SLEEP - How do we optimise it?

SLEEP - How do we optimise it?

Sleep. We all do it, but there is such a broad spectrum of sleeping variables with a large degree of individual variations that affect peoples sleep it gets quite confusing at times.

Nevertheless, because sleep really is such an important part of our lives, and one of the prominent areas of focus, we should delve into how to optimise our sleep.

To kick things off, we will begin by looking into the part of our sleep that governs everything: Hormones

What are the main hormones involved with sleep?

There are 2 main hormones at play when we look at the science behind sleep - Melatonin and Serotonin.

Melatonin = the hormone released in the brain that helps us get to sleep, and stay asleep. It is released in a cold and dark environment, hence why trying to sleep in day time and when a room is particularly warm, can prove difficult.

Serotonin = the hormone released in the brain that helps us feel awake, happy and relaxed. It is released in the day time, particularly with sunlight exposure.

Why should you place high priority on optimal sleep?

According to recent studies, 54% of the UK population don't get enough effective sleep to stay awake during the day without the help from caffeine.

25% of people who took this survey, said that poor sleep is the root cause that prevents them from completing work they had planned, and reducing the quality of their work as a whole.

In regards to our training, numerous studies show that optimal sleep leads to increased fat loss in a calorie deficit (as opposed to the loss of muscle mass etc). Optimal sleep leads to improved muscular growth, recovery and retention.

Lack of quality sleep will contribute towards a lack of energy throughout the day, decreasing the likelihood of you being able to reach certain levels of performance within your training sessions.

As we know, optimal performance in the gym leads to optimal results in our search for results. Whether that be body composition, strength based or performance based.

What are the stages of sleep that we go through?

There are 4 stages of sleep that we go through every night - light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep & awake.

Awake = Essentially, this is stage 0 of the sleep cycle. It is the time spent in bed before falling asleep, and after awakening from sleep. It also includes the time spent briefly waking up during the middle of the night. The time that it takes for you to fall asleep is called latency. Ideally, falling asleep shouldn't take more than 15-20 minutes. If you have trouble falling asleep, try getting out of bed and completing a relaxing activity, in low light conditions, until you feel sleepy again. On the other hand, falling asleep in less than 5 minutes, could be a sign that you're not getting enough sleep for your needs.

Light Sleep = This is the first stage of the sleep cycle. During light sleep; your heart and breathing rates are slower than when you are awake, your muscles relax and may jerk, your body temperature drops, waking up is easier. Your body is still sensitive to noise, temperature, touch and movement during this stage. Yes, you do dream during light sleep, but you're not as creative or as imaginative as REM sleep. Ideally, we would wake up during light sleep, this is going to leave us feeling the most energised and ready to tackle the day ahead.

Deep Sleep = This is the sleep stage where the anabolic magic happens, when your muscles grow and repair. This is where your blood pressure drops, heart and breathing rates are regular, arm and leg muscles are relaxed and you're very difficult to awaken. Regular sleep schedule, regular exercise, avoiding heavy meals or stimulants close to bed time, avoiding long naps and caffeine all can help improve your chances of more deep sleep.

REM Sleep = 'Rapid eye movement' sleep is the stage which plays an important role in re-energizing your mind and your body. This sleep stage is associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, learning and creativity. REM sleep is regulated by circadian rhythm (i.e. your body clock). REM sleep will be increased by a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine or other stimulants late at night.

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Please note; percentages shown have been known to differ with age, good sleep quality likely will reduce as age increases in adults.


Fat loss, probably the most popular area of fitness goals.

We have to understand, that fat loss, particularly aggressive levels of fat loss, with intense calorie restriction, can have an impact on our sleep quality.

When we are in this state of fat loss; cortisol (stress) is likely to be higher, the more fat we strip off, coupled with low levels of dopamine (mood), this will likely affect the production of serotonin.

How much sleep is enough?

Typically, 7 to 9 hours sleep is the benchmark for an effective sleep duration.

Studies find that more active people should be achieving closer to the higher end of this sleep duration range.

How to achieve optimal sleep?

> Avoiding caffeine within 6 hours of going to bed.

> Have a consistent sleep/wake schedule (circadian rhythm).

> Avoid the presence of blue light (typically from the use of electronic devices such as phones, tablets, TV etc.) 30 minutes before bed. Exposure to blue light before bed, will limit the production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep, as previously discussed.

> Wearing blue light blocking glasses for the 2-3 hours in the lead up to bed time, this, as mentioned in the name, will block, or limit your exposure to blue light, increasing the release of melatonin.

> Switch off from work a minimum of 2-3 hours before bed, avoid stress and activities which require intense concentration. Fictional reading and meditation are useful tools.

> As mentioned previous, increased exposure to sunlight in the day time, increases the production of serotonin.

> Black out curtains, or black out blinds, will limit the amount of light in your bedroom, again, increasing the release of melatonin.

> Switching off your heating earlier in the evening, or leaving your window(s) open in the hours leading up to bed time. Again, melatonin is present in cold & dark environments.

> Avoid large meals too close to bed time. To digest that large quantity of food, your heart rate will be elevated, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

> On the other hand, avoid going to bed hungry, this will increase stress, making it difficult to fall asleep. A light serving of carbohydrates with your last meal of the day will satisfy you, increasing the chances of falling asleep easier.

> Hot showers or hot baths before bed. This will up-regulate your temperature, as you come out, your body will bring itself back down to its normal temperature. As you get cooler, this will increase the release of melatonin.

So there you have it, a brief insight into sleep, how important it is and how you can optimise it for your own advantage.

By using the information above, it is certain that you can improve the big snooze and move closer to a happier, healthier life.

Bradley Abbott