Like anyone else, we often keep the remote within arm’s reach until The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are over. Against our better judgment, we push midnight — most nights — in order to get our nightly fix of political satire. But most of us don’t have the benefit of a noon start the next day, and with each minute of sleep we squander, we are spoiling a chance to maximize muscle repair and tune up our metabolisms.
But there’s more. Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP, director of sport psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in Englewood, N.J., says that failing to get at least seven hours can crush memory, blunt the release of growth hormone, speed aging, impair immunity and raise levels of muscle-cannibalizing cortisol. Here are some tips on how to ensure you get enough quality zzz’s to keep your motor running.
1. EXERCISE EARLIER
A great many people tote a gym bag to work or school and hit the iron after. But these late-day/early-evening sessions may not be the best for restful sleep. “While exercise acts as an effective destresser, it tends to elicit cortical alertness,” Chertok says. “In other words, it puts your nervous system in a state of moderate arousal, which is not the best for going to sleep. Try to exercise at least a few hours before attempting to fall asleep.”
2. BUILD A ROUTINE
As you diligently map out exercises, sets and reps for the week, you also should build out a more structured nighttime routine. “Establish a bedtime routine and a regular bedtime, which will create sleepiness over time,” Chertok says. “It becomes a conditioned response like Pavlov’s dogs. Try reading or watching nonexciting material.”
3. EMBRACE THE DARK
“Light affects mood and alertness by shutting down the production of the hormone melatonin, which is considered a sleep inducer,” Chertok says. “Darkness triggers the pineal gland in the base of the brain to secrete melatonin. Your bedtime environment should be as dark as possible.”
4. GET MILK
There’s more than one reason to mix up a casein shake or scoop up some Greek yogurt or cottage cheese before hitting the hay. While the protein in those products will delay muscle breakdown through the night, “milk products also stimulate melatonin production,” Chertok says. “Just make sure to avoid sweeteners or additives in the product.”
5. TRY SLEEP SUPPS
No, not Ambien. There are a bunch of supplements that assist the body with sleep without creating the potential for late-night sleepwalking romps through the fridge — or worse. Melatonin is available supplementally and is especially effective at bringing on the zzz’s. Also of interest are tryptophan, valerian root and chamomile tea. And the one nighttime supp you should definitely be taking is ZMA. It contains zinc and magnesium, which is known for its sleep-promoting qualities and helps maintain the production of key muscle-building and fat-burning hormones.
Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP, is the director of sport psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in Englewood, N.J., and player development consultant for Telos Sport Psychology Coaching (telos-spc.com). He has consulted with a range of athletes, from youths to professionals. Follow him on Twitter: @GregChertok.