Article Sleep: The Missing Component - Part II


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4 Jul 2011
Sleep: The Missing Component - Part II
By Greg D. Hovey
First published at, Mar 12 2004.

In Part I, I outlined the basics of sleep optimization. This week, I'll walk you through the remainder, giving you some handy tips (including nutrition and supplementation suggestions) along the way.

Four Elements of Quality Sleep

1. Uninterrupted Sleep
Ask any new parent if their sleep is uninterrupted and you might get a punch in the face for asking such a dumb question. But hopefully as a serious and responsible athlete, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Nevertheless, the occasional interruption is bound to occur. Waking up to go the bathroom, friends stopping by unexpectedly, and inconsiderate neighbors/roommates still can interrupt your sleep. So what can you do? With respect to hydration, if getting up in the middle of the night to pee is interrupting your sleep, consider cutting back on your fluid intake three hours prior to going to bed. As for the others, let your friends know of your sleeping arrangements and refer back to the paragraph on noise level.

2. Refreshing Sleep
For years the Soviet sport scientists measured an individual’s recovery capabilities based on their quality of sleep. If the individual in question woke up feeling groggy or sluggish, they obviously had not recovered, and therefore needed more sleep. On the other hand, if that individual woke up feeling energetic, they were judged to have had recovered, and were deemed ready for the next training session. So, how do you feel when you wake up? Groggy? Energetic? Could it be you might need more sleep?

3. Deep Sleep
To have quality sleep, you must reach Sleep Stages 3 and 4 (please refer back to Stage of Sleep).

4. Length of Sleep
While some people swear that four hours of sleep is enough for them, sleep experts unaminously dismiss such a claim as dead wrong. Most suggest a minimum of 7.5-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. But what about athletes? nternationally renowned physical preparation coach Ian King suggests athletes get a minimum of 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, plus a nap here and there if it doesn’t disturb their nightly sleep patterns.

Tips for Improving Sleep Quality—Your Part

1. Make Sleep a Priority
Yeah, that might mean not staying out all night, giving up the endless hours of Dukes of Hazzard reruns and reorganizing your schedule a bit. You may have to make some tough choices. But when considering the removal of a particular late night event, ask yourself, “Is this furthering my goals? Is it helping me improve my health, performance and body composition?”

2. Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
This means going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, including weekends. Yes, I know this sounds like an end to your social life, but it doesn’t have to be. Just pick a time to go to bed and wake up, allowing for 8-10 hours of sleep, and work in your social events around this time frame. As JB says, “Think AND solutions, not OR solutions.” What does this mean? It means you can have both restful sleep AND a social life, if you’re willing to plan ahead.

Why strive for a regular sleep schedule? Regularity is an essential component in setting and stabilizing our internal biological clocks. In addition, researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that even if your sleep schedule shifts just a few hours, your mood, energy level, and outlook can rapidly deteriorate.

Think about this situation, one we have all encountered: You struggled through the week sleeping, on average, maybe five hours a night. Now the weekend has rolled around and you’re going to catch up on the sleep you missed during the week by sleeping in. Sounds good, right? Well, it’s now Sunday night, and earlier today you slept in till about 12:45pm, and now you’re up watching the television-edited version of Conan the Barbarian until 1:30am. And guess what, you drag ass all Monday morning, and the rest of the week you find yourself playing catch-up on your sleep. Sound familiar? Well, this can be avoided by keeping a regular sleep schedule.

3. Develop Your Bedtime Ritual
Next to keeping a regular sleep schedule, having a bedtime ritual is the most important step to ensuring a good night’s sleep. So what should your ritual consist of? That’s for you to decide, but whatever you choose, do it with consistency. Your ritual might include, for example, stretching, deep breathing, yoga, reading (nothing too dramatic), taking a hot bath or listening to relaxing music. Again, find what works best for you and stick with it.

4. Keep a Sleep Log
Okay, I know this sounds like a hassle coupled with a burden, but it can be a real eye-opener (it certainly was for me). Whether you are having problems sleeping or you assume you are getting adequate sleep, a sleep log can be provide valuable insight into to your sleep patterns and behaviors. Now, I know you’re asking, “What does a sleep log look like?” While you can find quite detailed sleep logs in the backs of most books on sleep, however, my suggestion is to keep it simple. For example, simply write down the following: when you went to bed; when you got up; how refreshed you felt; and finally, list the number and duration of any naps taken. Try it for a week and I think you will be amazed at what you find out.

