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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 01 2013

How to Get Fitter, Faster and Stronger with Quality Sleep

By Mark Sisson
124 Comments

TiredesvilleAh, sleep. We all know how much we need it, mostly because when we don’t get enough, the world takes on a different, more negative hue. Lights seem brighter and sounds more vivid, and not in a good way. Perpetual fogginess clouds our thoughts, slurs our words, and prevents us from focusing on anything but the coffee pot timer. And then there’s the sleep deprivation research corroborating our experiences and explaining in lurid detail just how vital sleep is for our health. I’ve done my part in bringing this information to you, focusing for the most part on the metabolic health benefits of getting sufficient quality time with everyone’s sweet slumbery mistress. I’ve linked to articles discussing the links between poor sleep and ill liver health, disrupted metabolic function, and cancer. If you’re a regular reader of MDA, you’re probably aware of all this. Bad sleep can make you fat, sick, and prone to serious degenerative diseases.

That’s not the focus of today’s post, though. Today is for the people who miss out on sleep to catch an early morning workout, who stay up late reading fitness blogs and trading fitness memes on Reddit, who tell themselves that all that yawning they do in between squat sets is just weakness leaving the body. Did you know that sleep deprivation also hampers our athletic performance? That bad sleep makes us slower, weaker, and less coordinated? That sleep deprivation reduces the effectiveness of our workouts, and sometimes even reverses their beneficial effects? That it can hamper our ability to build lean mass?

Let’s look at some of the research.

Sleep and Muscle Mass

Lean mass accrual is a common motivation among fitness enthusiasts. Muscle looks good, makes us stronger, tends to accompany other benefits like increased bone density and fat loss, and helps keep us alive longer. There are a few lines of evidence suggesting that sleep loss increases the loss of lean mass and makes it harder to build it in response to exercise.

  • One older study found that total sleep deprivation increases urinary excretion of nitrogen, which could be indicative of muscle breakdown and loss of lean mass.
  • Sleep-deprived rats experienced muscular atrophy, an effect that appeared to be mediated by decreases in testosterone and increases in corticosterone (the “rat cortisol”).
  • more recent one found that insufficient sleep curtailed the efforts of obese human subjects to lose body weight and retain lean mass. Compared to the control group, the bad sleep group saw their lean body mass losses increase by 60% and their fat mass losses decrease by 55%. Markers of fat oxidation were reduced as well, suggesting that lean mass was being broken down into amino acids for energy.

Simply put, lack of sleep is a potent stressor, which means it increases the catabolic glucocorticoid family of hormones like cortisol and decreases the anabolic triad of testosterone, IGF-1, and growth hormone, effectively accentuating the “degradation pathways” while reducing the “protein synthesis pathways.” Few of us are experiencing the total sleep deprivation of 24-36 hours used in some of these studies, but 5-6 hour nights – chronic low-level sleep deprivation, the kind that’s endemic nowadays – do add up and exert many of the same effects, as shown in the study on obese humans limited to 5.5 hours a night.

Sleep and Performance

The effect of sleep deprivation on physical performance can’t be neatly summed up with a few tidy sentences. Sometimes it impairs performance and sometimes it has no effect at all. It really depends on what you’re measuring and what the subjects are actually doing. For endurance work, acute sleep deprivation doesn’t impair performance as much as you’d think, whereas for activities that demand greater motor control (like basketball or volleyball) or greater power output, acute sleep deprivation may have more negative effects. Let’s look at some of the studies that have been conducted.

Of course, that’s just talking about acute sleep deprivation, like going a night or two without sleep. That type of sleep deprivation is easy and inexpensive to study, because you only need the subjects for a day or two, but I’d argue that it isn’t very relevant to most people’s concerns. What I’m interested in are the effects of chronic sleep deprivation, like getting six hours of sleep every night for a year. Many, perhaps most, people are getting suboptimal sleep on a nightly basis. That’s tougher to study, because you need to track subjects for days, weeks, or (ideally) months and years (an expensive undertaking), but I think you can make some educated guesses:

Consider that during slow wave sleep, growth hormone is released to build muscle and repair tissue damage. If you’re not sleeping, or your sleep is disrupted, you’re going to limit slow wave sleep (which already begins to decrease in duration the older you get) and therefore limit your body’s ability to recover from and adapt to your training.

Consider the protein-wasting, lean mass-catabolizing characteristics of sleep deprivation described earlier. A big part of adapting to training and improving performance is the increase in lean mass that usually accompanies exercise. If you’re not sleeping, you’re limiting your ability to pack on lean mass and increase performance.

Consider the increased cortisol and decreased testosterone associated with bad sleep. A high cortisol:testosterone ratio is strongly linked to “declines in the maximal voluntary neuromuscular performance capacity.”

And finally, consider that getting more sleep than normal, or accruing sleep surplus, has repeatedly been shown to increase physical performance:

  • In a study, aiming for at least ten hours of bedtime each night over several weeks improved the Stanford men’s basketball team’s free throw and three point field goal percentages. 
  • In swimmers, six to seven weeks of ten hours of sleep a night decreased their 15-meter sprint time by half a second, increased their speed off the blocks, improved their turn time, and increased their kick stroke by five kicks.
  • In college football playerssix to seven weeks of ten hours of sleep a night decreased their shuttle run and 40-yard dash times.

What does this mean, in practical terms?

To get the most out of your workouts, and to be the best you can be, you need more sleep. Aim for ten hours, an unrealistic goal for most, but a worthy one nonetheless.

If you can avoid it, work out at a reasonable time that allows you enough sleep. Skipping sleep to exercise may be counterproductive, or at least less effective than working out at a time that allows sleep. If you absolutely need your daily morning WOD, go to bed early enough to make up for it.

Take naps when and where you can. Sleep adds up, no matter where it comes from.

As training intensity or volume increase, so too must sleep. There isn’t an easy formula or anything. Just sleep more.

Eliminate sleep impediments. Follow the usual best sleep practices we’ve talked about before.

That’s all well and good, but not everyone can get perfect sleep all the time. In the event of an unavoidable night of bad sleep, what can you do to ameliorate the negative effects on performance the next day?

