Winding down for bed is one of the biggest complaints new clients I work with often report in their intake forms. Without fail the majority of my clients describe sleep as one of the most elusive things to their lives. They seem to never get enough of it and if they do feel it is not a good quality rest. Sleep is one of the biggest progress halters to building muscle, fat loss, and weight loss. No nutrition or workout plan can overcome terrible sleep. Well, how do we make sleep better? We make it a habit.
We often take sleep for granted as if it is magically going to happen for us and be great. We never give it really much thought other than when we go to bed. Usually, sleep problems are a mix depending totally on the person. Some have trouble falling asleep or unwinding for the night. Others fall asleep, but wake in the middle of it and have difficulty falling back asleep. The other mix is those who feel they never get enough sleep.
Sleep is when your body is rebuilding itself for the day ahead. Most of us adults know this, yet we take pride in our no sleep lifestyles and wear our busyness like a badge of honor. This is how the stage gets set for the slow creeping death that is associated with a lack of good sleep.
First things first, most rate their sleep as either fine or terrible - never in-between has been my experience. I knew mine was terrible for some time, but when I finally started monitoring my sleep through a WHOOP band, I was jolted awake about how my shitty sleep was steering me towards an early grave.
Lack of good restorative deep sleep has been associated with a few things I would rather avoid. For one heart disease, which heart issues run on both sides of my family. A rise in insulin resistance which means my body is slowly becoming more inflamed because it is not able to properly process the carbs I am eating which leads ultimately to fat gain. The other is an increased risk of Alzheimer's which my Nana succumbed to in her mid 90’s. 3 scary things to make me understand everything I could about sleep.
My education on sleep came with the rude awakening of needing to understand my body’s response to stress. In 2019 I dived into the study of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which is a lens into both branches of your nervous system. One is your fight or flight branch and the other being your rest and digest part. I was devouring everything I could on the subject even completing a certification in a course on HRV.
Upon wearing my WHOOP for a few weeks it became very clear to me I was more often than not in a fight or flight mode rather than a rest and digest mode. I had some signs of that outside of the wearable technology to back it up too. I experienced bloating and gas due to poor digestion because when you are fight or flight your body shuts down your digestive processes to conserve energy. I also always felt irritable and on edge. None of this was any good, but finally, I had some insight into what I could do to fix it and it began with working at sleep like I do my workout program and nutrition.
By now you are probably like great story bro, but how do we fix the issue? There are a few things we need to do. First, we need to practice good sleep hygiene. Next, we address the stress hormone cortisol. The other things we do are activities that promote our bodies to shift from that chronically stressed state to a let's chill and smoke a bowl state.
Sleep hygiene is the practice of good sleeping habits. This starts with a consistent bed and wake times. Your circadian rhythm is a vital component of recovery. Not having consistent sleep and wake times is part of the problem. I know it sucks being an adult and having to keep a set bed and wake time like a kid, but the research along with my own data has proven this is a factor in maximizing recovery.
On the topic of recovery. Eating two hours before bed as well as making sure a diet rich in micronutrients - think fruits and vegetables - impacts your recovery as well. Stop fearing fruit and vegetables. They are the ingredients to repair your body. Chronic stress means your body is burning through these nutrients quicker. It makes little sense to build a million-dollar house on a one thousand dollar foundation and that is what you are doing by ignoring micronutrients. I recommend 4 servings of each a day along with a greens product.
Another addition you can make is adding blue light blockers. Blue light stimulates the hormone cortisol which I am about to talk about, but if cortisol is elevated melatonin levels will not rise to help you get the deep restful sleep you need. These glasses are a cheap hack to better sleep. I put mine on two hours before bed especially knowing I will be on my phone or watching TV prior to bed.
Speaking of cortisol, cortisol is a stress hormone that is released in response to your body thinking a threat is lurking. This is your fight or flight response to save you from the Lion chasing you. This part of our nervous system is by evolutionary design as a means to help keep us alive against the threats of life before our modern-day comforts. The problem now is people are in a chronically stressed state which leads them to the slow accrual of belly fat, faster aging, and higher risk for serious health issues.
How do we fix the constant cortisol dump then? Well, it is like sleep, we have to work at it, and meditation is one of those ways. Trust me, I get it. I rolled my eyes too when I read about that silly shit, totally convincing myself that I could not even dream of shutting my mind down. That was until a research article after the research articles mentioned meditation as a great way to shift our stress responses. I am not going to lie I had to work at this hippie shit for sometime pretending to be some buff Buddha, but it worked. Oh and speaking of hippie shit, restorative Yoga is great as well.
The other thing I utilized was a product called Cort-Eaze by NuEthix Formulations. The product is designed to lower cortisol and relax you before bed. Often at night, my issue is my mind is going 100% evaluating my day and the day ahead. I used to smoke marijuana before bed but switched to CBD lotions as THC has been shown to impact sleep and not in a good way. I know weird right? But I needed some help and found this product to help me with getting better sleep. It works is all I know.
How can you tell if your sleep might not be the best without a wearable technology? Taking your fasted blood glucose levels will give you some insight into this. Now if you eat a giant ass meal or drink before bed, this number will always be skewed. But if you eat a healthy diet, finish your meal 2 hours before bed, and sleep at least 7 hours in bed your number should be below 100. If it is above 100 consistently you either have a stress issue or a digestion issue, if not both. More often than it is both and you should consult with someone who knows what they are doing to help you out because poor digestion leads to something known as leaky gut which accompanies stress magnets.
Sleep is the same as diet and working out - you have to work at it! It requires you to make sleeping good a habit. Making sleep a priority will help you live a longer and more robust life. I used to blow sleep off, but now I am approaching 40 and feel better than I did at 30. Try these hacks out and see if they help you.
Cort-Eaze and Gourmet Greens can be found at www.nuethix.com - Use the discount code Relentless10 to save some $
About Jeff Black
Jeff is a nationally recognized health and fitness coach, public speaker, podcast host for The Excellence Cartel, owner of Iron House Strength & Conditioning, bodybuilder, and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Advocate. He is also a roundtable expert on IntenseMuscle.com.
Today, Jeff works collectively with some of the top coaches in the health and fitness space presenting to other coaches and individuals on health and fitness. He has a passion for leadership and serving others to help them be their own hero. He is recognized for his results, but above all else, the passion he has for the coach’s heart he holds dear.