Sleep is for the STRONG

Blog Content:

  1. Introduction

  2. Does the amount of sleep you get depend on your goal(s)?

  3. Sleep Science

  4. Sleep Hygiene

  5. Podcasts 

  6. Final Message


Before we dive deep into the topic of sleep and the benefits of recovery, I want to preface this with a quick statement: sleep is one factor in my training that I am actively working on and prioritizing. I am known for not sleeping a whole lot and having very early mornings (as seen on my 2am Instagram posts). This has been a bad habit I have had since college– waking up too early and sleeping an average of five to six hours a night. However, this isn’t so bad compared to most people with other high level responsibilities, especially business owners, college students, and parents. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the average person gets less than seven hours of sleep every night. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? But this is not great. We- as a society- have normalized not prioritizing sleep. We encourage people to have the “go hard” mentality, which drives people to the point of exhaustion. How many times have we heard sayings that praise those who don’t recover? I’ll name a few:

  • “Sleep is for the weak!” 

  • “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” -Warren Zevon, Singer/Songwriter

  • “Sleep?! Sleep is for those who are broke.” -50 Cent, Rapper

  • “You got to be willing to sacrifice sleep, if you sleep you may miss the opportunity to be successful.” -Eric Thomas, Motivational Speaker

Many of us live fast paced lives, so in order to maximize time in our days we put sleep at the bottom of our long to-do lists. But, is this the right thing to do? Should we be minimizing our sleep and maximizing our awake time? 

Does the amount of sleep you get depend on your goal(s)?

In the case of achieving greatness in any area, there are going to be extremes involved which are typically not sustainable to the general population. I am a firm believer that if you truly want something, you have to dedicate yourself completely to it. Although there may be some disagreements on this perspective, I believe peak greatness is typically not achieved through balance, but that shouldn’t mean you have to throw out quality sleep hours from your schedule. Whatever your goal is, big or small, sleep is not something that should be sacrificed. 

Let’s look at two examples: Tia Claire-Toomey and Elon Musk. Tia Claire-Toomey is not a multiple-time CrossFit champion from living a normal life with normal fitness training protocols, and Elon Musk is not the top entrepreneur from working typical eight-hour days. BUT, there is a significant difference between them– Toomey is working for the sport of fitness and performance, Elon Musk is dedicated to his business and technological advances. Toomey needs sleep for functionality and performance. Musk needs sleep for cognitive function and productivity. Even the greats are getting sleep. 

“I tried sleeping less, but then total productivity decreases”. -Elon Musk

If you want to live a healthy life, achieve health and wellness at any level (elite, general fitness, etc), then you need your sleep. This means quality sleep, and more than just six hours of it. 

Sleep Science

Like a true science nerd, I will be going into the science of sleep. The more science, the better. There are a ton of great sleep studies and experts in the field. They all highlight how lack of sleep is linked to obesity, depression, and hormonal changes, to name a few. Typically people rely on medication and supplements to cure and/or treat health issues but instead of taking a reactionary approach to one’s health, it’s best to take preventative measures…and often, sleep is one of the culprits that needs to be paid attention to. 

The process of sleep is intricate, and research in this field is ongoing. What we do know is that it is vital for the brain in order to produce the hormones and chemicals needed for the body to function properly and reach optimal health. When we sleep, we go through two stages: non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Non-REM sleep is when repair and recovery occurs, such as building muscle. In REM sleep is known to be the “deep sleep” where dreams occur. This is when body temperature lowers, blood pressure and pulse become erratic, and muscles turn off but the brain remains on. This is essential for brain function, memories, and learning. 

Sleep is regulated through two drivers: sleep-wake homeostasis and the circadian alerting system. Sleep-wake homeostasis is pretty much common sense; the longer you’re awake, the more tired you are. Circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour biological clock and is heavily influenced by light exposure, which is why we naturally sleep at night.

