If you missed Part 1 of this article, just click here. Otherwise, let’s jump right back into everything you need to know to get better sleep, including 7 supplements to help you sleep better, 10 ways to master the nap, the top 5 ways to track your sleep, 5 strategies to eliminate insomnia, and 5 tips to beat jet lag.
As usual, leave your questions, comments and feedback below this post!
7 Supplements To Help You Sleep Better
There are a variety of supplements that can be used to enhance sleep. These require some degree of self-experimentation, because some work for some people and some don’t.
This is because, for reasons that make sense if you’ve familiarized yourself with the circadian rhythm, light sleep, insomnia, or trouble getting to sleep can be so dependent on a variety of factors – such as neurotransmitter balance, mineral deficiencies, leptin insensitivity, melatonin secretion, etc.
I’ve personally probably used way too many sleep supplements. From regular valium use to the more natural, safe and healthy methods I’m outlining below, I’ve tried just about everything. Part of this is probably because I’m knee-deep in the supplement industry and have simply guinea-pigged a lot of supplements on myself and part of it is probably because of my hard-charging lifestyle and occasional evening spent staying up late, staring a computer screen and writing chapters like this.
So I need some “better living through science” and help getting to sleep or enhancing sleep, these are some of my top 7 sleep supplements and natural remedies:
1. 400-500mg potassium citrate. Earlier in this chapter, I explained Morvan’s syndrome, which is an example of how lack of sleep causes death. In this case, an autoimmune disease destroys the brain’s potassium channels – which leads to severe insomnia and death (15). Don’t worry: if potassium citrate helps you to sleep it does not mean you have a deadly autoimmune disease. But it may mean that you have a mineral imbalance, and this mineral can help to address that and can also help to relax you. Potassium is best when balanced with magnesium, so you can ideally combine this with 400-500mg Natural Calm magnesium (use this combo about 30-60 minutes prior to bed, and back off the dosage if you get loose stool). If magnesium citrate in Natural Calm upsets your stomach, try magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate. And if you want sleep along with a glorious morning bowel movement, use oxygenated magnesium in the form of a supplement called MagO2.
2. 2-3 tablespoons MCT Oil or coconut oil 30-60 minutes prior to bed. This works well if appetite cravings are keeping you awake, but you don’t want an insulin spike from carbohydrates or protein. This strategy works well for people who are on a diet or who have really stepped up their level of physical activity, and a strategy I use when I’m in the throes of Ironman training.
3. MillenniumSports Somnidren-GH. Somnidren is a sublingual powder that you dissolve under you tongue, and works really well at the end of a hard workout day as long as you haven’t eaten within 2 hours of taking it, since it isn’t effective if your insulin levels are elevated. One of the most important hormones secreted by your pituitary bland while you sleep is growth hormone, and Somnidren-GH supports growth hormone secretion by supporting GABA, dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine neurotransmitters, while inhibiting a compound called somatostatin, which can inhibit some of this neurotransmitter action (10). If you do use this stuff, then understand that you can build up tolerance relatively quickly, so you have to cycle it with a maximum of 5 days on and a minimum of 2 days off so you stay sensitive to it.
4. Hammer REM caps – A serving of Hammer REM Caps contains 3mg melatonin, and I use one serving for 2-3 days when I arrive wherever I’m traveling if I happen to be crossing multiple time zones. I’m OK with using melatonin at a dosage of 1-3mg while you’re traveling, but I don’t recommend using it for long periods of time, since you don’t want to shut down your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin (1). Like any melatonin supplement, you should take these 60 minutes before bed – because if a large, uncontrolled surge of melatonin hits your bloodstream while you’re sleeping it can actually wake you back up. The Hammer REM Caps also the natural relaxants valerian root and 5HTP. Readers of this get a 15% discount with code 80244 at HammerNutrition.com.
