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IFBB Pro Evan Centopani shares the importance of sleep and tips to improve sleep.

A Bodybuilder's Guide to Improving Sleep

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I may be dating myself a bit, but anyone who has ever seen the horror classic “The Shining” will recall the scene where it becomes eerily evident that the main character, Jack Torrance, has gone insane and the would-be novel on which he has been so tirelessly working is nothing more than hundreds of pages containing this phrase repeated over and over. Now Jack Torrance was no bodybuilder, but he made it clear that too much work and not enough rest is just no damn good for anyone. Too much work without a break resulted in Jack trying to murder his wife with an axe. And though many of you may be axe-free, so many of you are still out there murdering your size and strength gains because you work too much and you don’t rest enough. Ever feel like you could be making better progress? Keep reading.

From the time you become interested in bodybuilding you’re told that you need to work hard, be a machine, ignore the pain, increase the intensity, and once you do those things, you’re still a wuss so work harder! That’s all good. I’m all for upping the intensity, pushing the envelope, and bringing the pain. In fact, if you don’t do those things, you’re never going to subject yourself to the stimuli needed to set yourself up to be your biggest and strongest. Unfortunately, with all the emphasis placed on beating the hell out of yourself, there isn’t anywhere near as much attention given to recovery. That’s a real disservice because, with all the time, energy, and focus dedicated to breaking yourself down and not enough to rest and recovery, I see far too often guys that are so mentally and physically burnt out that they can barely function as a regular person let alone look and perform their best. You can burn the candle at one end in the form of physical and even mental stress, but you cannot burn it at both ends by also failing to recover from those stresses.

For most athletes, food, supplements, and even drugs are most often the superstars of recovery talk while sleep sits on the sidelines. I know guys who won’t miss a training session, approach their eating and supplementation with surgical precision, and won’t  think of missing a shot of anabolics. But talk to 10 of those guys and I bet you 9 of them end up telling you that they don’t get enough sleep. Dig a little deeper and you’ll likely find out that just as many, if not more, feel that their sleep quality could be better. If there was even 1 in 10 who felt that he was getting both great quality sleep and enough hours of it, I’d be shocked. Trying to find enough hours in the day to accomplish all of our professional and personal obligations can be challenging. Work hours are what they are, and there’s plenty that goes on outside of work that needs to get done. Sometimes sleep takes the hit. On top of that, switching off mentally and letting go of the stress we carry will oftentimes compromise the hours we do have left for sleep. Obviously, the ideal scenario is to enjoy excellent sleep quality for as many hours as are needed to be fully rested. Because the number of hours that we have available to dedicate to sleeping may sometimes be compromised, we need to make the time that we do have count.

Recognizing the fact that a lack of both total sleep quantity and quality is an issue is one thing, but wanting to fix it and knowing the best way to go about it is another. I’ve gone through periods in my life where sleep was a major issue. During some phases, falling asleep was problematic. Other times, I’d fall asleep easily only to wake up after a couple of hours and not be able to fall back asleep. I’d also experience the dreaded sleep apnea when my body weight climbed too high. At this point, for the most part, I sleep pretty damn well at night. Let me share with you some things that have helped me along the way.

First, let’s address sleep apnea because it not only affects countless numbers of people, but it’s especially prevalent among bodybuilders. It can be both acutely dangerous and deleterious to your health in the long run. The absolute best thing you can do to keep sleep apnea at bay is to not let your body weight climb too high. For example, I knew based on my own experience that once my body weight reached and surpassed 290 pounds, sleep apnea would become severely problematic. No matter what position I found myself in during the night, I would be in a continuous state of snoring, choking, and irregular breathing. The solution? I don’t get that heavy anymore. And no it’s not at the cost of muscle size or strength because at 290, I was carrying more fat and water than I needed to. If you’re trying to gain size and drive your body weight up, be conscious of excess body fat and fluid retention. Eat to grow but don’t gain so much excess fat and fluid that it impedes your ability to breathe in your sleep. If sleep apnea is unmanageable or you have it badly without being overweight, bite the bullet and go for a sleep study with the goal of attaining a CPAP mask. Personally, I could never get used to the idea of wearing one so I kept my weight in check to manage my sleep apnea. That said, I know many bodybuilders who refuse to sleep without one. Whether you manage sleep apnea with or without a mask is up to you, but you simply cannot ignore it.

