It is a well-known fact that the benefits of exercise are numerous. Yes, after an intense exercise session, you may expect that the sheer fatigue would mean that you sleep better than the average person. However, this is not always the case.
In fact, if you train regularly - that refers to more than three times weekly, you may be surprised to learn that sleep may be more difficult to come by than the average person. There are many reasons for this, some that we have a direct hand in, and yet others that are seemingly out of our control.
In addition to this, besides chronic insomnia itself, is the overall quality of sleep achieved. This means that you probably sleep a total of eight hours or so nightly, but your sleep is frequently interrupted. This ends up causing low-quality sleep, even though you may perceive that you are having enough.
Studies have even indicated that as much as 30% of elite athletes have difficulty sleeping, owing to the possible use of stimulants or more designed to improve performance.
Difficulty with sleeping also seems to increase correspondingly to your age, as well as how hectic your daily life is.
Many factors have a direct role to play in the development of sleep disturbances. The most common ones include:
We get it - your high-intensity workload in the office may not leave much time for you to work out besides late at night. And as the saying goes, anytime you work out is better than no workout. But, this is also a double-edged sword.
For one, many catecholamines are typically elevated during exercise, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals increase heart rate and overall feelings of alertness. The hormone cortisol, better known as a stress hormone, is also elevated to potentiate the body's flight or fight response.
Coupled with this, the use of stimulating pre-workout supplements late at night is a bona fide recipe to make it hard to sleep when you do decide to hit the hay.
An Irregular Sleep Pattern
The human body thrives on patterns. This is no different when it comes to sleep. Constantly sleeping at different hours wreaks havoc on your body's circadian rhythm, and the sleep inducing neurochemical melatonin.
The circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the body's sleep-wake cycle, is rhythmic and adapts quickly to a new development pattern. This pattern may not be ideal, such as in the case of sleeping late at night and struggling to wake up for work in the morning.
Many things can cause a disruption of sleeping patterns, but by far the most frequent offender has to be the use of electronic devices at night.
While the use of electronic devices for several hours daily is considered a lifestyle habit, other habits such as eating large meals at night, smoking, or drinking alcohol all play roles in this. The use of highly caffeinated beverages several times daily also contributes to this, so to truly achieve highly restorative and regenerative sleep, a healthy lifestyle should be adhered to with necessary lifestyle changes made.
Though we briefly mentioned the elevated hormone cortisol during exercise as possibly interfering with your sleep, many of us walk around all day long with this hormone elevated. The purpose of this hormone is largely for survival - keeping us alert with associated physiological processes such as respiratory rate and heartbeat elevated.
This was good millennia ago when prehistoric man needed those sharp reflexes for survival - not the 21st century when missing the bus or the alarm clock activates this primordial instinct in us.
This is also why stress management techniques are exceedingly important to cope with the world we live in since cortisol is just doing what it does best - trying to keep us on top of things, but inadvertently causing sleep problems in the process.
Using Supplements To Overcome Insomnia And Improve Sleep
Not surprisingly, frustration from lack of sleep night after night would lead one to understandably visit a physician. While not entirely a bad thing, unfortunately, many times our primary health care physician tends to opt for the fastest solution - prescription sedatives.
These prescription medications do not directly alter the trajectory of our insomnia, but rather slap a Band-Aid on it and send us back out to do the things that caused it in the first place.
A superior option for better sleep? Using natural supplements and herbs, ones that will not leave an adverse footprint on our mental health, and actually help to reset out of whack body processes. Excited to find out which ones hold promise?
We've got you covered! We've waded through the swamp of pseudo-supplements and listed below the best of the best. Are you ready? Then let's check them out.
Also known as jujube, this fruit has garnered much interest in the past few years as it has been found to be loaded with vitamins minerals, and healthy fatty acids, as well as possessing stress relieving and sleep promoting properties.
The way it works to promote healthy sleep is by increasing levels of neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, which help to soothe and relax the mind and body. It is also exceptionally good at promoting the deep phase of restorative sleep for healing the body(1). Newer studies have even found that it can reduce the inflammatory load borne by the body and boost immune health.
When it comes to natural supplements to improve sleep, melatonin has to be one of the most frequently used ones. Melatonin is not an actual sedative or known to induce any sort of drowsiness. The way how it works is to help improve the body's sleep-wake cycles, especially if lower hormone and neurotransmitter levels are due to an underlying illness of some sort.
Melatonin is secreted naturally from the pineal gland in the dark, with levels rising gradually as the sun sets. This is also another reason why it is important to sleep in the dark, as synthetic room lights can act as powerful bio time disruptors.
Melatonin used in this manner can help you fall asleep faster and improve overall sleep quality(2), including the deep restorative phase of sleep known as REM sleep. Best of all, it does not cause residual drowsiness in the morning as its naturally degraded by light.
Passionflower has been in use long before it was first documented, first by the natives of the Americas for ritualistic and healing properties. It contains a range of bioactive compounds, most of its sleep promoting properties have to be due to the presence of alkaloids and flavonoids.