5. Pacific Elite Fitness Sleep Pack – This is a sleep pack which I custom designed to balance hormones early in the day, then relax you in the evening. The Sleep Pack contains a 30 packet box of TianChi Chinese adaptogenic herbs and 16oz powdered tub of Natural Calm magnesium citrate (3). This is the only sleep supplement I actually use every day no matter the time of year. Simply take one TianChi in the early or mid-morning, and then 400-500mg (about a heaping tablespoon) of the magnesium powder prior to bed.
6. Inner Peace. Inner Peace is a very potent adaptogenic herb complex that is particularly useful if you need rest during or at the end of a very stressful day. The first time I took this stuff just before lunch, I curled up after lunch and fell asleep for nearly three hours. After several repeats of Inner Peace, my adrenals finally stabilized and the naps settled down to a more sane 40-60 minutes. Inner Peace is nearly identical to the TianChi Chinese adaptogenic herbs (and produced by the same manufacturer), but it contains no caffeine. This makes it especially useful for afternoon naps, or for people who are suffering from adrenal fatigue and shouldn’t go anywhere near a central nervous system stimulant like caffeine. I personally take Inner Peace before or after lunch on 3-4 days of every week, usually on the more stressful work days.
7. 3000mg Tyrosine + 300mg 5-HTP. If your lack of sleep or hard time getting to sleep is due to neurotransmitter imbalances, it is typically the result of a toxic lifestyle, overtraining, relationship stress, gut stress or a poor diet (7). These are all issues that eventually need to be addressed, but in the meantime, if you’re struggling with depression and mood disorders along with your lack of sleep, and you need a fix to help you as you’re addressing the other major issues, then it can be extremely helpful to take tyrosine and 5-HTP split into three daily doses of 1000mg tyrosine and 100mg 5-HTP. I don’t personally use this combination but have several clients who have struggled with a combination of mood, emotional and sleep disorders, and this strategy has helped them tremendously.
As I mentioned earlier, I nap for 20-40 minutes nearly every day, usually by curling up with my twin boys in their tiny bed for a post-lunch siesta. This nap makes a huge difference in my afternoon work productivity and work quality.
Research on napping has actually shown that these type of siestas tend to be very rich in the non-rapid eye movement sleep, which you’ll learn about later in this chapter. This results in a significant increase in alertness, creativity, recall and memory in the second half of the day. Naps also help to reduce waking blood pressure and significantly improve cardiovascular health (16).
Well-timed napping can also significantly combat sleep deprivation. So when you miss a good night of sleep or hectic travel has kept you awake, napping can help to dig you out of a sleep deprivation hole. On the flipside, poorly timed naps (late afternoon or evening) can actually worsen insomnia and decrease alertness later in the day, which is why curling up for a 6 PM nap is usually not a good idea.
So what are some other napping do’s and don’t? Here are my top 10 tips to conquering the nap:
1. Don’t use an alarm clock unless you absolutely have to. Once you begin a healthy napping habit, your body will naturally waken within 20-60 minutes of napping. So why shouldn’t you use an alarm clock? I’m a fan of the disk and RAM metaphor used at SuperMemo.com:
“We can compare the brain and its NREM-REM sleep cycles to an ordinary PC. During the day, while learning and experiencing new things, you store your new data in RAM memory. During the night, while first in NREM, you write the data down to the hard disk. During REM, which follows NREM in the night, you do the disk defragmentation, i.e. you organize data, sort them, build new connections, etc. Overnight, you repeat the write-and-defragment cycle until all RAM data is neatly written to the disk (for long-term use), and your RAM is clear and ready for a new day of learning. Upon waking up, you reboot the computer. If you reboot early with the use of an alarm clock, you often leave your disk fragmented. Your data access is slow, and your thinking is confused. Even worse, some of the data may not even get written to the disk. It is as if you have never stored it in RAM in the first place. In conclusion, if you use an alarm clock, you endanger your data…”
There are also biological implications to using an alarm clock. Just like a slap in the face or a bucket of cold water, an alarm clock quickly wakes you up and gives you an immediate, unnatural injection of stressful adrenaline and cortisol.
