It’s easy to get discouraged by looking at Instagram posts of other men showing off their amazing physique and healthy lifestyle, especially if you have a full-time job that leaves you drained at the end of the day.
Most of us have the “fight or flight” reaction, meaning that if we can’t have it all, we lose interest and give up on our goals. Instead, the healthy thing to do is give it your best and manage your time in a way that will leave some time to sneak in a workout.
With that said, the chances we have at seeing any success with this largely depend on our energy levels. It might be easy while we’re still in out 20s, but once that number 3 takes the front place in our age digits, things change. Our energy levels go down, and it all gets much more complicated – not just because the schedule is packed, but because our bodies are changing.
Past the theory of “just do it”
Today, we look past the inspirational quotes. We’ll take a look at a largely neglected aspect of our lives that can return the biggest dividends with a small investment of time and planning – SLEEP.
The program we outline above can take anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks. For easier planning, we’ll split it into 4 steps.
Step 1: Understand
A modern man will know the micros and macros of each meal he eats. On the other hand, when it comes to sleep, most of us rely on the no-ancient rule of thumb, “Get the hours and you’ll be fine.”
Compared to dieting, this simplistic approach is equivalent to just counting calories – in the long run, it simply doesn’t work. The rule of 8-hours is based on how long an average person sleeps and will tell you very little about what goes on in that time.
What to do
Just like the calorie-count, you can get to “the number” in different ways. But getting 3000 calories by eating 3 pizzas is not the same as getting it from a well-balanced diet.
The same logic applies to sleep – a sleep cycle is not just a chunk of time. It’s an intricate mechanism designed to replenish our body. Make sure you understand it and keep track of your own cycles.
Pay special attention to deep sleep. It’s when most of the Growth hormone is released.
If you’re getting the hours but still feel tired, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough deep sleep.
Step 2: Experiment
Once you have a clear picture of what’s going on during those 7-9 hours, you’ll be able to pinpoint the areas that you can work on. If there is a misbalance between the sleep phases, you can move to adjusting your sleep environment to re-set it.
It will take time
Poor sleep habits don’t form “overnight” (pun intended) and replacing them with a new, healthier regimen will take time. So, arm yourself with patience and look for potential culprits.
The transition – think about your mattress
In a vast majority of cases, the simplest answer is the right one. In terms of sleep, that means that the potential culprit is likely in your bedroom.
The first thing to revaluate is your mattress choice. It might feel comfortable, but that’s not where the story ends. If it’s too firm or too soft, it will keep your spinal muscles working through the night trying to prevent injury to the nerves branching out from your vertebrae.
Easier said than done
Instead of reaching out for the credit card and getting a “better” mattress right away, take the time to understand what better means for you. Without hard data, you might be making the same mistake and leaving it all to chance.
What to do
Get yourself an air mattress and use it along with a sleep tracker. Airbeds might not be a lasting solution, but they’re ideal for experimenting with the firmness of your mattress and tracking what happens.
To get reliable results, eliminate the risk of air leaks and get a reliable airbed. Typically, it will have 3 firmness pre-sets (Soft, Medium and Firm). Spend one week sleeping on each of the firmness presets and track how your sleep cycle changes. The crucial part is getting a durable, heavy-duty air mattress that won’t lose air since any changes in the firmness ill make the numbers you see on your sleep tracker unusable at best and misleading at worst.
Within 3 weeks, you should know if your mattress is the culprit. It’s then that you can move to thinking about getting a new one. If the money is tight, you can get a similar effect by adding an extra layer or firm or soft padding.
That concludes step 2. It should take about 4 weeks to get there.
Step 3: Adjust
“Armed” with data, you can now enter phase 3 of the re-set program – a phase dedicated to adjusting your sleep environment.
At this point, you will have eliminated the most common culprits of poor sleep and can work out the kinks in your schedule.
If you need an alarm clock, something’s not right
Wholesome sleep should not be stopped abruptly, and you should wake up naturally after completing a sleep cycle (most people will need 4, 5 or 6 cycles).
What to do
Train your brain
The math here is simple. If you determine that you need 5 sleep cycles and your natural cycle lasts, say, 90 minutes, you’ll need 450 minutes or 8.5 hours of sleep.
Plan the bedtime so that you complete 5 cycles before the alarm going off. If your alarm is waking you up and you drag your feet out of bed, there’s a good chance you’re waking up mid-cycle (pretty much the worse you can do in terms of your energy levels for the day ahead).
Your alarm clock should play 2 roles:
- Establishing the new habit (wake-sleep cycle duration)
- A safety net once a new schedule is in place
If you do things right, you won’t be needing it to wake you up after phase 3 of the 10-week re-set.
Early to bed, early to rise
The sleep hormone, Melatonin, is secreted by the pineal gland as it gets dark. It typically peaks between 10 and 11 PM, so you should “ride that wave” and drift off.
We see memes from people talking about how sleepy they feel earlier at night and how it goes away within a few hours. There’s nothing mysterious or funny about it. It’s because Melatonin has a short half-life and that initial “spurt” is pretty much gone if you go to bed at 2 or 3 AM.
Give your senses a break
In some areas, there’s still an ongoing debate about whether certain stimuli (like white noise) can help you get better sleep. We’ll leave that to the scientists and stick with the basics.
Even if music or TV might help you fall asleep, your brain will continue to process the stimuli in the lighter phases of sleep. Go simple – no music, no ambient lights.
Use technology to make it easier
We have no dilemmas about the process we outlined above is easy or simple, especially if the poor habits are deeply rooted.
If you find it difficult to wake up before your alarm kicks in, you might consider getting one with built-in wake-up lights. This will allow to sleep in a completely dark room and slowly stimulate you to wake up by mimicking the sunlight.
If relaxing sounds or music helps you fall asleep, it might be smart to get a sleep machine or install an app on your phone that with a delayed shut-off – as we said, we don’t want any stimuli interfering with our sleep phases.
Step 4: Stick with it and form a habit
The last two phase of the sleep habit re-set is dedicated to forming a habit. Science says that it takes about 20 days to make routine into a habit.
That’s not set in stone, and it primarily applies to simpler habits. Adopting new bedtime might take longer. The important part is to understand that it will happen and, once it does, you’ll be thanking your past self.
A life-changing combo
To get the most out of your newly formed sleep pattern, combine it with power naps.
For most people, a power nap shouldn’t be longer than 10-20 minutes. It’s how long it takes for your brain to get an extra kick of refreshing ZZZs. Anything more than that and you’re entering the “arena” of bi or poly-phasic sleep where a whole new set of rules apply.
Afternoons are not meant to be spent waiting for bedtime.