Incinerating Insomnia

"I was proud of working 18 hours a day and sleeping 3 hours as night. It's something now that has turned into a problem for me: not being able to sleep... having insomnia."

-P Diddy

I'm an insomniac. I've never had an official medical diagnosis for it, but I know I am. I always wake up at least once during the night and often struggle with falling back asleep.

The feeling sucks; you're wide-awake as the hours seem to pass by like minutes.

Sleep has been my nemesis since I was born. As a baby, I would refuse to fall asleep; my mom would have to drive me around town with relaxing music just to get me to take a nap. When I finally did conk out, I would wake up crying just as she pulled back in our driveway.

The war continued to rage on in my college years. I would go back to my room after a fun night with friends intending to go to sleep. Instead, I remained alert for at least an hour before finally passing out.

I wish I was more like my cat. She literally just sleeps all day! Despite not doing anything, she's the most adored part of the family. I know she's older now, but she bites randomly and throws a fit if we try to pick her up. But EVERYBODY loves Oreo.

Meanwhile I might cry like an addict coming off steroids if I end up running on an hour or 2 of sleep.

Not that I'm JEALOUS or anything.

...

Moving on:

1) Preserve Your Bedroom

Your bedroom should be for two things:

  1. Sleep
  2. Sex

If you're doing more activities than this, you're begging for bad sleep. Insomnia has numerous subconscious factors that influence its onset. Playing video games, watching TV, using a computer, or doing anything else in your bedroom besides sleep or sex will keep your mind wired at night.

2) Exercise Regularly

You should be exercising at least 3 times a week. I've always noticed that when I've gone a few days without lifting, I don't sleep as soundly or for as long. Back in the days when I didn't lift, I rarely got more than 6 hours a night; weightlifting regularly enabled me to relax and sleep 8-9 hours a night.

Now, if you're chronically sleep-deprived from something unavoidable like a newborn baby, I would cut your normal exercise volume in half and back off on the intensity. If you normally do 4-5 heavy or moderately heavy sets of bench press do 2 sets instead: one with moderate reps (8-11) and one with higher reps (12+)

3) Avoid Blue Light

For at least 2 hours before bed, cut out any blue light sources.

Video games are notorious for this. Halo and Call of Duty (I don't even know if people still play these game series, but they were the best when I was in high school) kept me wired for hours after shutting them down.

Television, movies, and computers are culprits as well.

4) Breathe Correctly

Into your diaphragm, not your chest. Breathing into your chest promotes anxiousness and will keep you wired. Breathing into your abdomen, on the other hand, sends relaxing signals to your parasympathetic nervous system.

I often use a 4-4-5 count (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds) to mute my brain.

5) Get Up

If you've been in bed for an hour, just get up. Occupy your mind with something else. Read a book or listen to relaxing muscle. After 15 minutes, try to fall back asleep.

If you're going to use a computer, try wearing orange filtered sunglasses or use a program to block out the blue light on your computer.

6) Stick to a Schedule

The more of a routine you're in, the better you'll sleep. Your circadian rhythms, A.K.A. your biological clock, aid you in determining when it's bedtime and when it's waking time. If you're out until 3 AM on Saturday night, don't expect to fall asleep by 10 PM on Sunday.

If you're working full time and prefer morning workouts, I would recommend making Mondays and Fridays your rest days for your workout schedule. This way, you can have flexibility in your exercise and wake up when you want. If nothing else, at least make Monday your rest day so you don't have to worry as much about your sleep schedule on the weekends.

7) Don't Stress

During junior year of college, I went on a study abroad trip to China for spring break. From the get-go, my sleep fell to shambles. Unable to sleep on the plane, I got no more than a 2 hours a night during the first few days there. By the 3rd day, I was a mess; my emotions were out of control to the point where I broke down in tears.

Now, was I sleep deprived? Sure, but the bigger culprit was the stress. I was obsessed over my stress that I was unable to relax. Had I known the tips on this list back then, I would have slept a bit better and had an even better abroad experience.

Don't let the bad nights of sleep get to you. Remind yourself that you are a warrior and warriors are meant to endure all challenges. One bad night of sleep won't do anything to your progress; I've broken PRs on as little as 3 hours of sleep (which, in hindsight, I don't recommend given how dangerous heavy lifting on low sleep is).

8) Avoid Sleeping Pills

Society today is so obsessed with seeing medication as the answer to EVERYTHING!

The problem with these magic bullets is that they lead to all sorts of health problems and addictions. Before resorting to pills, please give this list of tips a dedicated approach for at least 2 weeks.

The only "sleeping pill" I sometimes take is a form of antihistamine at night; I am prone to allergies in the spring and summer, so it helps with that. Plus, it does help encourage better sleep for me.

9) Check Your Diet

Sometimes, sleep problems are linked to certain diet changes or problems. For example, if you don't even take a multivitamin, taking one with sufficient levels of minerals such as zinc and magnesium could be the key.

On the other hand, approaches such as intermittent fasting can be poorly received by some people. I tried I.F. for a few weeks and it definitely kept me alert during the day; unfortunately, I remained too alert and unable to sleep well on the nights I fasted. You might be able to avoid this by having a big dinner, however.

Speaking of diets, caloric deficits can REALLY screw up your goals if you're not sleeping well. If you're following a healthy diet and exercise, chances are that lack of sleep will lead to weight LOSS for you, not weight GAIN. Don't starve yourself or your metabolic processes will start shutting down from the lack of sleep.

Finally, make sure you're getting enough carbs. Screw Paleo, Ketogenic and all that other low-carb crap out there; if you already are prone to sleep problems, you should NOT be following theses types of diets. Furthermore, make sure you get plenty of carbs at dinner.

10) Midnight Snack

In severe cases of insomnia, you can end up lying awake in bed for 2 or more hours.

Often enough, your stomach will start growling at you. Listen to your body! Leaving yourself starving will just keep you awake and prevent you from falling asleep.

Get out of bed and have a 100-300 calorie snack. Wait 15-30 minutes before trying to snooze again.

Wrap Up

There you have it; 10 ways to sleep better.

In terms of how much sleep you should be getting, it ranges from 7-9 hours depending on your genetics and sleep quality.

Ignore celebrities like Bill Clinton or Martha Stewart who claim to last on 4-5 hours a day; this will just age you faster and kill your hormone levels.

Everyone is busy these days, but even the busiest bodybuilders find time to get 8+ hours of sleep each night.