As an alarm clock alternative for both naps and nighttime sleep, I personally use an Earthpulse to lull my brain into delta wave production and then ease if back into alpha wave production at about the point I want to wake up. If you must use an alarm clock, use the type that gradually wakes you up, such as a Sunrise Alarm Clock, the Sleeptime by Azumio iPhone app or the Sleep As Android app.
2. Do time your nap. An ideal nap should occur at your lowest level of daytime alertness, which typically occurs 7-8 hours after you wake. For example, I wake at 6am and generally have my best naps around 1pm. Two other very good times for a nap are 11am and 3pm.
3. Don’t drink coffee or caffeinated drinks before your nap. It’s a myth that by drinking these beverages before a nap that the caffeine will “hit your bloodstream” as you’re waking up. Even tiny amounts of caffeine in your system can significantly disrupt sleep quality.
4. Do sleep more if you find yourself napping long. If you nap for more than about an hour and a half you are likely not sleeping enough during the night, or you have some adrenal fatigue that you need to address.
5. Do avoid stress for 1-2 hours prior to napping. I personally try to time my lowest stress activities prior to my nap. For me, this is typically office and household duties like rearranging my desk or cleaning the garage, reading and writing, or eating lunch – and definitely not doing phone consults or responding to emails.
6. Don’t exercise immediately before your nap. Naps can assist with exercise recovery, but try to time exercise to finish a minimum of 45 minute prior to your nap.
7. Do eat before your nap. Don’t go down for a nap hungry, as hypoglycemia can disrupt sleep. This is why a post-lunch siesta can be so effective.
8. Don’t force it. If you try for a month and you simply can’t nap no matter what you do, don’t force it or fret about it. Just go back to your regular routine, and pay attention to what you’ll learn about free-running sleep below.
9. Do have a napping ritual. Whenever possible, time your naps to occur at the same time of day, and focus on a similar pre-nap sequence each day (i.e. work, exercise, shower, eating, nap).
10. Don’t use alcohol or sedatives to initiate a nap. In other words, a couple lunch time glasses of wine are not a good pre-nap idea, and can cause you to wake feeling very sluggish and fatigued.
I do not personally use “polyphasic” sleep or any fancy timed sleep patterns. I’ve experimented with those techniques and sleep-hacks and simply found them to be rigid and unnatural. Instead, I simply sleep when I am tired. For me, this means a 10pm-ish bedtime, a 6am-ish waketime and a post-lunch nap.
My personal sleep patterns are based on a concept called free-running sleep, and no discussion of sleeping and napping would be complete without mentioning this concept.
Free running sleep is simply sleep that is not artificially controlled to match strict schedules and appointments and sleep that does not require alarm clocks and sleeping pills. From an ancestral standpoint, free running sleep is far more natural, and until the advent of electricity and rigid post-industrial work and school start times, humans were free to simply sleep when they got tired.
Although your lifestyle and work obligations may hamper you from a lifestyle of 100% free-running sleep, the formula is fairly simple and one you should adhere to whenever possible: for healthy and refreshing sleep in the day or night, simply go to sleep only when you are tired, and not earlier or later, and wake naturally without an alarm clock. Of course, your sleep cycles and periods of tiredness, sleeping and waking will vary based on seasons, travel, diet and daily activity levels, so you just listen to your body and sleep when you are tired.
If you combine this one, simple free-running sleep concept with A) elimination of artificial lighting after sunset and B) avoidance of excessive nighttime eating, then 99% of your sleep problems could be eliminated.
And what about polyphasic sleep, a trendy style of sleeping that has cropped up in several blogs and books on biohacking?
The idea behind polyphasic sleep is that you can gain productive waking hours by sleeping a total of just 3 hours per 24 hour daily cycle, split into 6 short sleeping spurts interspersed through the day (2). There are many other variants of polyphasic sleep, but with what you’ve already learned about the human body’s natural circadian cycle, you can probably imagine how disruptive to this cycle that polyphasic sleep can be – especially due to the near complete loss of deep, healing, restorative REM sleep.
