Sleep, is it really more important than diet and exercise?
Over the past decade, I have continually emphasized the importance of improved sleep.
Despite it being crucially important, most people fail to recognize or actively try to improve sleep, choosing to focus on more obvious aspects such as exercise, diet or supplement regime.
Look at it this way, you can go weeks or even months without food but would die after just a couple of weeks without sleep (the world record is 11 days).
If you are not currently optimizing your sleep, then following the simple points in this article is a quick fire way to improve your physique, health and drop fat.
1. Block Out Blue Light To Improve Sleep
Blue light is an artificial light emitted mostly by electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and televisions.
This light is one of the main reasons why many people struggle to optimize or fail to get their deep and high quality sleep (Kimberly & James, 2009; Czeisler et al., 2013; Chellappa et al., 2013). According to experts, the reflection of blue light signals the brain and parts of your hypothalamus that it is daytime.
In turn, exposure to blue light after 7pm or 8pm stops your natural circadian rhythm producing key hormones that help you relax and sleep well at night (Legates et al., 2007; Gabel et al., 2013).
Apart from the general importance of sleep for your physique, blue light also blocks the production of growth hormone that normally peaks and is released largely just as you are falling asleep. As you may know, growth hormone is a potent fat burner and also allows you to partition and metabolize the food you eat more efficiently.
Therefore, the most obvious method is to reduce your exposure to the blue light-emitting devices in the evening. While this may not be fully possible in the modern world, there are other techniques that many people employ in order to block or reduce their blue light exposure.
Firstly, most tablets, smartphones and laptops have applications or software that you can install for free that blocks the blue light production.
For laptops and desktops, you can download an application (for free) called F.lux which can be set to your time zone and as the sunlight goes down, it will automatically change the color of your screen to stop the blue light production.
Smartphones and tablets, including Apple products, now have the capability where you can set the time you want the screen to block blue light.
Even something as simple as putting on amber colored glasses is an effective strategy. Research found that wearing blue light-blocking glasses for a few hours before bed made a significant and immediate improvement to sleep quality (Kimberly & James, 2009)!
This is an extremely simple technique that you can apply today that can give you great results for sleep and your physique.
2. Get Into a Daily Routine To Improve Sleep
Another important but hugely overlooked strategy to improve sleep is getting into a daily routine (Mindell et al., 2009).
For instance, a consistent nightly bedtime routine was found to improve multiple aspects of sleep, including wakefulness after sleep onset, sleep continuity and daily mood (Mindell et al., 2009).
The best time to go to sleep is somewhere between 9pm and 11pm. This is the time when key hormones are released (such as growth hormone) as part of your natural circadian rhythm. Try to get into a set routine of falling asleep between 9-11pm consistently every night.
In addition, you should also strive to wake up in the morning at the same time, without an alarm, in order to have a fixed routine. Ideally, you would only have a backup alarm set for 20 or 30 minutes after you would naturally wake up. Getting into a natural sleep – wake cycle is a great way to improve your energy and focus for the day.
Another aspect of getting into your daily routine is your pre-bed ritual. This includes the same things you do every night to help you relax, such as writing a diary, reading a book, having a bath, lighting candles, or practising some other relaxing techniques such as meditation or yoga.
3. Block Out All External Lights To Improve Sleep
As with blue light, any man-made light can also affect sleep quality and should be avoided in order to improve sleep. This includes strong artificial lighting in the house along with smaller lights such as digital alarm clocks, red lights on electronics such as TVs and any other small external lighting.
Try to turn off all electronics in the room at the mains switch so that there’s no red standby button. In the evening, limit external light at night to small side lights, if possible, you can have a more orange or gentler light bulb fitted.
One other common mistake most people make is placing their smartphone face up on their bed side table. During the night or the evening, as this phone goes off, it can emit a large dose of blue light which can also affect sleep.
In summary, make your room pitch black by switching off all digital products and having high quality blackout curtains.
4. Take These Supplements To Improve Sleep
There is plenty of research showing that certain supplements can also help you improve your sleep when needed.
It’s important to note that these supplements should only be an add-on and should not replace the other strategies discussed in this article, which can naturally help you improve sleep.
