Shhhhh I’m trying to sleep!
Sleep quality is important when it comes to health and even more so when you are working out and building your body. The three important elements to reshaping your body are diet, exercise, and sleep. Without one, your efforts will be lessened if not wasted completely. It is during sleep that your body and brain repair themselves and your muscles begin to grow to be able to deal with the stress you have been putting them through. Without proper quality sleep, your muscles will not be able to repair themselves and your mind will suffer as well causing you to be stressed out during the day, irritable, or in a bad mood.
Here are some of the methods that I have used to help me get good quality deep sleep. You are welcome to try one or all of them and comment on what has worked for you in the past or what you will be trying.
1. Keep a regular schedule. Changing your bedtime every day will have your body guessing if it’s supposed to be asleep or awake, causing you to stay up when trying to go to sleep. I know it may be difficult to go to sleep at the exact same time every day, but that is the goal. Try to come as close as possible to going to bed at the same time every day. It can vary, like for example 9 o’clock one day 10 o’clock the next, but try not to make it too drastic of a change. Your body has biological clock that works with the circadian rhythm in order to know when you’re supposed to be asleep and when you’re supposed to be awake. This has lots to do with light and temperature which leads to number two.
2. Dim the lights. Our body’s circadian rhythm works with light to know when you’re supposed to be asleep or awake. Therefore, dim your house an hour or more before bedtime as bright lights represent wakefulness to our brain. When our brain sees that the environment is dark, it begins to make the hormone, Melatonin which is the sleep hormone. More on that later.
In contrast, make sure you get plenty of bright sunlight in the morning! This is important to ensure that your circadian rhythm is on track to make you sleep at night. Indoor lights are not bright enough to trigger our brain that we are supposed to be awake, so going outside for a brisk walk first thing in the morning is a fantastic way to get sunlight into your brain. Be sure to face the direction of the sun instead of walking with your back to it. Just don’t stare directly into it, ok? 🙂
3. Cool off before bedtime. Our bodies are programmed to get sleepy when the temperature starts cooling off and when it begins to get dark. This has been established through evolution as a survival mechanism. We need to sleep, and it’s safer to do so at night when you can hide in the dark from predators. During the day when the sun is out is when we’re supposed to go out and hunt for food because we can see our prey better so that is when we are programmed to stay awake.
You can ensure that you are not sabotaging your evolutionary programming by making sure that your room or your entire house is cool around an hour before you go to sleep—no hotter than 72°. When the brain senses that the body is cooling down it begins to make you sleepy. One good trick is to take a hot shower right before bed. When you walk out of the hot bathroom and into the cool bedroom your body will begin to cool down. This cooling down of the body is what will trigger you to become sleepy. The worst thing you could do is warm up your bedroom so that it’s somewhere in the mid to high 70s because that is associated with daytime warm temperatures and being awake.
4. Wind down before bedtime. Do not stimulate yourself with high-energy music, crazy action movies or TV shows, or physical activity that requires a lot of energy. You can wind down by doing a mindless activity like washing dishes or folding clothes; anything where your brain is barely required and you tend to let your mind wander.
Another good thing to do after you have cooled the house down and turned the lights down is to meditate. Now if you are not into meditation and think it’s a little goofy, that’s OK, you don’t have to do it in a goofy way where you are saying weird, unnatural things or sit in a weird, unnatural position. I simply sit in my desk chair and listen to YouTube videos about meditation and hypnosis as well as brain waves to make me sleepy. Here are two of my favorites:
^ This one is great. Relaxes me completely, prepares me for sleep.
^ This is Delta Waves music. If you’re not familiar with brain waves, I’ll do my best to explain or you could just click on the link in the sentence for a fantastic and more in-depth explanation.
Your brain emits electro-impulses resembling waves depending on what state it is in. Normally throughout the day we are in beta mode or alpha mode if we are in a relaxed state. That means we are awake and alert but relatively calm. You want to get into Theta or Delta brain wave mode so that your mind is quiet and calm and falling asleep. The video above emits Delta audio waves which your own bran will synchronize to while wearing earphones.
It is crucial that you wear earphones because that’s how brain wave therapy works. The left and right channels are given a different frequency so that the difference of the two is the target brainwave. In this case the target brainwave is Delta, the deepest sleep brain wave. Your brain will synch itself to this delta brain wave because it is separately receiving the two different signals in its left and right ears. I listen to this and then remove the earphones and go to sleep. you can try wearing the earphones to bed but I find them incredibly uncomfortable, specially ear plugs which tend to dig in when I turn to my side.
Other ways to wind down are playing Tetris or other highly repetitive games, crossword puzzles, or watching old black and white reruns of comedy tv, reading relatively boring stuff like science or history (lol don’t write me angry letters, I’m comparing these subjects to more stimulating subjects that may cause you to think all night).