  • Meditate. Meditation is an effective counterbalance to the negative cognitive effects of poor sleep, some of which include hampered reaction times.
  • Drink coffee. As always, caffeine is a dependable stalwart. It increases the “voluntarily chosen resistance training load” after a night of poor sleep, for one.
  • Take creatine. Creatine has also been shown to reduce the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep on performance about as well as caffeine.

We all know how much sleep matters, but we rarely think about its effect on our strength and fitness. Hopefully this post helps you realize the extent of its reach. If you want optimal results, you cannot compromise on sleep, nor can you train your way out of a deficit.

Thanks for reading, folks!

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124 thoughts on “How to Get Fitter, Faster and Stronger with Quality Sleep”

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  1. What do you do if you hate to sleep? Yes, sleep is necessary, but for me it has always (even as a small child) felt like a waste of time. At the same time, even if it has been good sleep, and I’m rested, it doesn’t make me want to get to bed “on time” the next night, but rather to keep going until I crash even later than usual because I feel good. It is hard to make myself go to bed if I’m still feeling alert; all I do if I go to bed when feeling alert is lie there and wish I wasn’t in bed. Any suggestions?

    1. Go for a 5 mile hike a few hours before bed? That always works for me.

    2. “It is hard to make myself go to bed if I’m still feeling alert; all I do if I go to bed when feeling alert is lie there and wish I wasn’t in bed.”

      Oh hey that sounds like me.

      My suggestion is to be on a weight training program, preferably of the heavy variety. I play rugby (in the past played soccer and hockey), lift weights, road bike, hike. Rugby does a good job. But in the off-season when there’s no rugby, I cannot sleep without lifting HEAVY 1-2 times a week. Only running, only biking, hiking etc isn’t enough for me unless it is excessively long ( >2 hours). I just lay there alert. It probably has something to do with the CNS. Heavy lifting is asking your CNS to focus all of its energy on a huge task.

    3. I have similar issues. Here are some things that can help:
      – don’t allow yourself to use electronics after a certain time (TV, computer, mobile devices etc. — the kettle is probably okay though!)
      – take supplemental magnesium in the evening (Natural Calm brand works well)
      – try to look forward to the ‘daydreaming’ that you do before falling asleep
      – take a cool bath

    4. There’s no good reason to force sleep on yourself when you aren’t inclined to it. The world would have major hell to pay with me if I made myself lay in bed for 7 to 8 hours every night.

    5. You just have to get yourself into a routine, which is much easier said then done. It took me 21 years and I still fall out of it from time to time. Turning the 80-20 rule into a 95-5 rule and heavy lifting definitely helped. What was most helpful was to start gradually toning down my activity level, and start turning off lights as it got closer and closer to bedtime. The reason that you feel so alert at night is that artificial light and a high level of activity are keeping you from producing the chemicals that make you tired.
      If you are anything like me you will be more alert and poductive thoughout the day than you ever were even though you felt so alert before at night.

    6. Walter, do you spend lots of time on the computer or looking into bright cell phone lighting at night.

      There’s lots of research showing that looking into backlit LED screens delays the onset of melatonin release, which prevents the natural onset of sleepiness that usually occurs in the evenings.

      As a kid I used to never be tired at bedtime, because I was playing video games through midnight.

      As an experiment you could try removing backlit LED devices for a week or two, after 8 pm, to see if that helps you pass out quicker.

      — Alex

    7. I’ve had great success with melatonin. I put 3mg (I’ve used 5 at times) under my tongue 30 minutes before I wish to be asleep. It’s worth a try. I get great quality sleep most nights.

      1. Thanks to all who have responded. Lots to consider. Now, time to get ready for bed…

    8. Going to bed when you’re not tired is the worst. I jokingly pretend to envy my 2-year-old nephew who cries because he has to take a nap, but I totally get where he’s coming from – I’d be exactly the same way if someone tried to put me to bed before the Star Trek Next Generation marathon was over…

      If you’re going to bed when you’re tired (without using stimulants to artificially move that point) and waking up when you’re not (without using an alarm clock or other external sleep disruptor), it doesn’t sound broke 🙂 (I’m trying to convince myself to wean myself off the alarm clock – this week’s experiment is to set it for the absolute latest I can get up without it affecting work & other responsibilities, and see what happens with that….)

    9. I know what you mean about ‘waste of time’. I frequently miss one full night plus several hours a week: as a shift worker when I’m on nights (12 hours) I don’t sleep before the first one, because I’m not tired, and I don’t sleep after the last as it’s a waste of my day off. Plus I don’t sleep as well during the day- despite black out blinds, eye mask, ear plugs etc- i seem to just have a strong circadian rhythm, and I average about 4 hours, as opposed to about 6 hours when I’m on days (up at 4am, you can only go to be so early!)

      I have almost the opposite problem to you, in that I usually have no trouble at all falling asleep, but i seem to only need a certain amount of sleep, and so will wake up when I’m done. If I try to stay in bed after that I either just lie there or, if I do fall back to sleep, I wake an hour later feeling like i have a hangover- headachy and sluggish.

      In winter I can sleep much more than in summer- which does seem very grok-ish to me, as I tend to wake with the birds and sun. I just figure my body knows what it wants, and some days (like the first night after a set of night shifts) I’ll sleep for maybe 10 hours, and then I’m all caught up.

      Maybe I should try to sleep after my last night- even if just a couple of hours- rather than going the full 32 or so hours without.

  2. My alarm clock has two alarms. I keep one set for 5:30 AM (and yes the coffee pot’s alarm is set for that same time!), and the other one is set for 9:20 PM, so no matter what I’m doing, when it goes off I have to get up to go turn it off. Then I can brush teeth and go to bed. Otherwise I would stay up to read “just until a good stopping point” yeah right. It makes a difference to have that reminder, because getting to bed even 1/2 hour late each night leaves me dragging by thursday or friday.

    1. This is brilliant. I just set my 9:30pm alarm. Thank you for the idea!

    2. This is an awesome idea Laura!

      Someone else just recently told me about setting a “go to sleep” alarm clock.. will have to try this.

      — Alex

    3. I really like your idea, it is easy to get distracted in the evenings and go to bed way too late. I just set my alarm for 10 pm.

