Let them sleep while you grind.
You gotta want it bad enough that you can’t sleep at night.
While you’re sleeping your competition is out there grinding.
Forget about all of the motivational speeches for a minute and let’s think about what we are really trying to accomplish here.
As humans who are striving to become bigger, better, and stronger humans, we need our sleep and we need quality sleep.
The power of a good night’s rest.
Let’s talk about the last bit of motivational advice given above..
While you’re sleeping your competition is out there grinding.
What happens when you’ve become completely burnt out because you’ve sacrificed your sleep to spend more time in the gym?
Or when your adrenal glands have been rendered useless because of the amount of caffeine you’ve been taking in to make up for the sleep you’ve been missing?
Your competition IS out there…
Well rested, hitting it harder, and progressing at a more steady rate than the guy or gal who has been lacking.
We often forget that if we are trying to make any sort of gains getting proper rest may just be the missing ingredient that so many people have neglected in their journey towards being the healthiest that they can be which is completely counter productive.
As bodybuilders and athletes we need to be as aggressive with our recovery as we are with our training and eating!
Benefits of a quality sleep life include:
- Feeling more energetic and rested during the day (obviously😉)
- Higher levels of testosterone, DHT, and growth hormone (guys this is huge)
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood, memory, and focus
- Increased productivity
- Better overall health
How much nightly sleep do we need?
Personally, I believe that this varies between the individual.
Some need 9-10 hours, some are good on 8, while others thrive on only 6 or 7.
The national sleep foundation recommends 8-10 hours for teenagers and 7-9 hours for adults (check out the cool chart on their website). According to them that’ll be the sweet spot where you’ll feel the most rested and less or more sleep than this will actually yield negative effects. That’s pretty general though in my opinion as everyone is different. I believe that our sleep needs vary depending on the day. Some nights we’ll need more sleep and some nights we’ll need less. The key here is getting into sync with your body and feeling out how much nightly sleep you really need.
My sleep experiment
Back in the summer of 2017 I ran a short sleep experiment to see if getting extra sleep every night would have a noticeable effect on my body. I made it a goal to be in bed no later than 9:30pm and to rise at 6:30 every morning. That gave me a solid 9 hours of sleep. On weekends that I didn’t have to work I’d sleep an additional hour or two, giving myself a solid 10 or 11 hours at times.
It was hard at first – but once I got a habit of good sleep hygiene down by using some of the sleep optimization tips I’ll cover later in this article, getting a good solid night of sleep became a piece of cake.
The results of the extra sleep
Interestingly enough my sleep experiment did yield noticeable and impressive results in a matter of just a few weeks! It was pretty crazy to see what changes a few weeks of actually getting good amount of sleep can do for you. My personal results were so noticeable it was almost like I had stepped foot into Dragonball’s Hyperbolic Time chamber (for those of you who didn’t follow the series the hyperbolic time chamber was a giant training room where you could do a year’s worth of training, sleeping, and eating in only a day!).
Body composition. The first thing I noticed about two weeks into my sleep experiment was that my muscles seemed to be pumped up, dense, and growing everyday whether it was a training day or an off day. I pretty lean and mean too, with a visable 4ish pack and pretty impressive vascularity.
My workouts, nutrition, and supplementation remained relatively the same – full body workouts 3 days a week, minimal supplementation , flexible dieting, and intermittent fasting. The only big change I made during this time was the consistent extra sleep I was getting.
And it makes plenty of sense! Lack of proper rest and recovery on top of a heavy workout routine is a sure fire way to overtrain, especially as a drug free lifter. We often forget that it’s not 100% the workout that’s making us grow, but what goes on outside of the gym in the rest of our lives. So if you’re neglecting allowing your body to reset itself on a nightly basis you’re robbing yourself of the potential gains you could be making if you were more serious about getting your shut eye.
Beard thickness. Another big change I noticed during my sleep experiment was my beard thickness.
Now I’ve been able to grow a decent beard for years but with the extra sleep I was getting sent it’s growth into hyper drive. Even the few patchy spots that usually remain barren were seeing beard growth.
After a quick pubmed search of sleep and beard growth I found that the two are in fact related and I even have a study to back it up.
In 1987 a sleep experiment was conducted where 10 young men were deprived of sleep for a period of 48 hours. This resulted in a 19% decrease in beard growth. According to the study, this is likely due to the suppression of GH and DHT that comes along with sleep deprivation, which are both contributors to a nice thick Old Testament worthy beard. So in this case it’s probably not necessarily that more sleep equals a bigger fuller beard, but less sleep equals stunted beard growth. So if beard gains are as important to you as muscle gains, getting a good nights sleep will definitely help you out on your journey (source).
More vivid dreams. On a normal basis I’d simply forget what I dreamt about but during my sleep experiment my dreams were much more vivid and I have no problem recalling them even months after my experiment has been over.
During my experiment I visited the secret underground lair of the ninja turtles. I flew in Samus’ spaceship. One night I was even Batman. Pretty cool stuff.
This, I attribute to having the opportunity spend more time in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. The REM stage of sleep is best known as the stage where all of the cool vivid dreaming takes place. Lesser known however, is that the REM stage of sleep is also the point in your sleep cycle where the most growth hormone and testosterone are released! So the more time (or cycles) spent in the REM sleep, the better your chances of having high testosterone and growth hormone will be (source).
How long did my sleep experiment last?
I followed my hyperbolic sleep chamber plan for about 6 weeks. And much like Dragon Ball’s hyperbolic time chamber – sleeping this much will make you feel like you’ve lost about of a year of your life. So while it does yield great results, it’s also a struggle because well.. being in bed so much can get pretty damn boring.
