There are many health benefits associated with getting a good night’s sleep. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to major health issues, including cardiovascular disease, a depressed immune system, diabetes and depression. Even if we look at it from a purely body composition point of view, a lack of sleep can have major negative effects including:
– Increased ghrelin, your body’s hunger hormone, which in turn increases feelings of hunger. This can make it tough to stick to a caloric deficit or a nutrition plan in general.
– The increase in ghrelin signals to your body to hang on to fat tissue, making it far more likely that your body will lose more muscle tissue versus fat tissue in a caloric deficit.
– Decreased performance at the gym.
– Lower NEAT levels (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
Needless to say, inadequate sleep can have a significant impact on body composition. So what to do if you can’t get adequate sleep? There are both non-supplement approaches as well as supplement approaches that you can turn to. Let’s look at non-supplement approaches first.
NON-SUPPLEMENT APPROACHES: GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
1. Stick to a sleep schedule. We are creatures of habit, changes in sleep patterns can affect us more than we know. The best way to set your sleep schedule is via the wake-up: bright lights (preferably natural light) as soon as the alarm goes off. And avoid that snooze button! If you have to, place the alarm far enough away that you have to get up to turn it off. Always make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday –yes, even on weekends.
2. Because weight training excites the central nervous system and raises cortisol, it’s better to weight train earlier in the day, or ideally no more than 2 hours before bedtime. Low intensity cardio is a better choice later in the day.
3. Avoid caffeine 6-8 hours before bedtime, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
4. Avoid alcohol. It may seem like alcohol helps you fall asleep faster, but what it actually does is keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, effectively robbing you of deep, REM sleep.
5. Avoid large meals close to bedtime if it causes indigestion.
6. Avoid drinking beverages in the evening. Too many fluids can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.
7. Have an unwinding ritual before bed. Our minds learn to associate sights, sounds, smells to certain activities. And while we can’t force ourselves to sleep, we can train our brains to know when to sleep. Do relaxing things that the brain associates with sleeping: reading, listening to music, dimming the lights, cooling the temperature, lighting candles, spraying lavender on your pillow, to name a few.
8. Take a hot bath before bed – the drop in temperature when you get out of the bath may help you feel sleepy.
9. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and gadget-free.
10. No screens 1 hour before bed. The blue light is similar to daylight, which is a biological trigger to wake up. If you must use your laptop before bed, use a nightshift setting.
11. Sights and sounds can trigger alertness, so use eye masks and ear plugs to shut the world out.
12. Limit daytime naps to less than 30 minutes
13. Don’t lie in bed awake. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep. Get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR BETTER SLEEP
If your sleep hygiene is well taken care of and you still find yourself lying awake at night, you may need a supplement to further support good sleep. Here are a few backed by research:
Perhaps the most well known sleep supplement, melatonin is a compound produced in the pineal gland in response to darkness (which is why sleeping in a dark room is so important). If your natural melatonin is not enough, it can be supplemented with either a quick-acting one to help you fall asleep, or a time-released version that can help you stay asleep. There are variances in dosages, but typically 2mg or more works well.
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, and is also an important mineral for serotonin metabolism. Taking 400mg before bed can help induce quality sleep.
This compound has been shown to improve memory, mood and as well as athletic performance, and can help improve quality sleep by lowering cortisol levels. While it’s synthesized by the body as well as consumed in food, you can get further benefits with supplementation. A standard dose is 100mg taken 3 times a day (for a total of 300mg daily)
An amino acid found in tea and some mushrooms, theanine does not necessarily induce sleep per say, but as a relaxing agent it can help quiet the mind. A typical dose is 100-200mg right before bed.
Valerian can be used for relaxation or sedation purposes. It works by enhancing the signalling of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) – a sedative neurotransmitter. A typical dose would be 450mg taken right before bed.
A more direct approach is to take GABA itself as a supplement. GABA is the ‘downer’ neurotransmitter in the body, closely involved with the parasympathetic nervous system. Taken as a supplement before bed, it can help with relaxation and anxiety. A typical dose would be 200mg an hour before sleep.
A derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, 5-HTP is a compound that is converted to the chemical serotonin in the brain – a neurotransmitter associated with happiness, but also one that can be converted to melatonin. A typical dose is 300-500mg (note that it should never be taken with anti-depressants unless cleared by a doctor).
Only supplement if quality sleep is an issue. Make sure to run supplements by your doctor if you are currently taking medication, to rule out any contra-indications. If you still find yourself tossing and turning most of the night, your doctor can also make sure there are no other underlying conditions that may be contributing to sleep issues.