Jeff Nichols is a Navy SEAL veteran and exercise physiologist, and I recently consulted with him on the topic of sleep and recovery and how to achieve restorative sleep.
As Nichols puts it, the goal is quality hours of sleep that place the body into a rapid eye movement (REM) pattern as many times as possible. This process introduces the hormone response that enables the body to recover from a stressful day and the physical stress of job and training that many tactical athletes endure.
Though there is a list of sleep assistance items and habits to follow, do not try to do all of them at once. The goal is to see what works for you, so keep it simple. Select one or two at a time and implement them for a week or so. Then try to add another.
Eventually, you will find the perfect formula that works for you. This process also will allow you to evaluate the new changes to your life effectively.
Treat sleep as the most important part of your day. You will sleep 30% of your life. You should be good at it, because if you are not, you could be subtracting years from your life due to your inability to metabolize stress properly. It is helpful to prepare for sleep as if you were preparing for any other part of your day. Consider the following rituals.
4-6 Hours Prior to Sleep
Lay off caffeine several hours before sleep. You should make this the first step to sleeping better. For some people, having caffeine up to six hours before bed can affect sleep by more than an hour.
Start cooling the room temperature a few hours before sleep. Try a setting between 65-69 degrees Fahrenheit. This will allow your body temperature to drop (approximately 0.7 degree Celsius), which is necessary for essential hormone release -- such as testosterone, HGHr, dopamine and serotonin, to name a few. This hormone dump is correlated directly to entering REM and is a clear sign of quality restorative sleep.
Food before bed. The goal is slow-digesting protein (casein) sources low in sugar. Foods like the following are good snacks before bedtime:
Plain whole milk Greek yogurt (vanilla-flavored casein protein powder will add taste to plain yogurt, plus extra slow-digesting protein)
Nakee butter peanut butter - https://nakeebutter.com. This product has MCT oil in it, which is ideal for brain function and brain health. There's nothing artificial in this product, and it comes ready to travel in single-serving packets.
Find a snack that works for you and your digestive system. The amino acids in these protein-rich foods are also helpful with metabolizing stress.
Some Extra Items to Consider Getting and Doing
Bedding. Consider new sheets and pillowcases. Polyester, silk, satin or any other sheer-type bedding is not recommended. Bamboo is a good choice. Here is a brand worth checking out: https://www.cariloha.com. Hemp sheets are a good second option, and pure cotton is fine, too.
Bamboo is softer than cotton; because of the weave, it is more breathable and will not trap extra heat under the sheets with you.
Air filter. Get a high-quality air filter for your bedroom, especially if you have pets. Air quality is essential for quality of sleep. even though it's often overlooked. Most any air filter will do. It does not have to be super expensive, just one that focuses on pets and dust stirred up from normal living. Consider this one.
Blue light-blocking glasses. If you spend time in front of the screen before bed or in the evening in general (on your phone, computer or tablet), these glasses are mandatory. Just wear them around your house an hour before bed and do what you normally do. This will begin to regulate your brain and help you quiet your mind and prepare for sleep.
Supplements. People often take melatonin as a supplement, though it's best to help your body make it naturally. The most effective and simple way is to place yourself in direct sunlight for 10-15 minutes before 9:30 a.m. This sets the circadian rhythm essential for natural melatonin release each evening.
This is very useful when you travel time zones. It also will align your appetite. The goal is to sleep naturally and not rely on supplements or sleep aids. However, Gaba-250 (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a natural, safe, non-habit forming neurotransmitter. Too much excitation can lead to irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness and spasmodic movements. This excitation needs to be balanced with inhibition. GABA is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.
Sleepwear. The act of getting into pajamas is a trigger for the brain to start preparing for sleep. Do this an hour before sleeping. Bedtime clothing recommendations are the same as for sheets -- bamboo, hemp or cotton. A cotton-poly blend isn't bad, either, especially since many of them are very soft and comfortable.
The ChiliPad. Mattress temperature is equally important as air temperature in the room. Consider getting a mattress cover that cools. Try the ChiliPad at 69 degrees. Keep in mind that as morning approaches, you may need to turn it up to 71 degrees. This is because, as you go into REM sleep, your body temp will drop and you may get a chill. This is normal.
Binaural music. Specifically, "delta wave binaural tones" is the soothing music of choice. Simply put, it involves sound tones that places the brain in a state to receive sleep. Your brain will produce an electrical wave in a delta pattern when in REM sleep.
Showering before bedtime. The combination of heat radiation and the mammalian response, or diving reflex, will help ready you for sleep. Take a warm shower and make sure you stand under the shower head for a minute or two as it pours over your face and head -- breathe and relax.
Keep the bathroom dim during the shower. Do not brighten the bathroom or bedroom after the shower. Once you have dried off, get into bed and do not cover your feet or hands. The heat leaving your body will simulate a body temperature drop similar to entering REM. As you feel yourself getting sleepy, cover up and get comfortable.
Your bedtime habits can elicit a response that helps you relax, but you have to start associating relaxing events or times in your life with that time right before sleep. For instance, smell something before sleep that reminds you of something nice, like a baby's hug or your bedroom as a kid -- something relaxing to you. A picture of your child or puppy sleeping also will work. But smell is very powerful to help with this response.
For more information about Nichols' programming, check out www.performancefirstus.com.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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