by Tony Gjokaj February 18, 2020 7 min read

I used to work from 5 am to 7 pm with obligations afterward. I would go to sleep at midnight and wake up at 4 am.

This all adds up over time. I would try to sleep in on weekends… it was never enough.

I didn’t feel good. My positive mood and sanity were non-existent.

Sleep deprivation sucks.

Sleep deprivation is a pretty dangerous thing: one in three people are sleep deprived. It might not sound bad, yet sleep deprivation leads to about 20% of accidents in the United States. To make matters more challenging, lack of sleep has a correlation to weight gain and depression.

In just a simple paragraph, I am telling you to GET SOME SLEEP!

Many of us suffer from sleep: I had severe anxiety many times in my life, even as much as getting three-four hours of sleep every night for three straight months. I felt like I lost my sanity, mood, and self-control.

This blog post will dive deep into sleep, and some of the actual strategies you can use to have better sleep! My hope is to make you aware and to convince you to sleep strategically.

Let’s get after it!

 

Consequences of Deprivation

While "sleep is the cousin of death", sleep is the cool cousin: it extends life.

Your body NEEDS sleep for a plethora of reasons.

Sleep deprivation can impact us physically and mentally to a huge extent. In fact, some of these problems can eventually be dangerous in the long term. No amount of caffeine can help you recover from sleep deprivation, and consuming any more than your regular cups of coffee could possibly impact you negatively.

Here are some consequences as a result of poor sleep:

  • Hunger hormones are impacted: Ghrelin (hunger hormone) increases, while Leptin (appetite suppressor, making us full) decreases. As a result, we consume more calories in the long term, which can lead to weight gain if not controlled.
  • Calorie-dense foods are preferred: Adding to the hunger hormones bullet point, lack of sleep typically makes us crave higher calorie content foods like cake, cookies, chips, etc.
  • Decrease in focus, reaction time, and performance: sleep deprivation leads to physical and mental fatigue. Mentally, it feels like brain fog. Physically, you sometimes feel like glass that can just shatter if you exert a tiny bit of force. Think about the times you worked out sleep-deprived. It's tough.
  • Negative mood and mindset: sleep deprivation impacts our mood negatively, making it easy to lash out at people for the smallest of things. Poor sleep has also been shown to potentially lead to increased bouts of depression.
  • Increased health risks: sleep deprivation leads to an increased chance of risks like cardiovascular disease or increased mortality rate. Your life expectancy is typically lowered when you're sleep-deprived.

Since we strive to perform and improve every day, poor sleep habits can truly impede our growth physically and mentally.

 

Sleep Quantity and Quality

There's a difference between sleep quantity and quality.

The Quantity of Sleep

When discussing sleep, we typically talk about the amount of sleep we get. 

If it’s a busy or intense day, we calculate how many hours of sleep we will get before the next day… it is predetermined to suck if we get less than five hours of sleep.

We can argue that a solid quantity of sleep is different to everyone. Some individuals may need as little as six hours, while others need as much as ten.

Some might also need more as a result of dieting and exercise.

While quantity plays a big factor, there is another factor that we believe is greater than quantity: Quality.

The Quality of Sleep

We always discuss how many hours of sleep we get, but quality plays a huge part in sleep as well. Having a better quality of sleep means improving the effects of the amount of sleep that one gets. In addition, better quality of sleep leads us to fall asleep faster.

Anecdotally, when I was working 60 hours a week at my corporate job, the quantity of sleep was out the window. I could only focus on quality at that moment of my life. Maximizing my sleep quality made my five hours of sleep feel like seven.

Arguably, sleep quality should be optimized if quantity is out the window.

 

How Can We Improve Quality of Sleep?

In the best-case scenario, a combination of quality and quantity of sleep will maximize sleep. Being well-rested is probably one of the best feelings someone can encounter. It's euphoric at times.

However, we can't always be perfect all the time.

In this section, we discuss strategies in sleep that will improve the quantity, quality, and/or both. You can try to implement all of these strategies, but implementing a few of them will make a HUGE difference in your sleep.

Natural Light Exposure

We are natural early-birds despite people saying otherwise. The circadian rhythm regulates this and tells us when to sleep. Exposing yourself to the morning light around 7 am will improve sleep quality in the overtime.

Something as simple as light exposure has been proven to treat the majority of insomnia cases*. In normal adults, morning light exposure improved both the quality and quantity of sleep. So be an early bird and experience many benefits that go along with it.