    4. So glad to hear someone else does this! My husband makes fun of me every night for my “go to bed” alarm.

  3. Great timing. I was just complaining to my wife about how sleepy I am. I know I have to get to bed earlier. Thanks for another great post, Mark!

  4. It’s good to know that occasionally getting woken up by my roommates isn’t severly affecting my performance. Now, what years of poor sleeping habbits have done to my health is still up for debate.

  5. I love sleeping, but I just started a new job where I have to wake up at 4 most days. It’s hard enough going to bed by 8 (especially with these long days in the PNW), so I can’t imagine going to sleep by 6. I take a nap as soon as I get home, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Any other early-morning risers have some tips?

    1. Instead of naps…try power naps. When I worked early, I would come home after work and set an egg timer for 20 minutes and then I could get through the rest of my day. Plus it didn’t interfere with my sleep at night. You would be surprised how much just 20 minutes of quiet can rejuvenate. I have always found that a nap that lasts an hour or longer leaves me feeling groggy.

  6. As the mother of a future high school swimmer, who’s child will be required to attend 0500 practice as well as afternoon practice, your article could not be more timely. I have always been concerned about the health impacts of this standard practice. I think it is time to have a conversation with the swim coach and this is a great place to start.

    1. I was there at the advent of double swim workouts when I was in the 6th grade in 1962. Though I held national records, I burned out quickly, and my parents were reasonable enough, at least in that department, to not push me. There is a sea of information culled by Mark Sisson to demonstrate that this is not physically healthy. Beyond that, is it a worthwhile question whether this is mentally or even spiritually healthy? What is the premise behind this dedication? What is it I am dedicated to? Where do I think I am going? It might be interesting to talk to the coach, and it might also be interesting to have a gentle talk with oneself.

  7. Walter,

    I used to be the exact same way. I’m most productive late at night but I’m a personal trainer so I’m up very early. If I stay up late I pay for it the next day.

    You just need to develop the routine. I used Valerian Root and Melatonin with great success on those nights where I couldn’t get to sleep to help develop that routine. A few articles back Mark did a whole thing on Tea. You might have some success with those as well.

    Just like eating Primal once you get going and develop the routine it’ll be much easier.

    1. Hey Luke –

      Have you noticed a concrete impact from valerian root and melatonin? I’ve considered using them when I travel.

      – Alex

      1. Alex,

        I definately have. In the past I used Melatonin alone and didn’t notice much but adding the valerian root it’s done wonders. Sleep used to be a huge struggle for me. That being said I did use it more as described above to help develop the routine rather than the one time here and there such as a plane ride. Can’t hurt to try though.

        Oh and not smashing half boxes of kashi cereal before bed has improved the sleep too 😉

        1. Is there a preferred brand of melatonin? My wife mentioned that some of her co-workers use it. Just wondering if there are good types and bad types for us primal folk. Thanks.

        2. I have been using Puritan Pride’s Super Snooze. It combines 5mg. of melatonin with several herbs and is the best natural sleep aid I have ever used. And very affordable.

  8. Note to Mark’s helpers, someone needs to fix the URL which is on “sleep is a potent stressor” it should be on “lack of sleep is a potent stressor”. The way it is now makes it look, at first glance, like sleep is bad!

  9. I’m glad Mark mentions meditation practice. In addition to lessening of the hours needed for sleep, there are numerous other mental, psychological and spiritual benefits to be gained from a regular meditation practice.

    1. I am just starting to learn more about meditation and its benefits. The reduction on the amount of sleep required due to meditation practice is very interesting and something I will definitely be doing some research on!

      Although I guess we shouldn’t really substitute good solid sleep with meditation unless absolutely necessary; however, I assume adding a meditation practice to a solid sleep practice would give us superpowers 🙂

      Great Post Mark!

  10. Let’s see, pregnant + toddler + changing shifts including nights… I’m screwed.

    1. 3 children in 5 years (that child spacing, or lack thereof is definitely not primal!) has done a number on me as well. Co sleeping helps a lot but only consider that if you can do it safely. My youngest is 13 months old, nurses 2 to 4 times over night, and has a sensor for when fun things are about to happen. Therefore, when her older siblings wake up ungodly early, she wakes up within 5 minutes just to make sure she doesn’t miss out on anything.

      I have stopped trying to find time to work out by myself. It’s not practical and I don’t think it’s very primal either. Instead, I’ve developed a roster of activities that are child appropriate and “work out” with my children. We dance, do yoga, use the crossfit kids WOD’s (google for the website :-), lift heavy things, and walk. We usually do a few sprints somewhere in any given walk. Children, I should mention, make very good heavy things to lift because their natural inclination to wiggle requires active balance and stability throughout a movement.

  11. I feel ya Rebekka. Seven month old teething, still nursing in the early morning hours. I haven’t slept well since before he was born. My workouts (if any) are either at 4am before I feed him or at 9:30 at night. Screwed as well. Any suggestions from other moms are greatly appreciated

    1. Hey! I have a teething 7 month old too and he has started nursing twice a night from once!
      I guess we have to read these posts and stock them for future reference 🙂 sleep will probably never be the same again. But maybe throw in some quick home workouts, mark has plenty on this site, or walk with the baby in the sling. That’s what I do, walk and walk and walk 🙂

      1. Grokette had babies too, and you can bet she wasn’t getting up at 4am or staying up after 9.30 just to squeeze some extra exercise in.

        Children are a wonderfully primal thing to have – you just can’t live your life the way you used to do without them! And exercise advice designed for 20-something males becomes totally impossible. I’ve got three children, and I haven’t had a consistent night’s sleep for nearly 10 years 🙂

        My tips (your mileage may vary): black-out blinds and no night-lights. Use a really dim light for when you need to attend to baby. Have baby sleep in the same room as you, and learn to feed lying down in bed (wearing a dressing gown to bed keeps you warm without worrying about baby getting lost under the covers). Investigate safe co-sleeping when baby is really little, but transition baby to their own cot and room once they’re down to about 1 feed per night. Use really absorbent diapers for night-time and don’t change them at night (unless your baby tends to wet right through everything) – the key is to not get yourself too ‘awake’, but to make sure that if you do doze off, baby is safe.