But with that being said I still make getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night a priority. Anything less than that and I’ll be robbing my body of all that precious boost in testosterone, growth hormone, and DHT I could be reaping the benefits of otherwise. And if it’s I get the chance to have the day off from work I’ll definitely be taking advantage of a few extra hours of muscle recovering, beard growing, hormone boosting sleep… I just don’t think 9-10 hours every single night is necessary for me.
A few tips to optimize sleep
Whether you’re the strength athlete sleeping 8+ hours a night or the guy starting up a side hustle going through a period of less sleep, here are some tips that may help you make the best of the amount of sleep available to you. Get ready there’s a lot here!
Keep your room dark and cool, and maybe even sleep naked. Let’s think back to our ancestors in the Garden here. They slept in the nude, outside under the moon and the stars, with a nice cool breeze, and not a bit of artificial light in sight. It’s in our design. Mimicking this as closely as possible makes for a deeper, more natural night’s sleep.
Shut off all electronics at least an hour before bed. Your tv, computer, and phone all give off blue light which actually keeps you awake when your body and brain are ready to wind down. Think back to the Garden again with this one too. If you must play on your phone or work on the computer before bed time at least turn them onto “night shift” mode or pick up a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Read. Reading is a great way to relax and wind down, obviously just don’t do it on your phone unless you have blue light blocking glasses or your phone on “night shift.” (see above)
Write. You’ll be a more productive writer in the mornings in most cases, but some bedtime writing can also be a great way to relax. I actually wrote my entire “Biblical Heroes #2” article one night laying in bed and barely had to do any edits to it. This can also be helpful because sometimes you’ll have some genius idea that pops into your head, and disappears by the time you wake up.
Cut out any afternoon pre workout drinks or caffeine. Caffeine and other stimulants wake you up and make you alert and focused, which is the exact opposite of what you need at bed time. If I am going to drink a cup of afternoon coffee I make sure to have it finished before 3.
Eat a couple kiwi. This one is pretty interesting. Recent studies have even shown that eating a couple kiwi before bed will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. On top of that kiwi are also full of vitamin c, antioxidants, and can even boost serotonin levels (source).
Try a tbsp of raw honey. A tbsp of raw honey will also help you relax and sleep deeper throughout the night (source).
Exercise early in the day. Sometimes a good workout will actually wake you up rather than wear you out, so an intense workout right before bedtime won’t do you any good.
Try your best to stick to a good sleep schedule. Cycles of oversleeping and not sleeping enough throw off your routine and make it hard to get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis. Win your morning by hopping out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off.
Alcohol is not a sleep aid. Alcohol may help you relax and will make you asleep faster, but it will also disrupt your much needed testosterone and GH boosting REM sleep. So though you might get a solid 8-10 hours of sleep after a night of drinking, this sleep won’t be helping out the gains at all (source).
Ditch the sleeping pills. These will create a dependency so if worse comes to worse, stick to natural supplements to help you fall asleep.
Relax. It’s hard to fall asleep if you’re anxious so write down everything you’re stressed or worried about so it’s been vented rather than stuck in your mind keeping you up into all hours of the night.
Only use room darkening blinds if completely necessary. They may provide you with a great night’s sleep but they make it hard as hell to get out of bed in the morning!
Go to bed with a full belly. A lot of people used to believe that eating carbs after 7 would make you gain fat, but that has long since been debunked. Eating too much of anything and living a sedentary lifestyle does. If you go to bed hungry your sleep is going to suck end of story. Good things to eat before bed include:
- Kiwi (see above)
- Oatmeal (keeps you full)
- Cottage cheese (slow burning casein protein to keep you full throughout the night).
Halo top or Haagen daaz ice cream and cheese quesadillas are also a couple of my go to’s for a good bedtime snack.
Wear sunglasses the half hour leading to bed time. I actually learned this trick from an old Acrobolix video (click here to watch). Supposedly the shades will trick your body into releasing melatonin, making it easier to fall into deep sleep. Haven’t tried this personally but worth a shot!
Break out the old box fan. These noisy old things not only circulate the air in your room but create white noise to drown out distracting noises that’ll keep you awake.
Listen to this. Good luck 😉
Though you probably won’t be following all of these rules every night of the week, making a few changes to your night would be beneficial. And after all of this if you’re still having trouble falling asleep or you’re waking up in the middle of the night don’t fret! Worrying about things will only make them worse.
Naps are another option to supplement an already good sleep schedule and get some additional rest. Just remember to limit them to 15-20 minute power naps. Any longer than that and you’ll enter REM sleep and wind up feeling groggy and unmotivated! A quick power nap on the other hand will have you feeling refreshed and awake enough to get out there and own the rest of the day 💪🏻
Acceptable times to allow sleep to suffer
Now even after all of this I understand this is real life and everyone’s situation is different.
In a perfect world we would get deep quality sleep every night. But this is reality. To be fair I’ll cover some appropriate times to stay up late even when you have to be up at an early hour.
I do understand that there will be periods in your life where your sleep will suffer and there’s nothing you can do about it…
…and that’s perfectly ok.
Things like a new baby in the house, starting up your own business, studying hard to learn something new, amongst plenty of other things in life can take time and energy and sleep will have to be sacrificed. I know in my situation there’s times where the the only alone time I get with my wife is late at night and that’s always important. Just keep in mind that carrying on like this forever will burn you out sooner or later. If you want to perform at 100% in and out of the gym sleep and recovery are a necessity.
Train like an animal, eat to perform at your best, and make getting enough sleep a priority! Your body will thank you.