Sleep Great without Prescription Drugs: Part 1

There is no substitute for good sleep.  The lack of consistent, quality sleep is one of the most common causes of lack of progress in a  training program.  This is especially true in a high stress city like New York.  There’s never enough time in the day to get everything done, but is sacrificing your sleep making you any more productive?

Because of difficulty sleeping, prescription sleep aids like Lunesta and Ambien have become increasingly popular.  The problem with these medications, however, is that they do not address the underlying cause that is preventing quality sleep and they come with a laundry list of side effects.

Taking a prescription sleep aid to treat a chronic sleeping problem is like wearing earplugs to fix a squeaky door hinge;  although the symptoms seem to be gone, the problem is still there.

Insufficient sleep will make it impossible to have optimal progress when it comes to building muscle, losing body fat, or getting strong.  Of course there is a whole slew of other health problems that will arise from poor sleep, but we won’t get to that in this article.

It doesn’t matter how well you eat or how many supplements you take, if you don’t sleep well, you are not going to recover from your training like you should.  Sleep is when the body repairs itself, produces growth hormone and neurotransmitters, and lets your body adapt to the stress of training and daily life.  In the first part of this series, we will outline some no-cost methods of improving your sleep.

1. Cut out the Caffeine

As most everyone knows, caffeine keeps you awake.  If you drink coffee too late in the day, meaning past 3pm or 4pm, you won’t be able to sleep as easily as you should, assuming you want to be asleep by 10pm or 11pm.

If you are relying on caffeine to keep you going everyday, this is not a sign that your “age is catching up with you.”  The problem is that you are not taking care of your body.  All the time I hear people use their age as an excuse for their lack of energy, when in fact the primary causes are poor nutrition, excessive alcohol, erratic sleeping patterns, too much stress, etc…  You wouldn’t expect a car engine to last very long if you red-lined the engine all day everyday, and you shouldn’t expect any different from your body.

2. Clear your mind

I find that if I have a lot of unfinished tasks to do the next day, my mind will be racing non-stop while I’m lying in bed.  The solution to this is to write down your unfinished tasks on a sheet of paper or in whatever organizatoinal system you use to plan your day.  Once these thoughts are out of your head and on paper, your mind will not have the burden of trying to remember all of the pending items for the next day and you will be free to relax.

2. Calm your Mind

After you have cleared out all of the open loops that were congesting your mind, now it is time to get ready for sleep mode. For myself, I enjoy listening to relaxing music and/or stretching  for about 20min before I knock out.

Another option is to try silent meditation or guided meditation. If you google these terms, there are plenty of free guides to help you practice meditation techniques.

3. Make it Dark

Make your sleeping area as dark as possible. Even just a small amount of light creeping into your room will make it harder to fall asleep and will reduce the quality of sleep. Additionally, if you work a late shift, you do not want the sun to wake you up prematurely.  Using  room darkening shades and turning off all lights will take care of this problem.

4. Be Consistent

As much as possible, try to go to bed at the same time every day. Yes, I may sound like your grandparents, but you’ll be amazed how much this helps your quality of sleep and your energy levels during the day. If you keep a regular sleeping schedule, you should not even need an alarm clock to wake up on time.  If you are used to going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am, and then you stay up until 3am one night, you will likely still wake up at 7am, since that is when your body is used to producing cortisol to wake you up in the morning.

If you aren’t sleeping as well as you should, give these tips a try and let me know how they work for you!

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