        For exercise, having baby in a sling (moby wrap was my favourite) and walking around doing your usual stuff is great. And the 10BX exercises for women (canadian airforce drill – google it), takes only 10minutes and can be done 3 times a week. But remember to make sure your post-partum core strength is good first (check out special exercises if you have separated abs, which I did after every pregnancy). Planking is great for this. But don’t ever let exercise take priority over sleep.

        Enjoy your children – families are the natural unit for humans to exist in, and babies are utterly primal 🙂

        1. Yes absolutely agree. Carrying them around in a sling is really a lovely way to get some movement in plus enjoy spending time. My son loves his walks with his mamma.

  12. I love to sleep, I just can’t seem to do it for more than 6 hours to a time, and even that’s usually broken by a bathroom call. I usually have no problem falling asleep, even if I go to bed earlier, but then I just wake up earlier. Maybe 2 or 3 times a month do I get 7 hours or more.

  13. Great post Mark.

    Personally, I really value sleep. In the last five years I’ve really started listening to my body, and I’ve learned that poor sleeping habits were (and still can be) the root cause to a lot of issues for me. I make 7 hours of sleep a priority now, with that, everything changes for the better.

  14. Good article. Since becoming primal at the start of the year, with the prescribed foods, workouts, philosophy, etc., I’m more and more convinced that getting sleep under control is hugely important, and unfortunately the most wiley part of being primal.

  15. same here single mum of a sleepless toddler so totally screwed and too tired to even work out most of the time. iits a one off if i manage to do anything!

  16. Try grounding yourself as you sleep with an electrical grounding device from earthing.com.

    They have devices that use the grounded outlet of an electrical receptacle to ground your body and cost under $20.

    1. I started grounding a few months back with a bed sheet from earthing.com, a bit pricey at $149.99 but they work. I have NEVER slept better. Now my 19 year old son who has always had a problem falling asleep, has one, falls asleep almost immediately. He also does not sleep as long and we both feel much more rested.

    2. I’m not familiar with this technique. How long did it take for you to feel the effects of grounding?

      1. Grounding yourself has an instant effect. Improvement in sleep is just one benefit. It’s also the best method for protecting yourself from electromagnetic radiation, like that from your computer and other electric devices.

        Everyone knows how good it feels to walk on bare earth or wet sand. The pleasurable sensation is attributable to more than just tactile sensation. It feels that good because you’re getting grounded.

        earthing.com

  17. What can you do about a snoring bedmate that prevents restful sleep? My only solution so far- sleep in another room (not very romantic).

    1. Earplugs! They’ve been my saving grace when it comes to this problem.

    2. My bedmate is a snorer as well. We found that taking him off grains vastly improved the situation, and the lashing out, and apnea (along with a few kilos around the middle) disappeared. If he is very tired he will snore a bit, but now the 2 bedroom scenario is no longer on the table.

      1. Awesome, Heather! Change is slow to happen but I hope a grain-free (snore-free) scenario is in the future.

    3. I read that the ancient Romans had separate beds for sleep and a bed for coitus. Sounds great to me! There is nothing romantic about real sleep.

  18. This topic always intrigues me. Up until my sophmore year in college I could easily sleep 10+ hours. Something happened and now 5-6 hrs is the norm. When I wake up I am up. My mind is racing with thoughts and I have all kinds of energy. About 2pm I am dragging. If I get a nap, then I feel great otherwise I get through it, but I am not as mentally sharp.

    It doesn’t matter if I go to bed at 9:30, 12 or 2am….I only sleep 5-6 hours.. This has me a little worried.

  19. There’s a circuit that I regularly walk. Recently, because it was fun and why not, along part of it there’s a 2′ wall that now I climb onto and walk across. I figure it’s good for me to practice balancing, and again, it’s fun.

    Usually, it’s no problem for me to walk along the top of this wall. There was one day, however, when I kept falling off — couldn’t balance at all.

    It also happened to be the day after only getting 4 hours of sleep.

    Coincidence? Probably. But it’s something I’m going to watch for in the future.

  20. Bikram yoga has helped the quality of my sleep more than anything. The health benefits I receive from Bikram yoga are amazing. I highly recommend it.

  21. I never had any trouble sleeping 8 or 9 hours a night until after menopause. Now I feel that I haven’t slept well in years. I am lucky to get 4 hours unless I take a pill. I follow all the recommended sleep hygiene advice and exercise. One thing I don’t do (that used to work)–have a bowl of cereal before bed. That would make me sleep pretty well No cereal now.

    1. I wonder if it was the cereal or the milk that made you sleep well? Maybe try having a glass of milk (if you do dairy) before bed to see if that helps. =)

    2. My MIL has very similar issues. What I notice about her most is that she eats way too much sugar (which is possible on Paleo, too, but she’s low fat SAD) and spends most of her waking moments trying to avoid work. She does exercise – a yoga class. But it’s not enough. She doesn’t walk any where and routinely asks my FIL do all but the lightest of household tasks.

      The only time she sleeps properly is when she finally resigns herself to the idea that she’s the only person who can do the physical work. And then she’s tired and sleeps.

      Not that you asked 😉 , but you may find sleep a whole lot easier if you mindfully choose light to heavy housework and very long daily walks with the goal of working off some energy. (I’m assuming it’s not part of your routines now.) Good luck.

    3. Hi! I had the same problem when I hit perimenopause last year. My naturopath put me on kavinace. It’s b-6 and amino acids. I also added melatonin. Melatonin will put you to sleep and kavinace will keep you asleep. I use 3mg melatonin and 3 kavinace. I am 6′ tall and weigh about 200 pounds. I hope that helps!

  22. Timely post… I need lots of sleep but usually have to settle for 7 hours a night during the week… on weekends, I get 8 or 9 and then have a 1.5 – 2 hour nap in the afternoon. Less than that and my performance suffers in every area.

  23. Sleep is one of those things that you don’t really realize how much it affects you until you are not getting enough. In my situation this is mainly due to a 5 month old grockling. He sleeps better at this age then his brother, now 2 yrs 5 months, but still this means up once or twice during the night coupled with the time it takes to get him back down after my wife nurses him.

    Any advice on dealing with that kind of sleepus interruptis?

    1. Cosleeping worked great for me. I didn’t even have to get up. Just whipped out a boob and fell back asleep while babe suckled.