So while I certainly agree that polyphasic sleep can help you get through a short period of time of sleep deprivation, such as finals week, a pending work project due, short periods of travel or relationship stress, or any other life equivalent of a Navy Seal’s Hell Week, the cons definitely outweigh the pros when it comes to making polyphasic sleep a consistent lifestyle choice.
If you want to learn more about the dangers of polyphasic sleep, I’d recommend you read this page.
Top 5 Ways To Track Your Sleep
To see if you’re actually sleeping as much as you think you might be (you’d be surprised at how little you might be sleeping, even if you’re lying in bed for 8 hours), or to see how the supplements and strategies listed so far in this chapter affect your sleep, you can track your sleep cycle using a variety of different tools.
I’m not going to even pretend that I log my sleep cycles every night. I’m not that anal. I don’t count my calories either. But I did log my sleep cycles for one month just to see what was happening, just like I did count my calories for one year just to get an idea of how many calories are in the foods I eat. However, if you’re anything like me, once you get a good idea of what is happening to your body based on the lifestyle choices you make, you don’t have tons of precious time to spend testing and tracking. So think of tracking as a temporary educational tool, if you will.
But should you decide you want an insider’s glimpse into your sleep cycles, here are my current top 5 recommendations for tracking your sleep. Of course, anytime you are using a phone next to or in your bed, be sure to leave it in airplane mode so you reduce your exposure to wireless signals and ensure that phone calls and text messages don’t disrupt your sleep.
SleepTime by Azumio is a sleep monitoring app that monitors and anlyzes your sleep cycles to wake you up in the lightest sleep phase, allowing you to feel more rested and relaxed when you wake. Like many sleep monitors, it utilizes your iPhone’s accelerometer to sense your movements through the night and graph your sleep cycles. For example, you can set a window of up to 30 minutes and if your alarm is set for 7 am, the app will wake you anytime between 6:30 and 7:00 am, ensuring that you don’t wake quite as cranky as you might with a blaring alarm clock.
The app also measures your sleep efficiency – which is an algorithm based on how much time you’ve spent in light sleep and deep and how much time you were actually awake during your time lying in bed. You can see a sample screenshot below:
Sleep by Motion X is also a sleep cycle analyzer. Similar to other sleep cycle analyzers, you simply launch the app and attach your iPhone to your arm via an armband or leave the phone sitting next to you while you’re sleeping. This app tracks every time you move and uses that information to calculate the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, light sleep or awake. Similar to the Azumio, it also has an alarm wakes you up at the right time in your sleep cycle. It also logs your sleep pattern so you can analyze how deeply you sleep. Compared to the Azumio app, the MotionX also has more powerful graphing and visualization features, a heart rate monitoring log tool, and also the ability to be used as a GPS device during runs or bike rides, if that’s your thing.
This app tracks your sleep, but it also tracks overnight movement, and even auto-records sounds so you can hear whether you snore or if you’re having breathing problems overnight. Since sleep apnea can occasionally be an issue in sleep disruption, and it can be hard to know if you actually have snoring or breathing issues, this can come in handy – especially if you don’t have a sleeping partner who will complain to you that your log-sawing is waking them. The app interface is packed with useful tips to help improve your sleep hygiene and fall asleep faster, there’s a widget that lets you “clock in” and “clock out” when you go to bed, and like the other apps, it includes a detailed sleep analysis feature.
Sleep As Android was originally designed to wake you at the best possible time of the morning when your sleep cycle is at the best time for you to rise. But the app has evolved a bit, and will now warn you if you’re operating on a sleep deficit and you need to get back into a regular sleeping pattern. Similar to the Sleepbot, this app will also pay attention to the sounds in the room where you’re sleeping to catch you snoring, record you talking in your sleep, or help you diagnose sleep apnea – and graph your sleep cycles.