If you’ve tried all my other recommendations and are still struggling to get a good night’s sleep, here are the main supplements I suggest:
- Melatonin: Melatonin is one of the most common and powerful sleep aids as it functions to mimic your body’s natural production of melatonin, which helps align your circadian rhythm and induces sleep (Ferracioli-Oda et al., 2013). As melatonin alters brain chemistry, you should certainly discuss this with a medical professional before taking. Once cleared, I recommend doses at around 3mg – 6mg which are often the regular recommended dosages.
- ZMA (Zinc and Magnesium): ZMA is an extremely common supplement used before bed to aid in rest and relaxation. The benefits of ZMA also extend way beyond sleep, with zinc and magnesium having over 500 chemical functions in the body. Magnesium helps the central nervous system relax which can help you calm down in the evening and improve sleep.
- 5-HTP: 5-HTP is another common sleep aid as it helps stimulate melatonin and serotonin production at night which can assist in relaxation and calm the brain (Wyatt et al., 1979). As with melatonin discussed above, the use of 5-HTP should also be discussed with a medical professional before use. Supplement doses vary so check the label on your specific supplement before taking.
Other simple strategies such as not being hungry and even consuming some carbohydrates in your evening meal could also improve sleep. Studies revealed that carbohydrates before bed can actually improve the time it takes to fall asleep as well as sleep duration as they help the brain release serotonin which improves relaxation.
5. Optimize Your Bedroom To Improve Sleep
As mentioned, many aspects of your bedroom influence your sleep quality and duration.
These include aspects such as external lighting, bed quality, pillow quality, room temperature, noise and other factors.
Take the necessary steps to maximize these aspects including buying or investing in a new mattress (if necessary), cancelling out any noise if possible, setting the bedroom temperature and removing any external light.
As always, it is highly dependent on the individual’s choice. However, most people tend to sleep better if it is slightly cooler, hence, you may want to turn off the heat later in the evening or set the air condition slightly lower in the evening, depending on where you live.
While redoing your bed set up (such as pillows and mattress) may seem extreme, investing in a mattress can improve your sleep for many years to come. To some, it may seem like an expensive investment. A good mattress, however, can last 10-20 years.
If you compare this with what you spend weekly or monthly on supplements, personal training, gym membership and food, upgrading your mattress is actually a very cheap and a more long-term method to improve your health and physique.
Improve Your Sleep Today
Here are five extremely simple, yet effective, strategies you can follow starting today to help you improve sleep.
As discussed at the start of this article, sleep is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of health, physique, and performance. If you’re not currently following the tips above, these techniques can be a much more effective and useful method to improve many aspects of your life.
Fixing your sleep is is also much quicker and more effective strategy than looking for that one magic supplement or diet plan that doesn’t exist (sorry!).
Remember, when training hard and especially when dieting, sleep becomes more important than it does for an average, non-exercising individual. Ensure that you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, if not, ensure you catch up more during the weekends.
Now, help your friends out and share this article with someone who doesn’t prioritize their sleep!
Czeisler, C. A. (2013). Perspective: casting light on sleep deficiency. Nature,497(7450), S13-S13.
Kimberly, B., & James R, P. (2009). Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiology international, 26(8), 1602-1612.
LeGates, T. A., Fernandez, D. C., & Hattar, S. (2014). Light as a central modulator of circadian rhythms, sleep and affect. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(7), 443-454.
Gabel, V., Maire, M., Reichert, C. F., Chellappa, S. L., Schmidt, C., Hommes, V., … & Cajochen, C. (2013). Effects of artificial dawn and morning blue light on daytime cognitive performance, well-being, cortisol and melatonin levels.Chronobiology international, 30(8), 988-997.
Chellappa, S. L., Steiner, R., Oelhafen, P., Lang, D., Götz, T., Krebs, J., & Cajochen, C. (2013). Acute exposure to evening blue‐enriched light impacts on human sleep. Journal of sleep research, 22(5), 573-580.
Ferracioli-Oda, E., Qawasmi, A., & Bloch, M. H. (2013). Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PloS one, 8(5), e63773.