  24. Or quit drinking caffeine all together! Many of us will sleep much better every night when we get off the vicious cycle of caffeine. There is still as much as %50 in your system 12 hours later. Lots of us are way more sensitive to caffeine than we think too. And, you can become more sensitive over the years. You don’t know how you feel with out caffeine for about 1-3 months. But, once your poor tired adrenal glands recover you start waking up full of energy!
    I get it. I love the buzz!!! Zoom Zoom Zoom!… I actually originally quit to help relieve muscle tension. And, it has worked. The tension in my neck and shoulders is greatly improved. Caffeine is a neural stimulant. Chronic muscle tension is due to hyper neurological activity. Get it?: Neural stimulant = Hyper neurological activity!
    Caffeine is way too socially acceptable of an addiction.

    1. This is exactly what I was going to say. You’re absolutely right about the lingering and cumulative effects of caffeine–and it is a vicious cycle; i.e., you don’t sleep so you load up on caffeine to make it through the day, then you don’t sleep and you load up on caffeine again, etc., etc.

  25. I have had a horrible time sleeping for many years and I think it is one of the reasons I can’t lose easily despite all the right things.

    I try to keep a very regular sleep schedule but wake up a zillion times a night or fall asleep and wake up wide awake 20 min later or can’t fall asleep. I workout hard enough that I am physically tired. I have a body media fit and can see on the graph my sleep and wake cycle. It is ridiculous.. I never really sleep long enough to get into deep sleep and dream constantly. I always wake up before 5am regardless.

    I have tried every natural remedy under the sun. If I get super exhausted and can’t take it anymore I will take a shot of NyQUIL and sleep like a champ. Anyone have any ideas?

    1. I’d start by letting go of the worry about how much you’re waking up at night. Throw away the charts. It’s not helping at any rate. 🙂

      I can only offer what works for me: get an MP3 player, sleep headphones, and a non-stimulating but enjoyable audiobook. (A story that you like/love but have heard before works well.)

      Get into bed, start listening to the audiobook and enjoy.(I don’t find that “white noise” focuses my mind as well.) You may just fall asleep if you’re not worrying about when you fall asleep. I generally put the timer on to shut off the player after 30 minutes. If you’re still awake, just turn it back on — remember: even if you’re not sleeping, you’re still resting peacefully.

      And when you wake up at 1am, pull the player out again. 🙂 It works really well for me.

      1. I didn’t get the body media to track sleep but it does. I got it because I thought I had to be over estimating how active I was based on only losing a pound about every 9 weeks. It just confirmed what I already knew about the sleep stuff. I consistently log 15,000 to 18,000 steps and burn over 2900+ calories per day. I lift 3 x a week. I really think the no sleep issue is the key. The only week I had a good loss I had a cold and took Nyquil nightly and slept like a bear.

        1. Hmm..I still stand by my premise that fretting nightly about how much you sleep is a zero sum game. I watched my Mother do it for decades. Never helped her get one wink of sleep. The MP3 player thing, on the other hand, has been field tested. 🙂

          Anyway, given those stats, maybe you need to be less active to sleep better?? Maybe it wasn’t 100% the Nyquil, but the forced inactivity of the cold that helped???

          I’m basing that comment from our experiences in child rearing. Ironically, over tired children are very difficult to get to sleep. Well rested children with rock solid routines are usually much easier to put to bed. I can always tell when our small children have blown past the energy level of easy sleep and it’s going to be a long night for all of us.

          There’s a level where physical tiredness helps tremendously. Past that (and if it’s chronically so), however, and sleep does not come easily. I might experiment with a week (or two) of rest and see how that goes. And the MP3 play thing, because you know, I like company. 😉 Good luck. 🙂

        2. I am going to try it. I know you are right about the over tired thing. I was very tired about 7pm last night but couldn’t hit the hay until 9:30. I was wired by that time and ended up reading a very boring book. That didnt work.

    2. I’ve never really had any issues falling asleep or staying asleep, except for the occasional night when I drink too much water. However, I recently read Mark’s post on proper sleep posture and even though I’ve never had any issues I could tell a pretty immediate improvement on the quality of sleep I was getting. On a side note because everyone is giving it, I normally get 7-9 hours of sleep depending on how much and how hard I’m training.

  26. I’ve said this on here before, but you should really do a post about Sleep Apnea. Im a technician at a sleep disorder center, so I see every possible problem a person could have with their sleep on a daily basis.

    If you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea then it doesn’t matter how good your sleep hygene, what supplements you take, or how many hours you lie in bed. If you snore or stop breathing at night you need to be on CPAP therapy as soon as possible.

  27. I’m a new nurse working night shifts and wondering if anyone has suggestions for dealing with that type of schedule. Anyone else out there find a schedule of awake/sleep that works for them?

    1. For years, my husband worked over nights as a police officer. The best we could do was limit the amount of caffiene and sugar he consumed, have him stay up for an hour or 2 after getting home to unwind, and then into bed, with black out curtains, as little noise as possible, and no lights. I think if I had insisted on no computer time between getting home and going to bed, that probably would have helped also but I didn’t know then what I know now.

      Currently, he works 4:30 to 2:30 so his sleep is still pretty wonked out by normal standards. Currently, there is no caffeine after 6 pm (compromise, he thinks he can’t live without it). We turn off the computer/TV/electronic devices at 8 pm, into bed at 9. I’m looking for an analogue alarm clock without a glowing face (much harder to find than one might think) to replace our digital clock, to eliminate all lights in the bedroom. Keep a window cracked open but bedding appropriate to the time of year. His sleep is **better** than it’s been in a long time but I know his cortisol levels aren’t resetting properly overnight. There’s not much more we can do though until he retires.

  28. Oh no! Super article but just not what I need right now. My 7 month old has started waking more frequently off late and reading about how sleep disruption is making me slower and weaker is not helping!
    I can see it though because I stress about how my less than ideal sleep is taking a huge toll on my physical health. It’s taking a toll on my metabolism too. Though I’m eating primal again, my fitness levels are just not what they used to be.
    Oh sleep! I miss you.

  29. sleep deprived parents: I’ve been there, and those years seem like a blur. there really isn’t much to do but wait it out, since they DO grow up! my oldest is now married, so the cycle begins again!