We have chemicals in our bodies that affect sleep and take part in sleep regulation:

  • Adenosine: this chemical’s concentration increases as we remain awake, and as levels build up in our body, we feel more tired. 

  • Caffeine: this one we’re all familiar with. Caffeine suppresses adenosine, which is why we feel awake when we consume it. 

  • Melatonin: this hormone is naturally produced with decreasing light exposure; helps promote sleep.

  • Neurotransmitters (GABA, acetylcholine, orexin, serotonin): these send messages to our body to keep us awake or increase our tiredness. 

In turn, hormones are affected by the amount of sleep we get. Here are a few hormones that are regulated through sleep:

  • Decreases with decreasing sleep:

    • Growth Hormone: less GH leads to less opportunity to repair and build muscle

    • Leptin: one of the hunger hormones; this one is responsible for satiety, therefore less leptin means you will not feel “full” and will remain hungry. 

  • Increases with decreasing sleep:

    • Insulin: more insulin leads to more fat storage. 

    • Cortisol: increasing cortisol leads to more muscle deterioration and more storage of fat

    • Ghrelin: one of the hunger hormones; increasing levels leads to more hunger and cravings.

Sleep Hygiene 

Sleep hygiene is having a routine that allows one to get enough sleep, consistently. Think of it like a nightly ritual. Sleep hygiene is imperative, but it is also difficult for some people based on their lives. For example, my sleep hygiene can be spot on because I live alone with my spouse and have no kids, but sleep hygiene is difficult for a single parent or parents of newborns, or those who are on call for work 24/7. That being said, here is a list of things you can do to help improve your nighttime routine:

  1. Keep a dark, quiet, cool room.

  2. Avoid stimulants (caffeine and alcohol) as much as possible. Caffeine lingers on in the body hours after consumption, so try to get it in early in the day. 

  3. This one is difficult, since we all love to scroll through Instagram and Facebook before bed, but keep your phones and electronics away from you at least an hour before bed. 

  4. De-stress through meditation or another calming activity.

  5. Create a sleep schedule that is consistent…same bedtime and wake up time regularly.

  6. Make sure the sleep you’re getting is quality sleep! 

Podcasts Episodes about Sleep

  1. On my way to work last year, I stumbled across a Podcast called “The Fitness Movement”. It is hosted by Ben Wise, CrossFit Competitor and  Owner of Zoar Fitness, an online functional fitness programming platform. Since discovering the podcast, I’ve been listening to it on repeat and love all of the informational content he has. In one episode, he speaks about recovery, which includes sleep; I highly recommend checking it out! Evaluating Readiness to Train: Sleep, Nutrition, Fatigue & Pain

  2. Barbell Shrugged is one of my favorite fitness podcasts and they have had some great sleep experts on their shows. One of the best ones being episode # 241: The Importance Of Sleep For Performance w/ Doc Kirk Parsley

  3. Dr. Allison Brager is a Captain in the Army, a competitive CrossFit athlete, a sleep specialist, and all-around amazing human. She has appeared in many podcasts to speak on her knowledge of sleep. One of these podcasts is Episode 61 of Brute Strength- 10x your recovery with the science of perfect sleep w/ Dr. Allison Brager

  4. One more podcast! This one is a great one for general health and wellness: Why Sleep is the Most Important Pillar of Health with Professor Matthew Walker

Final Message: Prioritize your sleep, and aim for at least eight hours of quality sleep per night. 

2 thoughts on “Sleep is for the STRONG”

  1. Great information!!! Curious how naps fit in to recovery and sustainability? Is it a daily count or uninterrupted period to strive for?

    1. Daytime naps are good (and beneficial) if they’re 20-30 minutes, anything longer than that will ruin the rhythm the body has (if you have good sleep hygiene established already). Naps after 2pm will ruin circadian rhythm so you want to avoid anything after that time…so for most people, it’s best to just avoid it all together to avoid complicating everything. -Day