It’s fairly common these days to see people sporting bracelets or special clips that you place on your body which keep track of things like the the steps you take over the course of the day, how active you are, how many calories you eat, and of course, your sleep levels. In the case of a FitBit, a $100 tracking device, you place the clip onto an included wristband and set it to sleep mode. It then tracks your movements overnight, including the times you get up and move around, or when you’re awake tossing and turning in bed. You then turn it off in the morning, sync it with the website or phone app, and then get a complete report of how well you slept, along with how many times you woke up and what times during the night you were active. The Jawbone UP is relatively similar, but slightly more expensive at $197. However, the battery lasts longer and the app has more features, although it doesn’t automatically sync like the FitBit does. A host of other wearable life tracking devices are hitting the market, and compared to a phone app, they make it easier to remember to track your activity, diet, sleep, etc.
If you want to quantify every aspect of your life, these devices are great – but if you simply want to get a few quick glances at your sleep cycle, an app is a far less expensive option. I also question the accuracy of these devices for very active people – and for clients I’ve trained who have used the Jawbone or FitBit, it seems to vastly overestimate calories burned, and be a less accurate GPS device than devices from Timex, Polar, Garmin, etc.
Because of rapid advances in hardware and software technology, there are constantly new sleep-tracking tools emerging, and I’d recommend you follow a blog such as LifeHacker.com to stay abreast of the latest sleep-tracking technologies. Finally, if you really want to geek out on sleep tracking, then you can get overnight sleep diagnostic testing, which is performed by specialized sleep clinic and is considered the gold-standard in sleep quantification and analysis. Many universities and hospitals have sleep clinics, and the Stanford Sleep Clinic is recognized as having one of the most advanced facilities in the world.
What Are The Stages Of Sleep?
Many of the tracking devices described above are going to give you feedback about your sleep stages, and as more and more people begin to track their sleep patterns, it seems I am getting more and more questions from athletes about what these stages mean and how long they should be in each stage. So here’s a basic overview:
There are two main types of sleep:
-Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep (also known as quiet sleep)
-Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep (also known as active sleep)
During the early phases of sleep, you are still relatively awake and alert. Your brain is producing small and fast beta waves, and as your brain begins to relax and slow down, you begin to produce more alpha waves. As you make that transition into alpha wave production, you typically get what’s known as a “myoclonic jerk”, or an uncontrollable contraction of your limbs. You may also experience hypnagogic hallucinations, such as feeling like you are falling or hearing someone call your name (13).
And then you get into the first stage…
-Stage 1 is a relatively light stage of sleep in which your brain produces high amplitude theta waves, which are very slow brain waves. This period of sleep only lasts around 5-10 minutes.
-Stage 2 is the second stage of sleep and lasts for about 20 minutes. In this stage, your brain begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity known as sleep spindles. This is when your body temperature begins to decrease and your heart rate begins to slow.
-Stage 3 is when slow delta brain waves begin to emerge, and is a transitional period between light sleep and a very deep sleep.
-Stage 4 is often referred to as delta sleep because of the high amount of delta brain waves produced during this stage. It is deep sleep that lasts for about 30 minutes.
-Stage 5 is when most dreaming occurs, and is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate and increased brain activity – and this is when much of your nervous system repair and recovery is taking place. During REM sleep, your brain and other body systems become more active, while your muscles become more relaxed, and nearly paralyzed.
The important thing to know is that sleep does not progress through these stages in sequence. You begin in stage 1 and progresses into stages 2, 3 and 4. Then after stage 4 sleep, stage 3 and then stage 2 sleep are repeated before you enter into REM sleep. Once REM sleep is over, your body usually returns to stage 2 sleep. Depending on how long you sleep, you cycle through these stages about four to five times throughout the night.
On average, you enter the REM stage about 90 minutes after falling asleep. You’ll notice if you’re tracking your sleep that the first cycle of REM sleep might last only a short amount of time, but each cycle becomes progressively longer (especially if your body is in high need of repair and recovery), and REM sleep can often last up to an hour as sleep progresses.