    1. If co-sleeping is an option, it works. A few blurry days here and there, but chronic sleep deprivation during the infant years (including for the infant) hasn’t happened to date in this household.

      You don’t always have to “wait it out”. 🙂

  30. Of course, a post about sleep the day after I’m up till 3 am writing my seminar paper!

    Good thing that’s not a chronic habit. =)

  31. Oh no! Super article but just not what I need right now. My 7 month old has started waking more frequently off late and reading about how sleep disruption is making me slower and weaker is not helping!
    I can see it though because I stress about how my less than ideal sleep is taking a huge toll on my physical health. It’s taking a toll on my metabolism too. Though I’m eating primal again, my fitness levels are just not what they used to be.
    Oh sleep! I miss you.

    1. It might be hard, but try not to stress about losing the sleep. Making yourself stress over it is only making it worse than just the sleep loss alone. If you can, sleep when baby sleeps, and know it won’t be like this forever. In the meantime, make use of that meditation idea Mark had. This can help you accept your current sleep situation so you’re not stressing out over it even more. Remember, it’s temporary. Good luck!

      1. Thanks 🙂
        Yes I know it’s temporary and honestly it’s not that bad. I just need to learn how to let it be rather than worrying about not sleeping coz that’s what keeps me up more than the baby !
        Will try the meditation!

  32. In the context of following a primal fitness plan(walking lifting sprinting), never being overweight ,or having a serious health issue , I’ve found a little extra cardio 20- 45 mins on a stationary bike per day either in the mourning or around 6pm has improved my sleep the last two weeks I’ve been doing it.

    45mins on friday mournings and 20 – 30 min the rest of the week on the lowest or second lowest setting.

  33. I can remember a time when a freight train couldn’t wake me, now I’m lucky when I can sleep 3 or 4 hours straight through. My sleep has been reduced to a series of longish naps. I love that oh so rare night when I sleep undisturbed the entire night. Part of the growing older process I guess.

  34. “Sleep adds up, no matter where it comes from.”

    This is incorrect. Though we don’t yet know why, we have figured out that REM sleep (the deepest sleep) is crucial. As we sleep we cycle in and out of REM sleep and, the longer we stay asleep, the longer that REM cycle gets. A two-hour nap after six hours of sleep will therefore not get you the same benefits as the last two hours of eight straight hours of sleep.

    1. Maybe, maybe not. I was on a website of a guy who had really experimented with his sleep cycles – he tried just 4 hours – then fitting in 2 hour naps throughout the night and day.

      It turns out that we can train ourselves to slip into REM almost right away. That experience was of course, not definitive for all humanity but it suggest this sleep thing is surprisingly flexible.

      1. I have Narcolepsy and slip into REM sleep within 60 seconds of falling asleep everytime. REM sleep is only restorative if you ease into it via the other stages of the sleep cycle. You can’t just dive into it. This is the reason why I have Narcolepsy and why I never feel like I have slept.

  35. Even after a long day of scaling the climbing wall, I can’t be tired enough for ten hours of sleep! How does one get a full 10 hours?

  36. From Mark’s post about tea, I’ve done some self-experimenting. Valerian root does indeed work well for me, as does lemon balm.

    Another super effective thing is lavender oil. I sprinkle it on my pillows and it works like a charm for deep sleep.

    P.S. A must-read for parents: “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child” by Marc S. Weisbluth, M.D. It’s all about how to get babies and kids to sleep well. Much of the info is counterintuitive but super effective. When they sleep better, so do you.

  37. As a personal trainer, I would love to tell my clients that working out is the most important thing ever…but it isn’t.

    Diet and sleep are way more important honestly…And that is coming from someone who makes a living off of people working out and who LOVES working out herself.

    But I’ve noticed a huge change in my results over the years as I’ve worked out less and slept more, maintaining a healthy whole foods diet.

    Recovery is where you rebuild and get the results you worked so hard for in the gym. Without recovery, you won’t get results.

    And sleep…well it is the best recovery method out there!

    1. This is awesome!! I hope your clients love you and pay you well!! Trainers so often don’t get this concept. 🙂

  38. I really like most of Mark’s stuff, but have to disagree here. Longer rest may improve athletic performance to some degree, but that could be due to greater amounts of REST as opposed to more SLEEP.
    I have read many scientifically supported claims that sleeping beyond 7-8 hours a night is a large factor in chronic disease later in life. Oversleeping is attributed to greater levels of obesity etc. If adequate measures are taken during the day, 5-6 hours can be totally adequate, but 7 is generally ideal.
    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=206050

  39. Great post! I am 52 and had terrible chronic insomnia for many years — began in my late 30s and gradually got worse.

    I tried many things with no luck (no bright/blue lights near bedtime, no caffeine, totally dark bedroom, meditation, melatonin, valerian, warm baths, special pillows, special “sleep headphones” and more…).

    During all of this I was also eating a primal diet (no sugar for the last 5 or 6 years) and exercising regularly, but it didn’t help my sleep.

    It got to the point that even with sleeping pills (zopiclone), I wasn’t getting enough sleep to function. I thought I’d have to quit my job.

    I kept trying, however, and have finally (10+ years in) found a combination that works!!!! It’s B12 + topical progesterone + Natural Factors “serenity” formula with ashwagandha!

    I ditched the evil zopiclone, and I have my short-term memory back! And I have the energy to do things in the evening!!!

    Excuse all the exclamation marks, but getting a good night’s sleep is still so new to me and I can’t get over how wonderful it is! I’ve posted this in case my solution is helpful for someone else (but I suspect solutions may be very individual)

    PS – Zopiclone is BAD. I thought it wasn’t blurring my thinking, but when I stopped it, I realized it really was. Beware!

  40. creatine? Really? Paleo poser is suggesting short-term fixes and products?

  41. Hooray for sleep!

    I love the fact that you included studies on athletes since that is who we look to for performance measures. Those were dramatic increases. I also love the fact that you say sleep ‘adds up’. I am working on becoming a napper, but it is harder said than done.

    The thing I notice MOST when I do not sleep enough is my craving for carbs. If I get any less than 5-6 hours (usually I sleep 8) the night before I consciously have to beat down my carbohydrate craving all day long.

    Thanks Mark for all the great content!

