Sleeping, it seems easy enough right? Well maybe for you. Studies show (2001 National Sleep Foundation) that 63% of us don't get the recommended eight hours of sleep needed for good health, recovery, and optimum performance. Why? Mostly because of poor time management skills and busy schedules. A big problem for many people is falling asleep. Not many things are more frustrating than being extremely exhausted all day long and then as soon as you finally get to lay down to go to sleep, you are more awake than a soldier in combat. Also, since our hours of sleep are limited we want to make the most of it. The following are some hints for helping you fall asleep at night and once you do, increasing the quality for better recovery and recuperative purposes.
1. Avoid Caffeine five hours before bed: The reasons for this are obvious. Caffeine, the single most popular drug in the world is a stimulant to the central nervous system and puts the body in an excited state while speeding up the metabolism as well as other body processes. Avoiding it before bed will give your body time to wind down and your muscles to relax, putting you in a better position to fall asleep and sleep with less restlessness. If you want to be wise about your sleeping patterns, save your coffee to jump-start your day rather than your nights.
2. Herbs and supplements: If better sleep can be achieved by merely swallowing a pill or drinking a beverage, you bet Americans are going to be the first one to use them. The following are some herbs and supplements that will help you fall asleep and improve the quality of your sleep. None of the following is intended to cure, treat, or prevent any medical conditions.
Kava Kava - Surprisingly Kava Kava is an herb that comes from the pepper family. It has been in use for over 3,000 years but has seemingly been increasing in popularity during recent years. It is used to create a feeling of relaxation and achieve a higher level of consciousness both throughout the day and before bed. Taking it any time of the day is no problem since it doesn't make you tired. It solely relaxes you, enabling you to fall asleep and reducing all forms of anxiety throughout the day. This is a great thing because stress plays a huge roll on your quality of sleep whether you realize it or not. If you suffer from anxiety, that is just one of the many benefits of this herb. Studies show that Kava Kava influences the part of the brain responsible for your feelings and emotions, the limbic system. Increased socialization, increased memory, increased focus ability and an overall feeling of contentment are some more of the plethora of benefits this herb has to offer you.
Chamomile - Chamomile is an herb, usually taken in a tea form. It is a member of the daisy family and has been used, primarily in Europe, since the 1600's and even predates that going as far back as the Egyptians use in Ancient Egypt. Its sedative effects are great for nights where sleeping seems nearly impossible. Its benefits are endless but mostly do not pertain to bodybuilding and recuperation efforts so they will be listed and not discussed here. They are as follows: dispelling worms, bruises, inflammations, digestive tract tumors, colic, back pain and stomach cramps. The tea itself is relatively cheap and extremely easy to prepare. If you are a tea drinker, than this herbal tea is a great option for you! If not, try it out anyway and you may surprise yourself. Its calming affects are almost instant and you will not be disappointed.
Valerian - Valerian is another great herb used to soothe insomnia. It is a very cost-effective supplement (it can be purchased in pill form) or tea with no groggy side effects. Like most herbs, Valerian is nothing new. It has been around for over 1,000 years and it possesses the ability to enhance sleep, decrease stress and anxiety levels, promote feelings of calmness, and relax the central nervous system. Look in your local supermarket for a Valerian tea or your local vitamin store for the pill form.
Melatonin - Melatonin is produced and released from the pineal gland naturally by the brain. It is responsible for your body' natural day and night cycle. Interestingly, the body can sense when it is night-time through light sensors in your eyes and your brain produces the highest levels at this time. Although you can find small amounts of Melatonin in certain foods, its effectiveness is much better put to use when taken in pill form. It is commonly used to help treat jet-lag because of its day and night cyclical affecting properties. Research shows that those who lack Melatonin are more prone to stress and anxiety.
ZMA - This revolutionary supplement is extremely underused by athletes and most beginning bodybuilders. Although relatively expensive for low-budget teenagers, ZMA will give you perhaps the biggest bang for it's buck of all supplements because of it's vast benefits in many areas. It is made of Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate plus Magnesium Aspartate and vitamin B-6, hence its name ZMA. Athletes (bodybuilders) can especially benefit from ZMA because Zinc and Magnesium are more often than not deficient in their bodies. Most people taking ZMA report that they fall asleep easier, sleep more deeply, and wake up more refreshed. As if that isn't enough, increased (up to 30% or more) testosterone production, better strength gains, and increased IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) levels are other benefits boasted by this supplement. The best part is that there is tons of scientific data and research that support this time and time again! ZMA is an extreme must for any bodybuilder regardless of size or experience level!
3. Take a hot bath: Taking a hot bath or shower 90 minutes before bed will increase the body's internal temperature, relaxing any tense muscles and reducing physical and mental stress on the body. The progressive internal temperature drop once you are finished will most likely help make you sleepy and ready to go to sleep easier than ever!
4. Exercise: Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day will actually help you sleep better at night. There is only one small stipulation to this tried and true eventual sleep inhibitor; resist exercising a few hours before bed. Exercising puts your body's central nervous system in an uproar, which can take hours to calm down. The last thing you want when trying to fall asleep is a nervous nervous system.
5. Bedtime: Setting yourself a bedtime and sticking to it will put your body in an effective sleeping cycle that will be as predictable as the sunrise and sunset. Catching up on weekends just doesn't work and leaves your body in a deficit all week long. Making a specific bed time, even if it is general (between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.), will inform your body, after some period of consistency, that it is time to go to bed and you will naturally feel more sleepy during that period of time every night.
6. Bore yourself: Slowly bringing down your excitement level is a great way to relax. You can do this by doing something that isn't very exciting (other than watching TV because remember that the bright light will help in the prevention of the production of Melatonin, in turn telling your brain to stay awake). Try spending your time before bed listening to slow music or anything else that may help bore you to sleep.
7. Control your breathing: This is one of the best and most underused method of helping you to fall asleep. Controlling your breathing can help you fall asleep almost instantly as it relaxes your entire body and helps to focus your mind on only one thing. What exactly does controlling your breathing mean? It means to slow your breathing down to a rate that your body uses when sleeping. This does two things. First it tricks your body into thinking it is sleeping and second it slows your heart rate and helps your muscles to relax. A good way to do this is to breath in for four slow seconds and then exhale for a slow eight seconds or until your CO2 reserve is spent. Any time your mind wanders from anything but your breathing bring it immediately back without getting discouraged. This small but effective technique can also help to strengthen your mind-muscle connection so use it to your heart's content.
8. No alcohol or nicotine a few hours before bed: Alcohol and nicotine have the ability to sabotage not only your bodybuilding efforts but your sleeping efforts as well. Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate and puts the body in somewhat of an excited state. Alcohol is a completely different case. It can help you to fall asleep, however, the quality of sleep you get is poor. It is extremely wise to avoid these two drugs before bed if you want to increase your recovery time and help yourself get the most out of the time you spend doing just about nothing (other than sleeping).
The main reason for bodybuilders to get quality sleep is because Growth Hormone rises during deep sleep, usually beginning 30 minutes after falling asleep and then repeating in cycles throughout the night. It has also been shown that those who don't get enough sleep generally don't live as long. Remember that a good nights sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.