, you’re essentially preparing your body to fall asleep on a physical level.
This nightly routine doesn’t have to be anything intense. Simply changing your clothes, brushing your teeth and using the bathroom will suffice.
Bonus: This is a great time to do any short activities that you want to do regularly (as long as they’re relaxing). For example, if you wanted to increase your flexibility, you could add some stretching to your nightly routine, which would force you to get it done every night.
2. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
Your body runs on a cycle called your “Circadian Rhythm”.
Everything from hormonal patterns, hunger, and sleep run on this rhythm, which is determined partially by daylight and partially by your normal schedule.
That means if you fall asleep at midnight every night, your body will start to naturally get tired around midnight as a part of this rhythm. The same thing goes for your wake up time as well.
By sticking to a regular schedule, you’ll fall asleep faster and deeper, and wake up more quickly in the morning because your body will be physically following its Circadian Rhythm.
Bonus: If you ever need to cut sleep short, go to bed later but wake up at the same time. Research (discussed in TestShock) has shown that the hormones involved in Testosterone production are more heavily affected by waking up earlier than going to bed later. Of course this is only a short-term solution, since reduced total sleep time will depress Testosterone levels after a while.
3. Ditch the electronics before bed
Back in caveman days, the only light we were exposed to at night was the warm red glow of a fire.
Now, we have tons screens shining bright blue light into our eyes well past sunset.
This bright blue light is similar to the light we get during the day, and exposure to it before bed can prevent your body from shifting into sleep mode.
The best way to remedy this is simple: Turn off your electronics 2-3 hours before bed. Read a book or do something unplugged instead.
Of course that advice is easier said than done. Technology is a huge part of most of our lives and it’s only going to get worse from here.
Luckily there is a program called f.lux that will automatically filter out the blue light from your screen after the sun sets (it’s available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and jailbroken iPhone/iPads). With a program like this, you can theoretically still use your electronics at night without being exposed to stimulating blue light.
Alternatively, you can make an effort to reduce the brightness of any screens you’re looking at within 2-3 hours of sleeping.
4. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening (if you’re sensitive to it)
Caffeine is awesome.
Like… Really awesome.
Improved alertness, better focus, increased fat burning, reduced appetite. All great things.
But caffeine is NOT something you want sticking around all the time.
Caffeine works to wake you up by binding to adenosine receptors in your body. Normally, adenosine binds to these receptors to promote relaxation and rest. But since the caffeine binds to these receptors, the adenosine is blocked, and you feel more awake and alert.
Great for morning and day time. Bad for night time.
Regardless of the reason why, it makes sense: Caffeine wakes you up, so it’s not good to have it when you want to sleep.
That’s why it’s important to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and limit your overall caffeine intake to allow it to clear from your body.
Caffeine has a typical half-life of 6 hours once it hits your bloodstream, meaning that 6 hours after it’s absorbed, there will be about half the concentration left. That means you want to avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed, but preferably longer (since at 6 hours there’s still some left).
You also don’t want to consume so much caffeine that your body can’t get rid of it all over the course of a 24-hour period. If you’ve ever had a week where you’re consistently killing a pot of coffee each day, you probably felt shaky and over-stimulated, and had trouble sleeping. That’s because your body wasn’t able to get rid of the high amount of caffeine you were consuming each day.
Enjoy all the benefits of caffeine, just ditch it at night and don’t overdo it.
Note: There’s been a gene found that determines how quickly you metabolize caffeine. People who have the “fast metabolizing” gene are the types of people who can drink a cup of coffee and be passed out an hour later, while people with the “slow metabolizing” gene (like myself) will feel wired and awake for hours after drinking that same cup of coffee. It’s good to know there’s a reason people respond differently to caffeine, but the advice here still stands: avoid caffeine later in the day.
5. Keep your room cool
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to fall asleep when your room feels like a sauna?
That’s because one of the physical cues for sleep is a drop in body temperature. If your room is kept too hot, it’s more difficult for your body to cool down for slumber.
The optimal temperature varies per person, but has generally been found within the range of 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people even set it a bit lower, around 60-68 degrees.
The important point is to keep your room comfortable, but on the cooler side. Too cold of a room will disrupt your sleep as much as too hot of a room will.
By timing a workout or a hot shower just right, you can trigger this drop in body temperature on your own. Both of these increase the temperature of your body, which results in a drop back to normal temperature after a few hours, which can be used to improve your time to sleep and sleep quality. On the other end of this spectrum however, Tim Ferriss has noted a strong sleep inducing effect from taking an ice bath or cold shower about an hour before bed. Obviously not for the light-hearted out there, but worth experimenting with.