If you follow all of the instructions that you’ve just learned about how to get better sleep, then it’s highly likely that you’re never going to have to deal with insomnia again. Once you done things like darkened your room, eliminated bright screens and electromagnetic frequencies, introduced smart sleep supplementation into your protocol, and given yourself the freedom to engage in free running sleep whenever possible, insomnia typically becomes a non-issue.
But let’s just say that you’ve pulled every trick out of the closet and are already using every imaginable sleep-hack, and you still can’t get to sleep. In other words, for some reason you’re still experiencing full blown insomnia which is driving you nuts and ruining your sleep, your productivity, your relationships and your life.
Assuming all the other strategies I’ve described have been established as lifestyle and sleep-time, there are five strategies I’ve discovered which I recommend to my clients and athletes who suffer from debilitating insomnia. These strategies will either free up the body’s energy flow and meridians which are keeping you from sleep, or eliminate hidden sleep stealers.
1. Eliminate Parasites
Prepare to be grossed out.
Intestinal parasites, which you can pick up from water, dirty food, or even public toilets, can affect your central nervous system and block your body from performing its normal bodily routines during sleep (4). A parasite introduces toxins into your body that could cause restlessness and a shaky feeling, making it difficult to rest and sleep. And when you do finally get to sleep, a parasite can disrupt your body’s natural ability to efficiently detox via your liver. When you combine this with the fact that most parasites are nocturnal and get very active at night in your gut, this makes normal deep sleep very difficult.
I’ve had a parasitic infection twice before, both of which I think I picked up when racing triathlons overseas – from swimming in nasty water. In both cases, about every 2 weeks, just like clockwork, when the parasites were “hatching”, I would have extremely restless nights of sleep. In both cases, I identified the parasites using an at-home poop test, eliminated the parasites using an intestinal cleanse, and started sleeping like a baby again.
Sorry about the unpleasant visual.
2. Get Rid of Overtraining
As you learned in Chapter 7, having trouble getting to sleep at night, tossing and turning throughout the night, waking up much earlier than usual (early stages of overtraining) or much later than usual (later stages of overtraining) can all be signs of inadequate recovery or adrenal fatigue.
In the early stages of overtraining, this type of insomnia is usually accompanied by a daily “tired but wired” feeling, in which you get really tired at night, but you simply can’t fall asleep because it feels like your mind and body are both racing. In the later stages of overtraining, insomnia becomes a non-issue, as you tend to simply fall asleep, stay asleep, sleep late, but never be recovered no matter what you do because your body is depleted of the building blocks necessary for nighttime repair.
The fix for overtraining was outlined at the end of Chapter 8, so go back and study!
3. Lower Nighttime Stress
It’s no secret that work and lifestyle stress can keep you awake at night. Earlier in this chapter, you learned many stress-control methods which can come in handy. It may sound simple, but the very best insomnia-beating night-time stress control strategy I’ve found is to simply have a “hard stop” at least 60 minutes before bed. This is the point at which you completely stop responding to e-mails, thinking about work, paying bills, studying or doing any mentally demanding or even mildly stressful tasks. From this point until bedtime, you do things like read for pleasure, play an instrument, have sex, watch something funny (with your blue light blocking glasses and screen dimmer, of course), or simply chill.
It may not seem like poking fine needles into your body would somehow help you to sleep better, but a 1999 study also found that acupuncture improved sleep quality in normal people with insomnia (8). Another 2004 study found that acupuncture can increase evening melatonin production and total sleep time, and patients who received acupuncture in this study fell asleep faster, were less aroused at night, and experienced less stress (14). The researchers concluded that “…acupuncture treatment may be of value for some categories of anxious patients with insomnia.”
Another study found that acupuncture improves sleep quality in patients with HIV, a condition that can cause insomnia (9). This makes sense, because an added benefit of acupuncture is relief from chronic pain, which can be a common contributor to sleeplessness.
