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Improving Sleep for Increased Gains

We talk about training a lot. How much volume can I do? How many times per week can I train? How many sets of failure can I do in a workout? But before you can answer any of these questions, you must fully understand your recovery capacity. Sleep is essential to optimizing recovery. Therefore, improving your sleep will increase your potential to train more.

We must have sleep to survive. We can deprive ourselves of sleep, but would suffer a number of consequences. As bodybuilders, we would experience decreased recovery, metabolic function, hypertrophy, focus, and appetite just to name a few. Just a short bout of poor sleep can cause large rises in cortisol, which is a hormone that at high levels can affect hypertrophy, glucose utilization, thyroid function, digestion, and sex hormone levels. Poor sleep means fewer gains.

How much sleep do you need? While most people will fall within the 7-9 hours a night range, I would base the amount you need on your response. If you feel exhausted on 7 hours, up it to 8 hours. If hitting 9 hours leaves you feeling groggy, back it down to 8 hours. Quality of sleep is another issue. You can have 7-9 hours set aside for sleep, but if you wake up frequently or toss and turn all night you might still wake up exhausted with crap recovery. Here are all my tips for the best sleep possible.

Build a Consistent Routine

As with most things, consistency is key to results. Your body likes a consistent routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time. I recently starting using the Bedtime feature on my iPhone. I set the time I want to go to bed and wake up; it then notifies me when it’s bed time and the alarm goes off to wake me up. It also dims the phone and turns off all notifications. You want to limit your exposure to blue light because it affects the circadian rhythm. Vibrations and buzzing from your phone might wake you up in the middle of the night. We’ve all had that one night of the week where we stay up way past our bed time and then sleep in longer, and we just don’t feel the same the next day. It can take several days to get back to your normal routine, so really try to limit those late nights from happening.

Manage Stress and Anxiety

Lying in bed wide awake is miserable. You are thinking about how the entire day went wrong and all the issues you will have to deal with tomorrow. All the stress is going to cut into your precious sleep, then being sleep deprived the next day is only going to amplify those stressors. Cut out the stresses that you can control. Get rid of unhealthy relationships, get organized, and manage your time. Find something relaxing to do after work to take your mind off of everything. For bodybuilders that might be lifting, but you can also take a walk outside, meditate, read a book, or do something else that makes you happy.

Don’t Take Stimulants Too Late

You do not want stimulants in your system around bed time at all. Some stimulants can stay in your system for a long time. For example, caffeine can stay in your system for up to 7 hours. If you get off work at 6pm and take your Animal Fury, that 350mg of caffeine can still be doing its job until 1am. Plan out the timing of your stimulants around when you are going to bed. You could also reduce the amount if you still need a boost. Personally, I will opt for a stimulant free pre-workout and stick to focus supplements like Alpha GPC and Huperzine over caffeine.

Limit Night Time Electronic Usage

I can’t address this enough because of the role of technology and screen use in our society. For example, the other night I remembered right before going to bed that I needed to send a client a diet. I hopped on the computer for 30 minutes and that was all it took to make me more alert and make falling asleep a challenge. The same goes for watching TV. Don’t have a Netflix binge right before bedtime. The best advice is once it’s night time, limit screen time as much as possible.

Read More at Night

I know that if I am taking away your screen time I need to give you some other option. I would encourage you to read more prior to bed. This could be a great way to improve yourself, or at least be entertained without being glued to a screen. Even if it’s not educational material, maybe the latest popular fiction book can help you escape reality and get your mind off the daily stressors.

Get a Quality Mattress

I am far from a mattress connoisseur, but I do think a quality mattress is essential for quality sleep. You will spend nearly half your life in your bed—splurge and spend the money on something that will support you and get you good sleep. I personally need something that’s breathable because I get hot at night, but also has good support because I am pretty heavy. I found a mattress that catered to my needs. If you are big, I guarantee you will need a firmer bed. I weigh 100 pounds more than my wife. I will sink down a lot farther into the mattress than she would.

When I was younger I went to a powerlifting meet and decided to skimp on the hotel budget. This was a huge mistake. I wound up sleeping on a rock-hard mattress and felt every spring. Needless to say, I got crap sleep and had a tight back, which dropped my lifting numbers that day. Get a good mattress. You will thank me later.

Strategically Plan Fluid and Meals Before Bed

Eating that big meal right before lying down to go to sleep can give you some digestive issues and keep you up at night. Many of my clients complain about acid reflux. Digestion is fairly minimal during sleep, so any food you eat right before is just going to sit there. I recommend giving yourself at least 2 hours between your last meal and lying down for bed. You should also consider your fluid intake prior to sleep. If you try to catch up on your daily fluid goals at the end of the day, it’s likely you will have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. Since you do not want to interrupt sleep, I would plan fluid intake in a way to prevent that from happening. Hit a large portion of your fluid intake early, especially upon waking when you potentially would be the most dehydrated. I would take in a good amount of fluids around training, then taper the rest in the evening. You should be well hydrated by the evening after a full day of hitting your water goals, so a little taper of water before bed would be fine if it does improve sleep substantially.

Address Sleep Apnea

This topic is near and dear to my heart because I have severe sleep apnea. After the 2015 NPC USA, I was rebounding after the show and gaining weight very fast. Although I would sleep for 8 hours, I would still be exhausted all day long. I would fall asleep at work or talking to people. I even drifted off to sleep at a red light once. I was miserable. I was fighting all day long to stay awake. After my sleep study, I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea due primarily to my body weight but also the structure of my throat. If you snore or if anyone tells you that you stop breathing when sleeping, get checked out. If you feel exhausted all day like me, let this come to mind and see if it is apnea related. This was really life changing for me—I will not go a night without my CPAP machine.

Support Sleep with Supplements

I would really work on all lifestyle factors before jumping to the first sleep supplement. Supplements do have a place, though, and there are some great sleep aids out there. Personally, I use Animal PM mainly during the last weeks of prep when sleep is really poor. I like L-theanine for decreasing anxiety at night. Valerian root can also promote relaxation. I’ve had success with CBD oil as well. If you travel a lot and have to deal with jet lag, supplementing with melatonin is very helpful in getting you back in a sleep rhythm. You just have to see what works best for you.

Don’t let sleep hold you back from making the progress you want. Use these tips to get your night-time routine in place and start racking up the gains.

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