It is very useful for relaxing the mind and is classified as a neuroprotector, and interestingly - possibly having a protective effect against the development of depression and other mental health disorders.
Passionflower increases GABA expression from the brain, even being as effective as a prescription medication available today for combating generalized anxiety.
When used for sleep, it is often combined with other natural sleep promoting herbs or supplements but its effectiveness is only synergized.
It can increase sleep quality and total time spent to sleep, decreasing agitation in the process.
Magnesium is actually one of the most critical nutrients for overall health, even though over 75% of adults do not get enough of it and are actually classified as deficient. Magnesium acts as an essential cofactor to several metabolic processes and is also involved in the synthesis of hormones and enzymes.
Importantly, it also helps to temper the effect of cortisol on the body. This is why magnesium is also known as a potent natural stress buster. When it comes to sleep, magnesium helps the body to synthesize sufficient levels of GABA, and neurotransmitter that fosters a positive mood and relaxation that lends itself to sleep.
Other benefits of supplementing with magnesium include regulation of the very same sleep-wake cycle we just discussed, management of anxiety, reduced symptoms of depression, and even assisting with the management of symptoms from restless leg syndrome.
There truly are too many other reasons to list why you should be supplementing with magnesium.
While L-theanine is often added to nootropic stacks for its ability to sustain focus and energy levels without the spikes and crashes associated with caffeine, taken by itself it is a very effective stress and anxiety buster that ultimately promotes restful sleep.
It increases levels of dopamine, serotonin and GABA in the brain, chemicals which play huge roles on regulation of mood, emotions and cognition. It also promotes clearance of chemicals associated with altered brain chemistry and increases the output of alpha waves by the brain.
Alpha waves are known to boost relaxation without drowsiness, making it effective for reducing anxiety but without the sedative action.
5-HTP is manufactured naturally by the body, as a metabolite of the amino acid L-tryptophan. In turn, this compound is involved in the synthesis of serotonin, one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in mood and sleep regulation. Not only this, serotonin is subsequently one of the precursors for melatonin production(3), demonstrating a strong link between this supplement and good sleep.
5-HTP is also good at helping to reduce symptoms of chronic pain such as that associated with fibromyalgia, or post workout pain and soreness (DOMS).
Chamomile is another useful anxiolytic and mildly sedative herb, often available in herbal sleep aid preparations. It contains a flavonoid by the name of apigenin which is capable of binding to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain and eliciting sleep and relaxation- the same mechanism by which some prescription medications work.
Valerian root has been used for centuries to treat symptoms of transient insomnia, especially when anxiety is an underlying factor. It works by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter GABA that promotes calm and helps initiate sleep.
Valerian can help bring more rapid sleep onset, help with insomnia of a secondary nature- such as that caused by menopause, and most interestingly can improve subjective feelings of unrefreshing sleep. Far too many sleep for an amount of time that looks good on paper, only to feel miserable all day long regardless of this fact.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals in the body, being involved in a multitude of metabolic and enzymatic processes. Zinc along with magnesium are two of the most important minerals for promoting sleep, often found combined in a supplement known as ZMA.
Zinc is very effective in management of primary insomnia, helping to reduce the number of wake ups per night, and also lengthening restorative deep sleep. It may even help to avoid the use of antidepressant therapy, especially thanks to its ability to help with recovery of mental health faculties after developing PTSD or other stress disorders.
Zinc also plays a primary role in DNA synthesis and repair, and is known to be one of the primary immune boosting nutrients. When combined with melatonin, you have an excellent one-two punch for enhancing speed of getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Ashwagandha belongs to a group of compounds known as adaptogens- with ginseng also being categorized as such. Adaptogens improve the body's ability to tolerate stress (or adapt, if you will) and mitigate its effects.
In this regard, Ashwagandha is exceptional at facilitating sleep, reducing anxiety and improving a subjective sense of well-being. However, it is not fast acting. You will need to consume it for several weeks for the effects to truly manifest.
Sleep is the missing factor holding many people back from achieving the body they deserve, especially since they may be giving 110% in the gym and to diet but seeing little to no returns. If you deal with difficulty sleeping, try an effective and safe stack containing more than one established sleep promoting ingredients, such as DreamZZZ to get you back on track ASAP.
(1)Baek Y, Kim H, Mun S, Lee S. Three-Component Herbal Tea Alleviates Prolonged Fatigue and Improves Sleep Quality: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Explore (NY). 2018;14(6):420-423. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2018.05.001
(2)Costello RB, Lentino CV, Boyd CC, et al. The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutr J. 2014;13:106. Published 2014 Nov 7. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-106
(3)Morrow JD, Vikraman S, Imeri L, Opp MR. Effects of serotonergic activation by 5-hydroxytryptophan on sleep and body temperature of C57BL/6J and interleukin-6-deficient mice are dose and time related. Sleep. 2008;31(1):21-33. doi:10.1093/sleep/31.1.21