Limit Caffeine 4-8 Hours Before Bed

I always found it humorous when people discussed sleep with me and I found that they drink Starbucks at 8 pm. We've all experienced that caffeine promotes wakefulness, and it is typically extremely difficult to force yourself to bed right after you consume caffeine.

Consistent Sleep Schedule

Consistency is the key to success. Having a consistent schedule to sleeping can make it easier and feel less like a “chore” to some. 

This is where the habit-building comes in: if you make it a habit to sleep around the same time each day, you will create a schedule that you will be able to adhere too. To some, this may seem like "common sense"... however, sometimes you have to see or hear it more than once in order to eventually make the commitment. 

Comfortable and Cozy Room

Temperature, mattress quality, and the way you sleep can make a big impact on your sleep quality and quantity. It’s important to have a cool room and eliminate as much artificial light as possible.

To add to this, I have to personally keep my phone away from reach as well so I don’t reach for it instinctively. When it's an instinctive habit to grab your phone, it's quite easy to get lost in emails, social media, and more.

Eliminate "Blue Light" in the Evening.

Blue light is an artificial lighting that we are exposed to through our phones, computers, or television. Towards the evening, you want to eliminate this as much as possible. According to Harvard Health, artificial lights can easily impact our circadian rhythm.

Remember that the circadian rhythm not just impacts our sleep, but also impacts our bodily functions.

In an ideal situation, you would want to avoid any forms of blue light 1-2 hours before bed… but that's VERY difficult today. There are still ways to eliminate blue light exposure if you have to do computer work or scour social media.

Here’s what I recommend if can’t typically remove blue light exposure:

  • Wear blue light resistant glasses: I don't have my own pair, however, these are becoming increasingly available as of late.
  • Use “F.Lux” (Computer App): An application I use to eliminate blue light on my Macbook is called F.Lux. I set it so around 7 pm, my screen eliminates blue light and turns into a yellowish color.
  • Use “Night Shift” (Cell Phones): iPhones have a feature called Night Shift that helps to eliminate blue light on your phone. I don't have an android, however, there should be a feature or an app for that!

While you wouldn’t think this would make a difference, it has assisted me in getting quality sleep.

Strategizing Nutrition

In many articles I have read about sleep, a lot of them mention that you shouldn’t have a big meal before bed because “you won’t be able to sleep”. I must be the outlier in the situation because consuming a lot of carbs before bed makes me sleep like a baby.

Here is what I propose:

  • If you find yourself energized from carbohydrates, you should consume a smaller meal before bed.
  • If you find yourself sleepy from carb consumption, finish your day with the majority of your carbs in the evening.

#carbsafterdark is also one of my favorite hashtags on Instagram.

Optimizing Exercise

Just like strategizing with nutrition, exercise could be optimized based on your energy levels. Here are some thoughts to optimize your exercise so that you can sleep soundly:

  • If you find yourself energized after a workout, be sure to do it in the morning.
  • If you find yourself exhausted after a workout, you could exercise in the evening to make yourself sleep soundly.

In my personal experience, heavyweight training gets me exhausted, so I prefer to train in the evening.

Melatonin Supplement

Melatonin supplements can make a big impact on sleep quality and quantity in the evening. There are many of these supplements out there. You should follow the directions on the supplement, as melatonin needs to be cycled for optimization.

You can read more about melatonin here.

Vitamin D3 Supplement

If you don't typically get sunlight because you work indoors, taking a Vitamin D3 supplement in the morning is a solid option as well. According to various studies, weeks of Vitamin D3 use has been shown to improve both sleep quality and quantity.

We believe it's a great supplement to have in our arsenal, especially when we work indoors or if you don't get direct sunlight where you live.

Sleeping Saves Lives

As you can see here, we can argue that the quality and quantity of sleep can be attributed to lots of issues in society today: hormonal issues, obesity, sleep disorders, and more.

Are you ready to really focus on improving sleep? There's typically always room for improvements, and really focusing on optimizing your sleep.

To conclude this, I wanted to give you three final notes:

  • We are not somnologists:sleep doctors, and you should always consult with a professional if you're encountering major sleep issues.
  • We didn't really talk about the impact of sleep on health and fitness. We will talk about this in a future post.
  • For more information on sleep, this blog post is a GREAT ONE.

Thanks for reading! If you want to add some tips or have any questions, feel free to throw it in the comments below. We encourage improving our knowledge together.

Until next time Legion, go out there and crush it!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He has been in the fitness space for over a decade, previously coaching individuals in body recomposition and strength training. His goal is to connect others with the knowledge they need to reach their greatest potential.


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