Chapter 8 includes lots of good information on acupuncture for recovery and finding an acupuncturist.
5. Fix Mineral Imbalances
As you learned in Chapter 8, correcting mineral imbalances can be one good way to fight adrenal fatigue. If you find your sleeplessness and insomnia is accompanied by a feeling of blood “pounding in your ears” as you try to fall asleep at night, or a rapid, annoying heart rate, this may be because you’re in an early stage of adrenal fatigue, you have a mineral imbalance or you’ve sweated out too many electrolytes in the day or week of training (6).
I’ve found that on sleepless nights, simply getting out of bed and having 1-2 teaspoons (yes, that’s 3-6 grams!) of an extremely mineral rich sea salt can help tremendously with this issue. My top three choices are:
-A basic Himalayan Sea Salt from something like Amazon.com or the grocery store. The source of these can be iffy, and it’s not as high quality as the other two options, but in a pinch (pun intended) the stuff is decent.
-Onnit Himalayan Salt. The salt deposits from which this salt is mined were deposited long before the earth became polluted with heavy metals, pesticides, or PCBs, so this is fairly pristine stuff. Spendy, but a better choice if you’re concerned about quality.
-Aztec Sea Salt. The “Real Good Stuff” brand Aztec Sea Salt is coarse, flavorful natural, organically harvested, artisinal sea salt that is higher in minerals than either of the two sources listed above. This is the gold-standard in salt, and although it’s expensive, I keep at least one bag in my pantry at all times.
You can simply mix any of these into a glass of water before bed at night, or into a post-workout glass of water.
Fortunately, all of these salts are delicious on food too.
If you’re a triathlete, marathoner, or someone who likes to travel to destination events and races at which your body is expected to physically perform well, jet lag can be extremely annoying and debilitating to optimum performance.
The symptoms of jet lag include trouble falling asleep (if flying east), early awakening (if flying west), interrupted sleep with multiple wake periods, trouble staying asleep, poor performance on mental tasks and concentration, increased fatigue, headaches, and irritability, and problems with digestion including indigestion, constipation, and even reduced interest in and enjoyment of food.
Similar to the type of sleep issues caused by shiftwork, jet lag is a “chronobiological” issue that occurs when you travel across a number of time zones. Your body clock is simply out of synchronization with the destination time, since you’re exposed to daylight and darkness that is contrary to the rhythms to which you’ve grown accustomed. This upsets your body’s natural rhythm, and the problem becomes compounded since normal times for eating, sleeping, hormone regulation and body temperature variations no longer correspond to what you’re used to (17).
Crossing one or two time zones does not typically cause jet lag, but a five-hour flight from the east to the west coast of the United States, or an overseas flight, can easily cause jet lag. I personally travel a ton for both work and racing, and have found that many of the recovery and sleep hacks you’ve already learned about in this section of the book work quite well, but some of the most potent include:
Earlier in this chapter, you learned everything you need to know about grounding (5). But at no time does this become a more effective strategy than when you’re traveling, since hurdling through space 40,000 feet above the planet in a metal tube is about the most disconnected with the earth you can get.
As soon as I land in my destination I make it a point to either A) get into a pair of Pluggz or Earthrunners as fast as possible, or B) go outside in my barefeet (yes, I’m the guy in the grassy lot behind the airport hotel doing morning barefoot yoga). I also take my Earthpulse everywhere I go.
2. Exercise Session
Multiple studies have verified the normalizing effect of exercise upon circadian rhythms (Reilly). As lousy and miserable as I feel doing a swim, bike, run or weight training session after a long day of travel or a long few days of international travel, the sooner I exercise after arriving at my final destination, the sooner I bounce back from jet lag and normalize my circadian rhythm and sleep. Swimming and outdoor barefoot yoga seem to be the least painless of choices.