  42. Timely article. I just returned from 2 weeks in Korea and my sleep schedule is way off. I already have chronic insomnia, so this doesn’t help. I have now gone 4 days with approximately 4 – 5 hours each day. At least for tonight, I don’t think I have much choice but to take a sleeping pill. I don’t think I would be able to function very well with one more night like the last four.

  43. So much info, thanks! I work shift work with day-night-night pattens (7am-7pm then 2x 7pm-7am shifts) so getting enough sleep is so important for me. But it’s tough!!

  44. This article hits home for me. I typically only get about 6 hours of sleep most nights and I know it is not enough. I have a full time job, I’m a single mom of two kids, and I work out lifting weights 5 days a week. I am ALWAYS busy doing something. Sleep is the last thing I want to do when I have so much going on. My biggest problem is time. I go to the gym after work from 6-7:30. On days I don’t go to the gym we have a baseball practice or a track practice until 7:30-8 pm. Then when we finally get home I make dinner and we usually don’t even finish eating until 9 pm. Then clean up and kids bed time and I might FINALLY get a minute to sit down to myself at 10 pm. The last thing I want to do is go right to bed! This is my time to get online, read blogs, plan meals, etc. Problem is it ends up being after midnight before I feel ready to go to bed every night. I want to go to bed earlier, I know I should, but I just can’t seem to make myself do it. I cherish those late evenings to myself. Ugh, it is a tough situation for me, I think about it often. Especially now that I have some specific strength training goals I am trying to hit and it is slow going. I think my chronic low level lack of sleep is effecting my progress. Any advice? I just cannot figure out how to get more sleep with my schedule and still get everything done. I guess something’s gotta give :-\

  45. My ND is constantly telling me I need to get more sleep for my MS. Unfortunately I don’t feel I have enough hours in the day for…me (let alone everything else that needs to be done). Thankfully I don’t and will never have children so I’m thankful I don’t have that as a distraction – if that’s a good reason to be thankful.

    Because I don’t get paid time off from work and only take the main holidays off (Christmas and New Year) I haven’t had a proper vacation in over 7 years I really need to find a way to get more rest/sleep when I can.

  46. Before taking exercise I had great difficulty in getting a good nights sleep. I sleep much better now after my daily workouts.

    I think the majority of people take sleep for granted, they don’t realise how vital it is to their long term physical and emotional health. Hopefully this article will help people realise more of its importance

    As a parent you really appreciate sleep as you don’t get much of it. Thankfully my kids have now reached an age were they are more settled.

  47. I try to get 8 hours sleep most nights.
    However , this is not a pure 100% sleep as I wake up maybe x2 to go bathroom.
    Is this a sign for anything?
    Also in the last 3 months I have purchased a sunrise alarm it’s fantastic , gradually wakes u up with light !!!

  48. I definitely agree that sleep is a vital part of the recovery process. If I’ve had a late night out on a Friday, my track sessions the next morning usually suffer.

    Bit disappointed to see that college football players study doesn’t seem to mention any control group. I’d kind of expect them the improve anyway over 2 months of training anyway. Just playing devil’s advocate…

  49. It wasn’t until last year that I started realizing sleep had any value other than energy. I always wondered why I couldn’t lose weight in college even though I was working out regularly, eating healthfully (per SAD rules…), and so on, but I was also getting just 5 hours of sleep on a regular basis. Of course there were more factors at play, but I noticed a huge difference in my mental performance, energy, and physical appearance when I started prioritizing 8 hours of sleep a night. My body never seems to want more than that, but that amount plus a primal diet was the impetus for enormous progress towards better health.

    It’s fallen by the wayside now as more responsibilities have piled on. This post is a great inspiration to make sleep a priority!

  50. On another subject-I have been diagnosed with rhumatoid arthritis. Does andyone have any suggestions. It is very uncomfortable, to say the least.

    1. Check out Dr. Mercola’s website for a comprehensive RA treatment plan as well as Cure Zone and Earth Clinic

  51. Is this just to make me feel even worse? My body won’t sleep. I go to bed early, sleep but then wake too early and no amount of relaxation will help. I am always tired. So now I can stress about it too.

  52. So often I read comments about everyone sleeping better since they moved to a primal lifestyle.
    Am I the only one whose sleep patterns have changed the other way?
    Prior to a primal lifestyle I would sleep solidly for 8-9 hours and still feel tired during the day. Since changing to primal my sleep seems to have fallen into a bi-phasic routine. I need to be up at 5:30am for work so try to be in bed by 9:30-10pm. No problems falling asleep but I often wake at 1-2am after a deep sleep feeling wide awake and ready to go for the day. I wake at that hour with so much energy I feel like getting up and going for a run or doing a work out (I don’t though). I can lie there for a couple of hours before drifting off again so my guess is I get around 6 hours sleep.
    My work requires intense concentration and I find I don’t feel tired at all during the day with this reduced amount of sleep. I actually feel like I have increased energy despite reduced sleep.
    I’ve even had a couple of nights recently where I’ve had less than 4 hours sleep yet there seems to be no consequence the following day.
    In my own little experiment I have experimented with higher carbs (eg potato) and on those nights I sleep a solid 8 hours but don’t wake feeling particularly refreshed.
    I’m even at the point where the once longed for sleep in on a Sunday morning is no longer appealing – the longer I stay in bed the groggier I feel for the rest of the day.
    Maybe it’s the reduced carbs that don’t knock me out each night, maybe my body has just found it’s balance. I really don’t know but it’s taken me by surprise.

  53. I recently had three children in less than three years and I was going on 2-4 hours of sleep regularly until just four months ago. I had done all nighters before and missed a couple hours a week before, but I was always exhausted and had a hard time losing the baby weight. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, screwed up liver enzymes, etc. I had never had a health problem before in my life.

    A couple months ago I actually started to take naps with the kids for the first time since the first was born. I have been steadily getting more and more sleep now that they don’t wake up all the time, but I can actually tell how much better my body and mind work now that I’m getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night and some days I will still fall asleep with them for naps. I feel guilty to sleep that much sometimes but I always feel more alive after a good nap with them.

