You know snooze time is important, but are you taking the right actions to optimize your time in the land of Nod? Here’s a masterclass in shut eye.

There are three lifestyle factors which most people overlook: quality nutrition, hydration, and sleep. When I am asked about the intricate details of what foods to eat at a specific time of day to make incredible progress, I always ask about that person’s sleep and hydration habits. The answer is usually the same; both are given low-to-moderate attention on a daily basis. If you’re not sleeping optimally, the potential to make positive physiological changes such as fat loss, muscle growth, and performance improvement, is minimal at best. Understanding the power of sleep and having an action plan to improve your sleep habits will yield massive benefits in your life.

Why we need sleep

The circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour cycle, of which sleep plays a significant role. There are technically five phases of sleep, with the deepest form known as rapid eye movement (R.E.M) where your body is in a state of momentary paralysis, which allows the central nervous system (CNS) to recover at a faster rate. It’s also the time when cortisol levels reach their lowest point, and testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1 are all released at a higher level. Sleep is the cornerstone of CNS recovery, muscle regeneration, muscle growth, and, in turn, physical progress. While everyone will reach the R.E.M stage of sleep, most do not maintain it for long enough to reach maximum benefits. Ideally, you want to reach this four to five times throughout the night, for an hour each time.

Why can’t you sleep?

Some people will have deep-rooted issues, which cause their sleep cycle to be heavily disturbed. However, for most people, simple habits are killing their ability to sleep properly, hindering their recovery and potential to improve. Some of the most common barriers to sleep can be traced back to excessive caffeine, blue light exposure and electric field from devices in your house. Stress can also cause your mind to race. When trying to fall asleep, many people dwell on obstacles they’re currently facing. During this time of the day, your “chimp”, the irrational part of the brain, is more likely to speak to you, bringing up those “what if” situations that cause mental stress. The burning question is, how do we fix this?

How can you improve sleep?

Try putting some of these factors into practice in your day, or evening, and see how much better you feel after some solid nights of sleep.

Power cut

The issue of blue light can be easily eradicated by not using any electrical devices or screens within an hour before your bedtime. Additionally, electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) must be addressed because they create a positive charge in the environment, and can leave you less able to sleep. Don’t keep anything plugged in in your bedroom or ideally, the rooms in which you spend time before bed.

To help the mind unwind before bed and escape the obstacle of electronics, try having a bath in a dark candlelit room. During this time, you can even meditate to lower your cortisol levels and help remove any anxiety, which can negatively impact the quality of your sleep.

Drink less

Logically, you should taper your fluid intake down as the day progresses, so that by 7pm you’re not drinking much. Getting your water in before this window is critical as it will ensure you stay hydrated, but will experience fewer disturbances during the night for toilet breaks. Avoid caffeinated products for a few hours before bed. Going to bed hungry also increases the chances of waking up during the night, so eat something to satisfy this before bed. Usually a small amount of carbs, protein, and fat is a great idea at this point of the day. This doesn’t need to be a calorie-dense meal, just something nutritious that your body can digest easily.

Cave man

Black out your bedroom with curtains, which completely block out all light. Even the faintest source of light in the room can compromise sleep. Also, setting the temperature of the bedroom slightly cooler than normal is a great way to promote some shut eye. When the body is too hot, it struggles to sleep soundly. Personally, I like to have my bedroom temperature at 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, I use BLUblox blue-light-blocking glasses for several hours before bed to help to repel the disruptions these blue rays can cause which have a negative impact on sleep. These especially help after dusk when exposed to computer, phones, TVs and harsh artificial lights to reduce the exposure into the retina which can raise cortisol levels.

Tech specs

There are ways technology can help improve your sleep. Utilizing technology such as the Oura ring to quantify sleep is a great way to become more aware of what your body is truly achieving, and allows you to be more accountable at this time of the day. This tool presents me with tangible evidence that provides details around the quality of my sleep, heart rate variability and daytime activity. If your sleep is poor, seeing the facts laid out in front of you can inspire you to make changes.

Get comfy

As we spend approximately 33% of our life sleeping, it’s beneficial to invest in a high-quality mattress. If you cut corners to save $300 on a mattress, you could suffer the consequences further down the line with joint pain and poor sleep. Having a better night’s sleep is always a worthwhile investment for your long-term health, and progress.

Sleepy supplement

KSM-66 is a patented variety of ashwagandha, which is one of nature’s most potent adaptogens, recognized for its ability to sustain cortisol levels within the normal healthy range. Cortisol is a survival hormone designed to invigorate the brain in a time of need and has a strong correlation with stress. It’s not that you want to always avoid chronic cortisol levels, but you definitely do not want high cortisol in the evening before bed. While managing stress can help to avoid high levels of cortisol, supplementing with KSM-66 may also aid this.

EXPERT: Kris Gethin is a nutrition consultant, trainer and author of Man of Iron: A world-class bodybuilder’s journey to become an Ironman