3. No Caffeine
It’s a fairly common recommendation to see the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants discouraged for managing jet lag, and I agree (12). Aside from the trace amounts of caffeine in the Chinese Adaptogenic Herbs and dark chocolate I occasionally consume while traveling, I simply do not touch caffeine or any other central nervous system stimulant while in route to my final destination. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that rather than “timing” my body to sleep at about the time I’ll be sleeping at my final destination, I instead focus as much as possible on free-running sleep strategies, even on the airplane and in the airport.
As mentioned earlier, I do not use melatonin unless I’m traveling, in which case 1-3mg 30-60 minutes prior to bed can be useful for re-booting the circadian rhythm upon arriving at the final destination (1). I’d discourage using it until that point (e.g. on the airplane). For a melatonin supplement, I simply use the Hammer REM caps (you can use 15% discount code 80244).
-For jet lag, try “No-Jet-Lag” exactly as recommended on product instructions
5. No-Jet-Lag Supplement
I discovered this stuff at a Chinese herbal store in the Hong Kong airport when traveling home from a triathlon, and upon inspecting the ingredients to verify there was nothing in it that would kill me, I trialed it – following the instructions to take 1 tablet upon take-off, 1 every 2-4 hours while on the plane and then 1 upon landing. And the stuff works wonderfully, both east-to-west and west-to-east. There are five homeopathic remedies listed as the active ingredients in No-Jet-Lag: Arnica Montana, Bellis Perennis, Chamomilla, Ipecacuanha and Lycopodium. I’m no homepathic expert, but both my wife and I now use it when we are traveling internationally, and have found it to be extremely effective in eliminating jet lag symptoms, especially when combined with the other strategies you’ve just learned.
Let’s finish by reviewing some of the sleep resources that I also ended with in Part 1 of this series, because I’ve really only scratched the surface when it comes to getting better sleep – and really focused on the practical strategies you can implement right away, and you may really want to geek out and become a true sleep expert.
The first resource I’d recommend is a real goldmine of website. I spent nearly a month pouring over the information on it – and learning in-depth everything from advanced sleep hacks to timing naps strategically to perfecting the concept of free-running sleep. And although it’s quite a long, it will surely satisfy the sleep geek in you, and “fill in the holes” if you want to dwell on the science of sleep more thoroughly. It’s over on one of my favorite learning and memory websites, SuperMemo.com, and you can click here to read now.
The second resource is an article on circadian biology by neurosurgeon Jack Kruse, a frequent podcast guest on BenGreenfieldFitness.com. This one is once again chock full of information for geeks, but also does an excellent job delving into the link between hormones, your brain and sleep. You’ll find that it goes into much more detail specifically on the way our circadian rhythm is tied to our biology.
The third resource is a slightly older book, but still an excellent read on the link between modern living, ancestral health, and sleep. It’s called: “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival” by author T.S. Wiley, who I also interviewed in this podcast episode on bioidentical hormone replacement (another potential sleep strategy). In the book, T.S. talks about how if you are genetically adapted to cold weather and to colder seasons (which defines many European populations) and you also tend to eat a higher carbohydrate diet along with a lot of artificial light exposure, these are signals to your body that it’s constantly summer. When it’s constantly summer, this can decrease the naturally higher leptin release that is supposed to occur in cold weather, and hinder fat loss, melatonin responsiveness, prolactin release, DHEA and growth hormone release, etc. Of course, putting your body into constant summer mode can be accomplished by something as simple as lots of nighttime Kindle time while snacking on your bag of gluten-free crackers or dried fruit.
Finally, take a listen to the podcast “How To Sleep Better“, in which I interview Paul Becker, the inventor of the Earthpulse device I mentioned earlier. The guy is an eccentric character, but he delves into the sleep science of pulsed electromagnetic therapy quite well.
If you have questions, edits, comments or feedback about the circadian rhythm, sleep, insomnia, jet lag, napping or anything else sleep-related, then leave your thoughts below!
Links To Previous Chapters of “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life”
Part 1 – Introduction
-Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?
Part 2 – Training
-Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1
-Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2
-Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength
-Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed
-Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 3: Mobility
-Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 4: Balance
Part 3 – Recovery
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