If food is top of our priority list, sleep has to come second. Our exclusive extract from Blueprint will help you get your best sleep yet!
Sleep is (and always will be) absolutely crucial to our survival. ‘THIS IS WHY WE SLEEP’ pioneer Allen Rechtschaffen noted that, “If sleep does not serve an absolute vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.” This is because it would have made no sense for our paleolithic ancestors to spend 6 – 8 hours per day sleeping and unconscious making them vulnerable to predators, unable to hunt, eat, and survive… unless it was an essential biological function.
What is that function?
Modern researchers don’t know exactly and have said, “Sleep has been one of the mysteries of biology” with many theories proposed. But what we do know (based on hundreds of studies on the pathophysiological consequences of sleep deprivation) is without it we become ill, psychotic, and could even die. This is no exaggeration either, in 1894, Russian scientist Marie de Manaceine started experimenting on puppies to test the effects of sleep deprivation. After 4 – 5 days (96 to 120 hours) she reported irreparable lesions in the brain before they all died. The same (unfortunate) result was found in 1989 with older, larger dogs too as Italian scientists Lamberto Daddi and Giulio Tarozzi kept them awake for 9 – 17 days before they died.
Obviously (and thankfully) for ethical reasons professional researchers have never pushed the deprivation process beyond this point with human subjects. However, there are horror stories from years ago where sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture. Tracing its origins back to the 15th century, an Italian lawyer and doctor by the name of Hippolytus de Marsiliis was the first person to document sleep deprivation as a means of torture.
Discovering it’s particularly effective because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health, it was later adopted and adapted by “witch hunters” in Europe and North America who called this form of torture “tortura insomniae” and used it to integrate thousands of innocent women for alleged sorcery.
American historian Andrew Dickson wrote, “In this way, temporary delusion became chronic insanity, mild cases became violent, torture and death ensued.”
Basically, your own brain will begin to betray you. Of course, not as extreme but the same happens in extreme sports too, take the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) for example. Considered one of the most difficult foot races in the world, it’s approximately 171km long (106 miles) with a total elevation gain of around 10,040 meters (32,940 ft.) and crosses the Alps through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
While the best runners complete the loop in slightly more than 20 hours, most runners take 32 to 46 hours to reach the finish and will have to run through two nights in order to complete the race. As a result, hallucinations (perceptual distortions) are common and can take many forms.
All things considered, scientists believe, “Sleep is an important component of homeostasis, vital for our survival and sleep disorders are associated with significant behavioral and health consequences.” This is because as we blissfully drift into a slumber your:
• Muscles, tendons and ligaments repair and regrow
• Neurotransmitters — the chemical signals in the brain — are replenished to keep us motivated, focused, and functioning
• Rejuvenating hormones like human growth hormone begin to naturally peak
• This previous point is particularly important since human growth hormone is a peptide hormone that stimulates cell reproduction, cell regeneration, growth and recovery. Which is why for all the energy bars and recovery shakes in the world, if you suspect you’re overtraining and under recovered, one of the best things you can do is head to bed
We’ve known this as far back as 1968 when research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigationstated,
“Sleep results in a major peak of growth hormone secretion.”
It’s basic biological “house maintenance” and athletes can’t function without it. This is based on research conducted at Stanford University who analyzed the impact sleeping 10 hours a night had on player’s performance after 5 to 7 weeks. Previously the players had only been sleeping 6 to 9 hours and what the sleep scientists found was their performance dramatically improved. Not just a little either, “Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%,” and, “Subjects also reported improved overall ratings of physical and mental well-being during practices and games.” What they concluded was, “Improvements in specific measures of basketball performance after sleep extension indicate that optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance.”
So where does this nocturnal magic come from?
According to research published in Frontiers of Systems Neuroscience, it’s closely related to our previously mentioned neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that work to transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse within the body. Pretty much every function within the body is controlled (or impacted) by neurotransmitters, from emotional states to mental performance and our perception of fatigue and pain. They’re the brain’s little chemical messengers and if they’re not working correctly due to lack of sleep you can’t expect to run, swim, cycle or compete to the best of your ability.
In summary, never underestimate your need for sleep. If you do (based on hundreds of studies in sleep deprivation) you will be physically tired, mentally exhausted, not recovering optimally and the decisions you make will be flawed and impaired
So how do we get better at sleep during your recovery macrocycle?
Put simply, you must learn to schedule it according to the natural laws that govern human biology.
6 Steps to Better Sleep
1. MORNING SUN SETS YOUR ‘BODY CLOCK’
Studies show that morning sunlight reinforces your natural circadian rhythm. This is because by exposing your eyes to this bright (natural) light early in the morning, you signal to your brain that bedtime is over, it’s time to suppress melatonin production and get up and attack the day. It also does this by increasing cortisol production since cortisol and melatonin operate indirectly to each other as research reveals,
“These hormones can be considered to be stable markers of the circadian time structure and therefore useful tools to validate rhythms’ synchronization of human subjects.” Therefore, understand the best thing you can do to start (and therefore end) your day is to set your “biological clock” by going for a morning run, swim, or cycle and exposing your eyes to bright, natural sunlight like mother nature intended for your hypothalamus.