    My husband always tried to say he was a night owl and couldn’t fall asleep before 2 am, blah blah blah, but he never knew how to properly calm himself down. He doesn’t wake up with kids at night and he sleeps in on a regular basis, but now that he helps me put them to bed, he’s gotten to the point where he is passed out cold in five minutes after their 8pm bedtime. It’s very hard not to fall asleep when you have a peaceful, quiet, dark, and cozy room and you can’t move or make a sound cuz the kids will start laughing. He has been getting well over 10 hours of sleep most nights and has felt like he can conquer the world rather than just sit and watch tv every chance he gets!

    Sleep is amazing!

  54. Six years ago I was diagnosed with narcolepsy which means my brain doesn’t receive any restorative sleep whatsoever and hasn’t for around 7 years now. The stress my body has gone through as a result is astounding. I am 28 years old and it is visible that I am aging faster than I should. I have to train harder than most people to get the same results because all of those benefits that Mark listed regarding sleep do not apply to me as much.

    Narcoleptics sleep a lot (and at random times) but never receive the restorative benefits of REM because they dive into that stage of the sleep cycle without easing into it via the other stages. It is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the protein hypocretin, which is responsible for regulating sleep cycle. So I just loop REM for two hours and wake up…more often than not in a state of sleep paralysis. I then go back to sleep and repeat the process, waking up again approximately two hours later. I feel like I haven’t slept in years despite sleeping all the time or at least having the urge to. It is incredibly annoying. The restorative feeling of sleep usually wears off in 15 minutes then I go back to feeling wiped out. This has also contributed to my cataplexy which is a whole other mother.

    The point of this post is to just let you know that you need to appreciate your sleep and you should take the time to do it right. No shortcuts or areas of compromise. I could only wish that I could get all that back. I remembered how that felt and how much I took it for granted. I used to force myself to stay up and thought it was annoying to sleep, now I feel like an idiot for doing that.

    Note: A lot of people don’t realize they have a specific marker in their genetics that actually can pave the way for narcolepsy if they aren’t careful (an pandemic took place in Europe due to an unexpected response to the H1N1 vaccination.) Take care of yourself especially if your looking to have kids.

    1. i forgot to add that I don’t actually hit the other stages of the sleep cycle. I dive into REM within 1 minute of falling asleep. All my dreams are lucid and it feels like I never really go to sleep.. just go off to another world to stay awake longer.

      A normal person takes around 60-90 minutes to enter REM.

  55. “the sacred silence of sleep!” – SOAD (there I go again being cheesy with song lyrics.. maybe because I’m subsisting on powdered milk).
    Lately I’ve been trying to improve my endurance and stay occupied by going on occasional long, overnight bike rides. They’re also meditative. There’s not too much visual stimuli taking my mind off pedaling and not too many cars driving me crazy (especially the people who practically force me into the ditch or stare – I swear some of them have slowed down for that, creeps!).. essentially just shades and stars. Then when I feel like I can’t crank out another km and my coffee no longer helps I sleep as much as necessary to recover.. maybe an afternoon of napping or even a full day. It’s probably not good for my circadian rhythm but my cardio is getting a bit better and after a lot of pedaling, even if my legs feel tired, they feel like they have a bit more spring.

  56. No matter how little sleep I get my internal clock always wakes me up before six AM Its great if I go to bed by 9 but thats not always the case .. and sometimes I go through the day in a haze…I will try Melatonin . and see if that helps..

  57. I’m older so I expect less sleep. And I don’t worry about it because I don’t have any dark circles or other signs of sleep deprivation. I read once that just closing your eyes in bed and lying there gives you something like 30% the benefits of deep sleep. That little factoid has worked wonders reducing the fear that causes anxiety and ultimately loss of sleep. If you know you’re getting 30% of the benefits you actually stop worrying and do eventually fall asleep.

    My homebrew recipe for sleep is a hot shower, one aspirin, wear socks to bed, and use ear plugs. The socks are reputed to stop snoring (which wakes you up) and the ear plugs help prevent the instinctual desire to wake for protection at the slightest out of place noise. I firmly believe we all worry a lot when we sleep. Unfortunately, our subconscious needs this to help us work out problems, but it almost always causes anxiety and sleep loss. Try not to worry about sleep loss, and you will sleep better (see above)!

  58. Mark, to study long term sleep deprivation effects, you need look no further than your local fire station. Most firemen in the US work a 24 hr shift, then 48 hrs off. I have been at the same busy firestation for 22yrs. So, every third night I get little to no sleep, but the nights I am at home, I sleep horribly. It has recently come to light that low Testosterone is at an epidemic level on our department. I am a 44yr female and my testosterone was <3. All of the men on my shift at my station are low and we are all on replacement. Most of these guys are young, (20's-30's) in good shape and try to take care of themselves. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are much higher in the fire service than the general public. Probably due to lack of sleep and stress. I'm going to read your linked articles to see if I can improve my sleep on my nights off.

  59. I’ve always tried to sleep more but I don’t know why, it doesn’t really work out well for me. I handle my time and my responsibilities well enough to feel like going to bed between 10 and 11pm, which I do everynight. I don’t use an alarm clock, but I always wake up between 6 and 8am. The thing is usually I fall asleep around 2 to 3am (I stop checking now the time when I go to toilet but I think it’s still the same). So I usually end up with 5 hours, 6 if lucky, 4 if unlucky. If I fall asleep fast, like before midnight, I wake up around 5am, refreshed, and can’t get back to sleep.
    If I get more than 7 hours (very rare), I wake up with a headache and a blurry vision in my right eye…

    It seems that 5 to 6 hours is a right amount for me, I feel refreshed, I don’t have mood swings, I can workout. BUT I don’t pack muscles, or very slightly (190cm, 71kg, 15%bf). There’s a genetic part for sure, my father being the same, but I ‘m pretty sure the lack of repair time doesn’t help. I keep laying 10 hours on the bed though, hopefully one day it will catch up.
    Just sharing.

  60. I just know I could be better at DDR if I got more sleep! 🙁
    Right now, I’ve gotten really good at Light/Basic Mode but can’t muster up the speed for Difficult/Standard like I used to be able to do. That being said, at least I can do about an hour of it a day in three 20 minute sessions. Yay for endurance!

  61. Taking a nap is fine but it should be during the daytime no later than 3pm. Later than that could effect the quality of your night time sleep.