Bedtime Meals

Now, as athletes or coaches, whether your goal is to increase your physical health, improve your performance or enhance your body composition, I am going to assume that you are eating 5-8 small, nutrient dense meals. Therefore, when we close our eyes for an 8 to 10 hour slumber, we are about to encounter our longest fast of the day. As a result, it is imperative that we ingest something that will provide us with the nutrients that will sustain our anabolic environment throughout the night. So what should this bedtime meal consist of? A slow digesting protein blend or a mix of whey and casein will ensure we have an ample amino acid pool throughout the night. Toss in some health fats (natural peanut butter, fish, flax, olive oil) and 5-10 grams of fiber, and you have an ideal pre-bed meal. Here are some examples:

½ cup non-fat cottage​
1 scoop whey protein powder​
1 tablespoon flax oil​
2 teaspoons soluble fiber​

½ cup nonfat cottage cheese​
1 scoop whey protein​
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter​
7 fish oil capsules​

What to Avoid Before Bed

1. Alcohol
Consuming alcohol prior to heading to bed will actually impair your ability to enter Sleep Stages 3 and 4, which are the most crucial to ensuring quality sleep. Therefore, alcohol, while seemingly a sleep inducer, should be avoided.

2. Caffeine and similar stimulants
Many of you reading this article may drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages to give you that mid-afternoon boost. Since the caffeine in such products is a powerful enough stimulant to impair sleep quality, these items should be avoided 4-5 hours prior to going to bed.

3. Nicotine
Smoking…can you believe this is even still an issue? Forget about how it negatively affects sleep, in this day and age, it boggles me when I see people smoking. As we all know, cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a stimulant, and as with caffeine, should be avoided prior to heading off to bed.

4. Certain medications
Certain medications produce side effects that may disturb your sleep, so check your prescriptions with your doctor or pharmacist.

5. Exercise
While we all know the benefits of exercise, researchers have shown exercising too close to your bedtime will inhibit your ability to fall asleep. It is suggested not to exercise 4-5 prior to going to bed.

Supplements for Sleep

The following is a list of supplements that could potential aid in the sleep process.

Name & Recommended Dosages:
  • Melatonin, 0.5-3 mg
  • Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), 40-100mg
  • Valerian Root, 600mg
  • ZMA, see the manufactures’ suggested dosage
  • Multi-vitamin/mineral tablet, see the manufactures’ suggested dosage
  • Magnesium, 200-400mg
Final Guidelines for Obtaining a Better Night’s Sleep

You should, of course, follow all the tips given above. But here are some general tips you should keep in mind.

Reduce Stress
Stress is obviously a major factor in sleep quality. You can’t expect quality sleep if you’ve fired up, nervous, anxious, or worried about what tomorrow will bring. While eliminating stress entirely is impossible, you should strive to quiet your mind in the pre-bedtime period in order to get the best sleep possible. So take some time to relax and unwind before thinking about going to bed (this is where the bedtime ritual should come in handy).

Get Regular Exercise
Since most of the readers of this article are well aware of the importance of exercise, this one should already be checked off. But if you’re still a holdout, you should know that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and it has been shown to actually improve one’s sleep quality. Just another reason to exercise!

Keep Mentally Stimulated During the Day
This can be a tough one, especially if you sit behind a desk all day or if you’re currently taking classes where the professor reminds you of that guy from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As challenging as it sounds, try to stay mentally focused and try to stay on task without post-lunch lulls.

Well, there you go. In Part I and Part II, I’ve given you all you need to get the quality sleep necessary for optimal health and body composition. Now, shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?
Greg D. Hovey is currently finishing his undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Business Management and working as a student assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Texas Tech Red Raider Men’s Basketball Program and Texas Tech Sports Nutrition Department. Greg is also certified as a strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can contact him directly at
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BJC HealthCare-Sleep Guidelines

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King, Ian, J. Get Buffed II
King Sports Publishing, 2002.

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Sleep Guidelines

Sleep Hygiene: Basic Guidelines
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