I’ve found that reading a book (paper or e-Ink preferred) is helpful in calming down my mind, but most books are written with chapter-to-chapter cliffhangers, so even that can get too exciting for me, making me push off my self-prescribed bedtime by saying “I’ll just read one more chapter”.
Quality + Time > Time
Sleep is the most important activity I do every day. Since I am not hurting for rent or food, sleep is what allows my body to recover from the day, every day. I will choose great sleep over almost anything else (even sex or going to see a band I like). But just getting in 7-8 hours isn’t enough if that sleep isn’t quality sleep.
It’s been shown that sleep for men requires more time than sleep for women. In a man, bad sleep or lack of it can make you less masculine. Initially, the fight-or-flight response to lack of sleep can instill some more masculine behaviors (usually aggression or anger), but cumulative nights of bad sleep lead to a weakening of one’s masculine backbone.
Our bodies heal when we sleep. Autophagy comes in later in the night, mostly due to a fasting state the body hits after 6-7 hours of no calories consumed (don’t sleep eat). In addition, the brain tends to sort itself out of some of the short term addictions of the day prior — you’re undoing all of those dopamine, serotonin and endorphin rushes you experienced from TV, watching sports, seeing that band, drinking that wine, or playing that smartphone game.
The Usual Supplements Suspects
There are many sleep aids that are marketed specifically for that purpose. Most of them just knock you out, but do not engage the brain and body to have fitful recovery. There’s melatonin, which I abhor because there is anecdotal evidence that prolonged melatonin supplementation can actually prevent the body’s ability to make it.
There are a handful of over the counter and prescription sleep aids that work similarly to knock out gas — they shut your brain down but that’s not what you need to be doing. You need your brain operative but in sleep mode, not just turned off and comatose. I avoid narcotics and other drugs because they’re not generally evolved by hundreds or thousands of years of human progress and growth.
Melatonin is best produced naturally by the body, and I’ll cover that in another article.
If you lift heavy weights, sleep is going to matter more for building muscle and destroying failed tissue than any other form of rest. Recovery is a faulty term; rebuilding is what your body does when you push the limits.
If you aren’t sleeping correctly, you’re not rebuilding. At best, you might be merely destroying tissue that could actually be rebuilt stronger. The authophagic cleaning mode of the body also appears to be stunted when you don’t get quality sleep.
Do you need sleep?
There’s some scientific support that a lack of the ability to sleep may actually help with overcoming short term depression. If you are in a period of short term depression (job loss, relationship ending, loss of a loved one, etc), tossing and turning is the very thing you need to overcome that depression and stress. You definitely don’t want to force yourself to sleep if your body and mind need to heal by avoiding it for a night or two.
If you want to sleep but also have a need to be able to wake up, taking a narcotic or other drug may cause you to not wake up as needed.
ZMA: the sleep assist, workout rebuilder, and sex drive enhancer
I’ve been doing an ongoing 2 year self study with ZMA. ZMA used to be a proprietary patented formula, but has since been knocked off by a variety of companies. I tend to stick to NOW Sports supplements, because it’s a local company to me that really puts out a consistent, cost effective and outcome effective product.
ZMA is composed of Zinc plus Magnesium plus vitamin B6. The Zinc comes from Zinc L-Methionine and Zinc Aspartate. Zinc L-Methionine has been under research (in rats) for a long time, focusing on recovering DNA damage, reducing intoxication of lead poisoning, and even in reducing bacterial growth in and around the gut and heart. Zinc Aspartate appears (in rats) to reduce ethanol toxicity and even help with hair growth.
Magnesium in ZMA comes in the form of Magnesium Aspartate. In humans, Magnesium Aspartate appears to have cardiac health promotive results, as well as seeming to reduce oxidative stresses and damage. Magnesium appears to help zinc work synergistically — you need both in order to get the positive body rebuilding and brain slowing modes that occur during good sleep.
Vitamin B6 is also called Pyridoxine HCl. The amount in ZMA is very low, but Pyridoxine HCl has been shown to be a precursor to amino acids (important for rebuilding muscle), creating neurotransmitters (serotonin and adrenalin) and assists in creating other natural body chemicals to promote stability.
I take ZMA at night, 30 minutes before I want to be sleeping. Glass of water, no calories (I’m in my Intermittent Fasting break at least 1 hour before bed).
I generally take 2 pills even though the recommended dosage for men is 3 (women are supposed to take 2). In my 2 week self study to better sex, I’ll discuss the problems with too much zinc. 2 ZMA pills works great for me, and I’m a fan of less supplementation if possible.
Within 30 minutes of popping the pills, my body gets the tired signal. I don’t just pass out like taking narcotics or alcohol. I just get drowsy. I close my eyes, and the next thing I know, I’m waking up 7-8 hours later, and I am able to actually just stand up and walk out of bed. It’s always shocking, even years later, how good my sleep is with ZMA supplementation. And I haven’t found an addiction level — the 2 pills I started taking 2 years ago still work fine today.
When I work out hard, I feel it the next day. Except when I have great sleep, then my soreness is there, but it’s not massively painful.
I doubt the ZMA actually is making my body rebuild better. The ZMA is just activating great sleep, and the body does the rest.
Every time a man releases baby batter, he’s reducing the zinc in his body by 5mg. Zinc is a big precursor to getting ready to rock the bedframe. Low zinc = low sex drive.
If you’re a big fan of self-pleasuring, it’s even worse because you get to control things and you may be leaking more than 5mg every time you’re done.
By adding ZMA for better sleep, you’re also balancing out your body’s need for Zinc in order to perform well in bed. Those 2 pills that I take add about 20mg of Zinc (although less is bioavailable). I definitely don’t have sex 4 times a day, every day, so I should be able to keep my Zinc levels balanced. My sex life is provably better when I am on ZMA rather than off (but I am 40 years old, so there’s that).
I love the NOW Sports brand of ZMA, as mentioned in the beginning. I generally pay about $12 with free shipping from Amazon for 45 days worth of ZMA (I take 2 pills, but men are recommended to take 3). I take it every night when I am doing the self study, and the results are obvious for me: I sleep great. When I come off a self study of ZMA, I always find less quality sleep.
ZMA was especially helpful when I still consumed alcohol on occasion. Alcohol can cause you to artificially pass out and “sleep”. ZMA on non-drinking nights did a lot of damage recovery from my drinking nights.
I recommend that women stick to the 2 pills per day (of the NOW Sports ZMA variety). Men should start out on 3 pills for 2 weeks and then stop for 2 weeks, and then restart with 2 pills and do a self-study of your own. Some people report that they can get great sleep from just 1 pill a night, but it didn’t seem to work for me.
I haven’t seen anyone find an addiction to ZMA — they stop taking it and they’re back to normal sleep, not worse sleep as with some narcotics or alcohol.