Sleep Science: Nature's Most Effective Performance Enhancer

Sleep Science: Nature's Most Effective Performance Enhancer
Want to take complete advantage of your muscle growth, fat loss, and performance potential? It might be time to take complete control of your sleep cycle.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

This seems to be the rallying cry of every college freshman or Gary Vaynerchuk fan boy.

As Americans, it seems we tend to correlate sleep with general laziness and an overall lack of productivity.

Why sleep when you could shotgun a Red Bull and crush reruns of the Walking Dead, am I right?

So, while all of your social media followers may praise your hardcore, sleep deprivation lifestyle, you may be doing a disservice to your overall health and quality of life.

“Rise and grind? Nah, sleep in and win.” - Ian Dunican, PhD (Sleep & Performance Researcher at AIS)

In the age of information, we have begun to realize the immense benefits of sleep and research continues to elucidate the underlying physiological processes, which take place once our eyes close. For example:

  • Chronic sleep loss can lead to a 30-40% decrease in glucose metabolism.1
  • Cognitive performance with only 6 hours (or less) of sleep is equivalent to getting no sleep for 48 hours.2
  • Bench press 1-RM drops by 20lb after just 4 hours of sleep restriction.3

In other words, “How much do you bench?” should be rephrased as, “How much do you sleep?” If we’re going to be honest, from a long-term developmental standpoint, I’d say that sleep may be even more important than training.

Let’s dive in…

Related: Science Tells All - Get Shredded While You Sleep

1. Salvage Your Settings

Blue light sucks. You know it. I know it. Apple knows it.

As such, the company has released a few features, which allow you to take control of your blue light exposure on iOS based devices. Minimize it and watch the quality of your sleep improve overnight.

Now, if you don’t typically use your phone/tablet at night and you’re reading this article on a computer, you need to download and install f.lux.

No, like right now. Stop reading this article and go do it.

I already discussed the physiological mechanisms behind the program in another article (Hacking Your Sleep 101: Nine Tips For Better Gains) but suffice it to say, it’s the easiest, cheapest sleep solution that everyone can access (hint: it’s FREE).

Remember, these modifications are short-term fixes, which allow you to adapt to the societal demands placed upon your physiology. But, crutches make crappy solutions.

In this case, the answer is getting off your devices completely and picking up one of those things with pages (i.e. books) that you’ve neglected for the last 5 years.

2. Utilize Blue Blocking Glasses

Now, f.lux and night shift are both very handy additions to your sleep hygiene arsenal but what if you’re a habitual pre-bed Netflix junkie?

Well, realistically you have two options:

  1. Binge watch every episode of Law & Order and wonder why your sleep sucks.
  2. Pick up some incredibly stylish and affordable blue blocking glasses and learn some self-restraint when it comes to your Netflix habits.

Admittedly, option 1 likely seems more appealing to the average caffeinated millennial struggling with activities to fill their free time. But, in the long run I think you’ll find yourself much happier and healthier if you succumb to option 2.

Gunnar makes some incredibly high quality computer eyewear but be advised, you’ll pay for what you get. For an example, here’s an excellent pair you can pick up through Amazon if you don’t mind dipping into your bank account.

But, let’s be honest for a second, you’re wearing these before bed and realistically no one will see them besides you and perhaps your significant other. Do you really need to drop $70 bucks on a pair of shades that will be worn in the comfort of your own home?

Nah, forget that. UVEX makes a blue blocking model with wrap around frames for $9 bucks. You can check them out on Amazon here.

Ideally you would want to utilize them within an hour of sunset. So in the summer that might be closer to 8-9pm or 5-6pm in the winter depending upon where you live. Not only do they help to block out blue light, they will also help to reduce the overall brightness of ambient light throughout your house, which can help to enhance circadian rhythms.4,5

Simple. Cheap. Effective. Did I mention how easy this was?

High Protein Breakfast

3. Eat a High Protein Breakfast

No duh, right? That’s a no-brainer. This is a fitness website, we put protein in everything.  If it’s edible, odds are it has whey added to it.

But, maybe you’re not a fitness aficionado. Maybe you’re a diehard Kellogg’s fan or Yoplait connoisseur. No judgment but let’s break down that lifestyle choice…

When you consume a complete protein source, you will inevitably garner a steady supply of tryptophan as the meal is being digested. Well, research has shown that as the day progresses, this amino acid is slowly converted to serotonin before it is eventually converted into melatonin, thus supporting natural circadian rhythms.6

Flow chart of the importance of food and hormones for sleep

Now granted, there are certain cofactors (zinc, magnesium, B6, iron, folate, etc.), which must also be present to allow this conversion to take place efficiently. But, without a solid bolus of tryptophan early in the day, you won’t have the necessary building blocks for this cascade to even initiate.

What foods are high in tryptophan you might ask? Eggs, beef, lamb, chicken, salmon, dairy, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, bananas, whole grain oats, and spirulina to name a few. Literally, your breakfast choices are almost unlimited with that assortment. Just make sure you get in 20-30 grams of high quality protein for breakfast to ensure you set the cellular machinery in motion.

Related: Circadian Rhythm - How Meal Timing Affects Fat Loss

“Do Not Mistake Common With Normal”

The phrase above has quickly become one of my favorite quotes. How often do you hear a conversation that goes somewhat along these lines?

Bob from accounting: “Man, you look exhausted, did you sleep at all last night?”

Jim from sales: “Yeah, about 6 hours or so. I feel like that’s normal for most folks our age so I don’t know why I’m so exhausted.”

Sleep deprivation is common, that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Poor sleep is common but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Poor focus, caffeine dependency, and general systemic fatigue are also common, but that doesn’t mean they are normal. Are you catching onto the pattern yet?

Surviving and thriving are two entirely different lifestyles and sleep is often the defining variable, which separates the pair. Most folks these days are sleep deprived and there’s no getting around that. It may be an overall lack of quantity but it could also be a lack of quality.

Please understand that sleep quality AND quantity both play a unique role in enhancing your recovery and aiding to your overall health and wellness. When you're short on one, you should ideally compensate by enhancing the other.

So what do we typically resort to? Sleep “hacking”. Sure, sleep hygiene is important but generally that terminology implies a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Dan John said it best:

“’Mastery’: getting to excellence with expediency. ‘Life-hacking’: getting from crappy to slightly less crappy as quickly as possible.”

I’m not here to “hack” anything; I’m here to help you make lasting lifestyle changes that will allow you to enjoy better sleep almost immediately.