Next, I’m going to give you a short list of small things I do to help ensure sleep quality. I take some time before bed to unwind. It’s not uncommon that I am training or doing work fairly close to my bed time, but I always leave time to wrap up my day and do a few things. I never eat closer than 2 hours to bed. While I would not want to go to bed with hunger pangs, getting in bed right after eating messes with my digestion, and when my digestion is off, my sleep is guaranteed to be disrupted. After I eat my last meal, I take a shower and put on comfortable clothes. I don’t know about you but I like to feel clean when I get in bed. Furthermore, a shower helps to relax me. Once I’ve eaten and showered, I like to leave a little time to watch an hour or so of TV. I don’t watch a ton of television so an hour or so each night does not make me feel guilty. Here’s the kicker. You’re gonna laugh at this one, but if you really want to chill out, you need to make friends with Turner Classic Movies. It’s a channel that plays classic movies all day and night without commercials. Yup, that’s right. Laugh all you want but nothing will make you nod off like black and white movies. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of color, the absence of special effects, or the fact that older films are overall less intense than modern movies, but I shit you not, if I make it through an hour of a black and white movie, that’s a lot. Just trust me and try it. Drinking green tea while I sit there helps even more. While I know it has some caffeine, it also has theanine. I can barely finish the cup without falling asleep. And, obviously, make sure your mattress isn’t a piece of shit. Do you know how many people there are out there driving around in new cars each day only to sleep on absolute trash every night? Way too many. You should have a mattress that is as supportive as possible first and then comfortable enough second, not the other way around. A typical mattress sees 6-8 hours of use each day for at least 10 years. That’s over 25,500 hours on average. You spend nearly 3 out of every 10 years on that mattress, or 30% of your life. Make sure it isn’t a piece of crap.

Now, if you’ve done all that you can to ensure a good night’s sleep and you’re still having an issue, I suggest you supplement your diet with key nutrients that can help promote better quality sleep. There is literally a list a mile long of things you can take to help you sleep better. I would always recommend using a natural product as opposed to prescription sleep aids or narcotics. The last thing you want to do is trade one problem for another and develop a dependency/addiction. It is always preferable to solve your problem naturally. So, what to use? Over the years, I’ve used everything from valerian root to ZMA to powdered magnesium to melatonin and countless things in between. There were even a couple times, way back when, before two different contest where I couldn’t sleep to save my life and I used prescription drugs. I tried Ambien for one and the drug Valium for the other. I felt that Ambien was worthless and Valium was dangerous. As someone with sleep apnea, Valium negatively affected my breathing and that scared the hell out of me. On top of that, I felt extremely ill when I discontinued using it, and believe me when I tell you that is not a good sign. Never again. Out of all the stuff I used over the years, all things considered, nothing worked better than Animal PM. When you look at the formulation, it makes sense why that is the case.

You can do as I’ve done and sample every substance that can possibly be used as a sleep aid. Personally, as someone who has done exactly that, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s expensive, it’s inefficient, and you’re going to end up with a bunch of half-used bottles. I’m confident that if you have trouble sleeping or feel that you could be sleeping more soundly, Animal PM. will be a one-and-done for you. When you consider the fact that it is formulated to support sleep quality via three different avenues, it’s no wonder it works as well as it does. The vitamin/mineral component of Animal PM. contains zinc, magnesium, and B6 which are all crucial for relaxation but commonly under consumed. The herbal component of Animal PM. is an absolute powerhouse that contains chamomile, valerian, and hops, all of which have been used for hundreds of years to promote rest and deep sleep. Rounding out the trifecta is the use of specific amino acids that promote both relaxation and recovery. Formulation aside, the product simply works. Personally, it’s not something I use every single night, but there are times when I know I need to catch up on sleep or really need to make it count. Likewise, just like everyone else, I go through phases where I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m not sleeping as well as I should be. In those situations, I look to Animal PM. As someone who has taken the gamut of sleep products over the past 20 years, I can confidently recommend Animal PM. to you. You can easily find other products to take, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that works anywhere near as well.

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