You Need Sleep
I really don’t need to tell you that. You know from experience. When you don’t sleep well you feel bad and you’re a jerk. At least I am. But there are other reasons why sleep is a priority, and they become more important as we get older. Here are a few reasons why I prioritize a good night’s sleep:
- Weight gain / loss. One recent study showed that sleeping less than 5 hours a night (or more than 9 hours, you lazy bum) increases the likelihood of gaining weight. Middle-aged guys don’t need any help putting on extra weight.
- Sleep and testosterone levels. As we age (guys) our testosterone levels naturally drop. This leads to all kind of changes in our “masculine” makeup that frankly, I’m not ready to make yet. I’m on a quest to keep my testosterone level as high as naturally possible. Several studies have shown that the more you sleep, the higher your testosterone levels are.
- Sleep and insulin levels. My family has a history of Type-2 diabetes. My dad has been fighting this beast for 20 years. I don’t want to go through what he has. Believe it or not, sleep deprivation leads to decreased insulin sensitivity. If my long term goal is to avoid diabetes, then I need my insulin sensitivity to be as high as possible.
- Sleep aids in recovery. As an athlete, I need even more sleep than the average office jockey to recover from the physical stress I put on my body during gym sessions and rugby training. My body does a lot of repair work when I’m sleeping.
Set Yourself Up To Win
Just like any goal or sport, “winning” at sleep takes planning and practice. It begins long before “bed time” rolls around. Through trial and error, I have a series of practices I follow that help me relax, so that by the time my head hits the pillow, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.
This schedule assumes a couple of things: first, I want to hit the pillow at 11 pm. Second, I want to get up, refreshed and ready for the day, around 6 am. That’s only 7 hours sleep (not really enough), but if I aim for 11 and get there earlier – which I often do – then I feel like I’ve been successful.
My “Sleep” Schedule
2 pm – No more caffeinated beverages. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to caffeine. For most folks the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours. Remember “half-life” is the time it takes for half of the caffeine to exit your system. If I quit drinking at 2 pm, I still have half of the caffeine coursing through my system at 8 pm that night.
8 pm – I start cutting back on my fluids. We all know how it goes, right guys? You have to pee more frequently when you get old. I don’t want to wake up at 3 am to pee. My history is that I used to wake up frequently between 3 and 4 am, and once up, could never get back to sleep.
9:30 pm – Devices are off. I quit looking at my phone. I’m definitely not on the computer by 9:30, and I prefer to be finished watching whatever Netflix episode I’m on by then. I even have an alert set in my phone that goes off at 9:30 to remind me to shut everything down. This is really important. The light spectrum that your phone gives off interrupts your melatonin production, which is what makes you sleepy. Our bodies are naturally made to go to sleep when it’s dark, and wake up when it’s light. If you’re constantly staring at a lighted screen, your body never gets the proper signaling that it’s time for bed.
10 pm – I know this sounds odd, based on my 8pm schedule, but I do get one more drink before heading to bed. I’m a protein junky, and research has shown that a guy my age should take in around 40g of protein before bed to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (for more on my protein philosophy, check out this post). Right before heading to bed I make a protein smoothie with a cup of protein powder and a half-cup of plain yogurt (whey+casein protein for a longer boost of MPS) mixed with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water. I also use this time to take any supplements I might be using, like fish oil, Vitamin D3, and melatonin.
10:30 pm – I’m in bed with a piece of fiction. No non-fiction before bed! I forgot where I got this tip, but it’s super useful. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, self-help, business books before bed. But then my mind would start racing about how I could put principles into action in my life/business and I couldn’t get to sleep. Fiction slows my mind down and within 30 minutes, I usually can’t keep my eyes open.
That’s my schedule. Here are a couple of other random tips:
- Keep it cool. I have to run a fan in the summer, along with A/C, and a cover sheet.
- Keep it dark. Hide your phone, hide any little red glowing lights, and if possible, get blackout curtains. We got some about 2 years ago, and it’s made a huge difference in my sleep quality.
- If you need it, try a melatonin supplement. Also about 2 years ago I went on a quest for a supplement that would help me get to sleep and melatonin was the answer. However, I would get to sleep quickly, but I would still wake up between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally found some time-released melatonin (I use this brand) and even if I do wake up, I quickly go back to sleep.
- Another supplement that helps with sleep is magnesium. I tried this for a while, but, frankly, it gave me diarrhea. The original dosage was Magnesium Oxide 500mg and it blew me up in the morning. I cut it down to 250mg hoping it would help, but no. You may have a different experience.
- Cut down on alcohol. Research shows that although alcohol may help you get to sleep, it interrupts your REM cycle, which is where all the heavy lifting occurs. If I’m keeping to my goal of no liquids after 8pm, that certainly applies to booze. But even by 8 I can over do it, so I consciously try to limit my alcohol.
Sleep is something we often take for granted. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” we tell ourselves. But sleeping can keep you from being dead. I want to be strong. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to be a jerk because I’m tired. I want some sleep! Hopefully, these tips will help you get a better night’s sleep. Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know what works for you in the comments, below.