5. Get plenty of tough exercise during the day. Walking in the morning is good for getting air, circulating the blood, and getting those sun rays in your brain but it’s not really going to tire you out for the night. Be sure to get a good workout in every day (you can take a couple of full rest days throughout the week). Lifting heavy weights where you really push yourself for half an hour, then doing some rigorous cardio where you are sweating bullets is a great way to make sure you’ll be tired and sleepy at night. If you sit at a desk all day like most of us do, chances are you’re not pushing your body to do very much throughout the day, so invest in the time to take care of your body and it will take care of you.
Working out at a gym is great because of the selection of equipment and inspirational environment, but you don’t need a gym membership; you can work out at a park play ground, in your house with a pull-up bar or simply run upstairs or a steep hill. But it is important to get your muscles to do more work than they’re used so that your brain to feels the need to sleep deeply in order to recover from the workout. Be sure to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime so that you’re not too energized.
6. Bedtime tea. Bedtime teas like Yogi Bedtime Tea and Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night Tea contain passionflower, chamomile and Valerian, three herbs that are known to promote relaxation and sleepiness. A cup or two before bedtime relaxes you and helps keep your brain from overthinking.
Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid that is found in teas and is pretty much the magic of why teas do not make you jittery like coffee does. Theanine counteracts the jittery, nervous feelings associated with caffeine causing you to get the positive effects of caffeine like alertness and higher cognitive abilities while not being nervous or anxious. This is why many people take theanine (100-200mg) with their morning coffee. Now, theanine does not promote sleepiness so that’s not the reason I’m suggesting it here. I’m suggesting it because it does however, promote relaxation of the mind and since you are not drinking caffeine before bedtime, taking theanine will help your mind begin to slow down and prevent you from overthinking when trying to go to sleep. 100mg or 200mg is all you need. Studies show that taking more than 200mg did not make a difference so save your money. Get Theanine here.
Valerian. This herb is derived from the root of the Valerian plant and is used for its calming and sedating properties. Valerian does make you sleepy, at least that’s the idea. It’s found in the teas mentioned above, but I take 2 pills (800mg) most nights. Great to have pills for when it’s too late to brew a cup of tea or you just don’t want that much water in your stomach which may cause you to awaken to go to the bathroom. Research shows that the effects begin to take effect after 2 to 3 weeks so it looks like your body has to get its fill before it begins to benefit but when it does, it appears to really work well. Plenty of Valerian supplements to choose from here.
Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is formulated naturally in the body at night. If you ruined your circadian rhythm by staying up late, sleeping during the day, not getting enough bright sunlight during the morning hours, or traveled and feel jet lag, melatonin is right for you. Taking melatonin at night will ensure that your body’s natural clock is where it should be; making you sleepy at night and awake and alert during the day. I take 3 to 6mg (1 or 2 tablets) depending on how bad my sleep has been lately. If I’m on roll of sleeping and waking at the right time for a few days I don’t take any at all, specially when I get plenty of sunlight in the mornings. Get melatonin here.
ZMA. Zinc, Magnesium, B6. Studies are mixed on the effects of ZMA with more of them leaning toward the conclusion that ZMA does not make a difference, but in real life (outside of studies) bodybuilders swear by it! Magnesium is known to make you sleepy and the proponents of ZMA claim that taking this combination and amount will help you get deeper and more REM sleep. It’s more of a bodybuilder’s sleep and recovery supplement and since this is a fitness site, I’ve included it here.
The other claim is that it fixes hormone imbalances and raises testosterone levels, probably due to the zinc and magnesium aspartates but also due to the deep sleep you may gain. I’ve seen friends begin taking it and blow up, increasing their lean muscle mass by a huge amount. It has not made much of a difference for my particular body, but results may vary. The caveat is that you should take it on an empty stomach and should not take this if you just drank milk since it will null the effects. This is not as important as the other supplements but if you are working out hard, whether you are male or female and want to tighten up by recovering from hard workouts with deep sleep, ZMA is good to try. I am currently taking it, let me know your results! ZMA can be found here.
Yes, I take all of those supplements to help me get a good night’s sleep. I consider sleep ultra important for everything from body recovery, testosterone and other hormonal balance, and specially mood and mental health so I really don’t mind taking all of these.
8. Rain sounds. I like to play Youtube videos of rain and distant thunder because it is very soothing to listen to while falling asleep. These are usually long enough to still be playing when you wake up in the morning. I make sure they are not too loud, but loud enough thta I can hear even if I cover my head with a blanket. Some of my favorites:
If you find the thunder too loud, there are others with lower thunder or no thunder at all.
Go ahead, give these a whirl. Aren’t they relaxing? Nice.
Let me know in the comments which of these methods you already use, or which you’ll likely be using and let us know how well they worked! I also welcome other suggestions. Have a great sleep!