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Monday, August 19, 2013

Deep Sleep for Fat Loss & Muscle Building Begins with these Strategies

Sleep like a baby to get lean.
Last week I described my client who did everything correctly, yet struggled with fat loss and muscle gain. After a lot of trial and error, I eventually discovered she wasn’t sleeping soundly. Consequently, she couldn’t build muscle, suffered low libido, and struggled to ditch those last few frustrating pounds.

Optimal sleep doesn’t happen overnight (pun fully intended!), but with the right strategies you can correct most problems even if you’ve struggled for weeks or months with poor-quality sleep.

The Magic Hour(s)

Most of my friends are night owls. They stay out way past midnight on weekends, and even during the week they fall asleep to Letterman or hazily browse online late into the night.

From an Eastern perspective you fall into deep sleep between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Those are the “magic hours” when your liver and other vital organs are performing at optimal capacity. To get those benefits, you should be asleep by 10 p.m.

Night owls, stop rolling your eyes. You’re not 22 any more, and we saw what those late nights did for a certain blond actress party girl (not naming names here!) who suddenly aged about 30 years virtually overnight.

Cleaning Up Your Act

Let’s talk about a few sleep thieves here. Looking at you, caffeine and alcohol. Wait, you say: a few shots or glasses of pinot noir knock you out pretty effectively. But as I’ll discuss in a minute, getting to sleep and staying asleep are two different problems. Alcohol helps you doze off but often disrupts sleep: you wake up dehydrated or running to the bathroom.

That late-morning venti dark roast can also curtail sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of about 12 hours, so if you’re a slow metabolizer you’re still feeling its effects in bed. Coffee also raises your stress hormone cortisol, leaving you wired when you should be tired.

I don’t want to take away all your fun, but sugar also triggers insulin and cortisol imbalances, so tossing for hours is often the price you pay for that second piece of apple caramel pie.

Simply put: enjoy your occasional caffeine, alcohol, and sugary treats if you indulge, but be aware they can potentially interfere with sleep.

Melatonin: Your Sleep Hormone

Your pineal gland secretes a hormone called melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythm. Numerous things including bright light interfere with melatonin production: when you’re staring at your laptop moments before bed, for instance, or or glaring vacantly at the LED light on your alarm clock.

As you get older, you make less melatonin. As a first-line “therapy” to restore optimal sleep, I have clients take 3 mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before bed for about a week. You’ll know by then whether you’re deficient in this crucial hormone. If you have trouble staying asleep, try a sustained-release melatonin.

Getting vs. Staying Asleep

In his fabulous video, my good friend Dr. Jade Teta discusses getting versus staying asleep. These are two distinct problems.

You’ve probably had a night where an irate email from your boss or fight with your boyfriend sent your mind racing and your adrenaline in overdrive. Let me guess: you tossed and turned, frequently adjusted your pillows, and fretted the miserable morning you will inevitably endure.

According to Dr. Teta, low blood sugar could be a culprit for sleeplessness. A little carbohydrate before bed could rebalance blood sugar so you sleep better. Emphasis on a little carbohydrate: I am not telling you to eat a pint of Chunky Monkey to sleep. A few drops of raw honey in your chamomile tea should do the trick.

If you have trouble staying asleep, on the other hand, imbalanced blood sugar could similarly be a culprit. In this situation, you want to make sure you have sufficient protein at your meals, which does a fabulous job satiating you and helping you stay asleep.

You may even want to try a protein shake before bed, but be careful: protein breakdown could leave you running to the bathroom at 3 a.m., worsening the problem you’re trying to correct!

Seven Strategies for More Effective Slumber

Correcting deep-seated sleep issues often proves a complex endeavor that demands effort, patience, and experimentation.

If you’ve struggled with sleep issues for months or years and believe you have insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder, please see your physician or a sleep specialist. These are serious problems that sometimes warrant prescription drugs to correct.

For more common sleep disturbances, I employ these 7 strategies so you can finally get deep, replenishing slumber for fat loss, muscle building, and consistently feeling your very best:

1.     Prepare for sleep. Set your iPhone for do not disturb and turn off all electronics about an hour before bed. Everyone has a different bedroom ritual, and no, I don’t mean sex (although that might help too; orgasm is a great cortisol reducer!). I love herbal tea, soothing music, and keeping a gratitude journal that calms my mind and helps me prepare for sleep. Find what works for you and do it. For the record, compulsively checking your email until the last minute is not the most effective strategy for sound sleep.
2.     Train early and train hard. An 8 p.m. workout spells disaster in the bedroom, and I don’t mean with your boyfriend. Your cortisol levels are highest in the morning, so if you can squeeze in a workout before office hours, great. Really make that hour in the gym count: you want to fatigue your muscles so you hit the pillow ready to slumber.
3.     Don’t skip breakfast. Oh, I know: it’s no one’s favorite meal, but breakfast sets your day’s tone for fat burning, muscle building, and eventually optimal sleep. If you’ve got no time for a veggie omelet, a protein shake with MediClear SGS Chocolate, frozen berries, unsweetened coconut milk, and kale (promise you won’t taste it!) makes a fast, fat-burning breakfast in minutes that fills you for hours.
4.     Eat balanced meals. A plate of pasta will send your blood sugar all over the map, leaving you lethargic when you should be alert and vice versa. Make sure every meal contains lean protein, good fats, high-fiber foods, and leafy greens. That might be a Cobb salad with chicken and lots of avocado or a steak with broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes.
5.     Stay hydrated. Awaking at 2:30 a.m. with a dry mouth can keep you tossing for hours as you debate grabbing a glass of water, exposing yourself to the refrigerator’s bright light. Drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day but cut yourself off about three hours before bed. (That goes double for food!) Otherwise, you’ll be running to the bathroom rather than the fridge. Either way, you’re not getting optimal sleep.
6.     Write it down and forget about it. That early-evening fight with your boyfriend might erupt numerous feelings that rev up your brain when you should be preparing for sleep. Or maybe you have an important review tomorrow and find yourself mentally rehearsing all your defenses. Trust me: your problems will still be there in the morning. Write them down, put them in a drawer, and realize you can deal with them more effectively with optimal sleep. (Didn’t Mark Twain say something about four out of five problems fall by the wayside anyway? He’s so correct.)
7.     Supplement if you need to. Reaching for a Tylenol PM or Benedryl creates a lasting habit rather than address your underlying problem, plus over-the-counter drugs leave you with a miserable morning-after mental “hangover.” Herbal supplements and melatonin are far healthier alternatives that help you get to and stay asleep.

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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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