2. LEARN TO ‘DIGITAL DETOX’
Closely related to your morning (sunrise) rituals should be a conscious effort to manage and monitor the amount of light you’re pumping into your eyes from smartphones, computers, and other electronic devices in the evening. This is because studies show, “Modern light exposure patterns contribute to late sleep schedules and may disrupt sleep and circadian clocks” since the blue light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.
For all these reasons try imposing a daily “digital detox” on your evenings by abstaining from smartphones and computers and basically getting too up close to anything with a screen from 7 pm onwards as you prep the brain (and therefore body) for bed.
3. CUT OUT CAFFEINE
Caffeine is a stimulant so it’s no surprise it can badly impact our sleep if too much is consumed at the wrong time of day.  This is why research reveals there is a strong association between daily intake of caffeine and reduced sleep quality and quantitysince caffeine consumption by day causes a reduction in 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (the main metabolite of melatonin) which interferes with our natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Worth noting, is the effects of caffeine on sleep vary from person to person since research reveals individuals respond differently based on a variety of factors, including age, sensitivity levels, regular coffee and caffeine intake, time of consumption, and genetic variability. But with this said, studies show even if taken 6 hours before bedtime, a moderate dose of caffeine (100mg which is about one home-brewed 8 oz. cup of coffee) can have disruptive effects on sleep. Which is why I would advise to err on the side of caution and avoid coffee, tea and/or energy drinks for at least 6 hours before getting tucked up into bed.
4. TRAIN TO SLEEP
In 2007 a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience wrote, “The present results are in agreement with findings from other authors and suggest that depletion of cerebral energy stores and accumulation of the sleep-promoting substance adenosine after high-intensity exercise may play a key role in homeostatic sleep regulation.” Or (put more simply) exercise can help you sleep by making you feel tired. This is because it’s believed exercise can lead to a build-up of adenosine which (as we discussed before) helps monitor fatigue within the body as it inhibits neural activity, causes drowsiness, and essentially tells our body to rest, recover, and rebuild our energy reserves.
Also, studies show it doesn’t have to be a savage, super-human session to induce sleep either. Research from The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity showed, “Moderate intensity exercise programs, with a frequency of three times per week and a duration of 12 weeks showed the highest number of significant improvements in different sleep outcomes.”Whilst other studies show the type of exercise doesn’t matter since everything from strength training to yoga was shown to have sleep-enhancing benefits.
5. FIND 65 DEGREES Fahrenheit (18.3°C)
A study published in the Journal of physiological anthropology found that, “The thermal environment (temperature of the room) is one of the most important factors that can affect human sleep.” This has been supported by numerous studies over the year, but a large-scale analysis of 765,000 survey respondents and found that most people experience abnormal sleeping patterns during the hotter summer months when it may be more difficult to keep sleeping quarters at an optimal temperature. So, what is the optimal temperature? Sleep scientists believe it’s between 60 and 67°F (15.6 and 19.4°C). This is because your body’s internal temperature changes during a 24-hour period due to your circadian rhythm. It begins to cool down when you go to bed and continues to drop until reaching its low point near daybreak (roughly 5 am). But if the room temperature is too hot or cold, it may affect the drop in your body’s internal temperature and cause you to have disrupted sleep as your circadian rhythm malfunctions.
This doesn’t mean you have to take a thermometer to bed every night, but instead, just be conscious of how hot or cold the room is and perhaps try setting your home’s thermostat to drop during your sleeping hours or open windows or turn on the air conditioning or heat if the temperature rises or falls outside of the ideal sleeping range.
6. SUPPLEMENT YOUR SLEEP
As we’ve discussed melatonin is crucial to a good night’s sleep, which is why ever since scientists discovered it in 1958 there has been increasing scientific attention to the relationship of melatonin to diet. Cherries are one food known to be naturally high in melatonin which is why a study published in the European Journal of Nutritionlooked at whether drinking tart cherry juice would improve melatonin levels and sleep. Among the tart cherry-juice drinkers, melatonin levels and serotonin levels rose significantly which in turn improved the quality and quantity of their sleep. What was even more interesting for me in my Recovery Mesocycle (in my fit yet fatigued state) was research published in the European Journal of Neurology found, “Melatonin supplementation may be an effective treatment for patients with chronic fatigue.”
Finally, it’s important to mention that supplementing with melatonin is by no means a single solution or a ‘silver bullet’ sleep remedy. But studies show that once (and only once) you’re properly scheduling sleep, snoozing at 65°F (18.3°C), working in harmony with your circadian rhythm, exercising and cutting out caffeine (6 hours before bed) then supplementing your sleep with melatonin could be the proverbial cherry on top of your nighttime routine.
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He’s not just a champion of getting enough shuteye, he can also whip up some epic macro-friendly recipes to suit every taste, ROSS EDGLEY’S GRILLED CHICKEN, POMEGRANATE & ALMOND SALAD is one for your next cook-off