Recovery is the most important factor as far as training goes, you can still lose fat with poor rest and recovery however when it comes to building muscle if you don’t get adequate rest and recovery then your progress will stall or be non-existent. Training is usually the part that most people enjoy and put their focus on however, to see maximum progress you should look at your priority as rest, diet and training last.
We live in a time when technological advancements are changing society, we have 24/7 shops, access to multiple screens at all times in terms of phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs and as a result, it’s becoming popular for people to stay up late into the night and forgo any sort of sleeping habits.
Sleep is, however, an essential component of the human body and we are biologically wired to follow a circadian rhythm of sleep, this means when it’s bright we get up and when it gets dark we go to sleep, melatonin is released from the brain when it gets dark to relax you and put you in a state of being tired and ready to sleep. With all this technology, however, we have access to harsh blue light from screens at times when our body should be winding down and preparing for sleep.
If you have broken, short or non-existent sleep then your progress in the gym with being seriously affected. Making some minor lifestyle changes can see your sleep improve and this, in turn, will improve mood, testosterone production, muscle recovery, and overall training performance.
Create An Ideal Sleeping Environment
The first thing you need to get right to improve your sleep is the environment in which you sleep, ie your bedroom. There are a few key basics that you need to ensure are in place to have a good night sleep and these are complete darkness, ideal room temperature, and silence (the only exception to silence is some background white noise such as a fan).
Darkness is essential for sleep because as mentioned earlier we produce melatonin once it becomes dark and this leads to muscles relaxing, body temperature dropping and starting to feel tired/drowsy. Light, be it natural or artificial interrupts this regulation of the hormone and leads to feelings of alertness which disrupt sleeping patterns. If you analyse your bedroom you’ll probably find numerous light sources that you’d never considered before, phone chargers, electronic items on standby and curtains or blinds that aren’t blackout and therefore let streetlights shine into the room are all standard culprits for unwanted nighttime light. Eliminating as many of these light-emitting sources as possible is essential for a good night's sleep.
Melatonin acts to bring your core body temperature down and an ideal sleeping room temperature is between 15 - 20 degrees celsius. Being too hot or too cold when trying to fall asleep often causes irritation and difficulty in falling asleep, this is most noticeable when it is too hot as it’s far more difficult to cool down when you're hot then it is to warm up when cold. One tactic you can employ which will also help muscle recovery is to have a hot shower around 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed, this will bring blood to the surface and promote muscle tissue repair and also will help you cool down ready for bed. The reason for this is that when you let off hot air this will disperse into the surrounding area helping to come down to natural body temperature quickly.
The final factor to take into consideration is noise, if you live in the countryside then chances are you won’t have much noise pollution so this wouldn’t be an issue but if you live close to a city centre then the noise is ever-present. If this is the case and you already have measures in place like double glazing on windows then your two options are some noise cancelling earbuds or a source of white noise like a fan. The reason white noise works so well is because it blocks out and sudden changes in noise from the environment, we have developed in caves to be alert to noise when sleeping because of the chance of a wild animal coming across us during sleep, therefore having white noise will restrict the chance of this waking us now that we are sleeping safely in houses.
Having a bedtime routine is something that is dying away with modern technology, it’s become very easy to forego sleep in order to watch a few more episodes of a murder documentary on Netflix of browse through social media on your phone whilst in bed. The issue with this is that we need a solid 7 - 9 hours of sleep every night not just for a cognitive reason but also to recover from training. You can’t restrict sleep during the week to then catch up at weekends and therefore it’s essential to get into a good sleeping routine like many of us had when we were younger and actually given a bedtime.
You should minimise stimulation and electronics a few hours before you are ready to go to bed in order for your body to release melatonin ready for sleep, if you are watching something engaging and surrounded by light then you are not going to be primed for sleep when you do get into bed. Try to set a time for sleep every night and wake up at a similar time each morning, this will give your body the circadian rhythm that it needs to perform all the necessary functions during sleep.
Whilst I wouldn’t recommend any specific supplement to help sleep, one does stand out as improving the quality of sleep as well as a number of other benefits and that is ZMA. ZMA is a zinc and magnesium formulation to be taken before sleep, studies show that the majority of people (especially those involved in rigorous exercise) are deficient in both zinc and magnesium which are essential for testosterone production.
Using ZMA will help restore these deficiencies and should help you see a noticeable improvement in strength and endurance after a few weeks due to the boost in testosterone production. The added benefit is that ZMA also helps with deep and refreshing night sleep, at the moment this is very much based on anecdotal evidence and the opinion of those that have taken it pre-bed, however many swear by the deep sleep they get as a result of taking this supplement.
If you follow all the tips above and place a strong focus on sleep and recovery then you should see your progress in the gym start to pick up far more quickly than if you keep testing the latest and greatest training routines instead of covering the biological basics first. Get your sleeping routine right and the rest will follow.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a Health and Fitness writer producing content for the supplement industry for the last 5 years with a focus placed on improving body composition. He is a certified Nutritionist through Precision Nutrition (PNL1) and a Level 3 Fitness Instructor.