Sleep is a big topic lately. It’s not that sleep is any more important now than it was ten years ago, but within society and the greater scientific community, we have begun to appreciate its impact better. It’s an issue of respect…and sleep has started to garner the respect it deserves. Gone are the days of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Those truly in-the-know now recognize that daily performance relies on nightly recovery. I distinctly remember the medical school bravado that fueled my nightly routine of a midnight bedtime and a 4 am wakeup. Unfortunately, I probably remember much less from my classes as a result of that deprivation.
Stages of Sleep
You may have heard people discuss sleep stages or use terms like “REM sleep” or “deep sleep.” These refer to cycles of brainwave activity that occur while we sleep. To keep it very simple, REM and deep sleep are what we are most interested in. During deep sleep, the physical body repairs and recovers, getting ready to do it all again the next day. REM sleep is when the mind recovers, allowing you to store and process memories and experiences.
You cycle between REM, deep, and light sleep throughout the night. To get enough REM and deep sleep, you must ensure that you are getting enough total sleep, and most people do best with between seven and nine hours per night.
Supplements to Aid Sleep
When people have difficulty sleeping, the reasons can be numerous. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That said, some supplements can be generally useful in supporting a good night’s sleep, and we’ve bundled them for you here. Again, I’d recommend quantifying their effect using a reliable sleep measuring device. Having objective information can help you individualize and tailor your supplement regimen.
Multiple studies have demonstrated a relationship between Vitamin D status and sleep. When insufficiency is corrected, sleep duration and quality tend to improve significantly. This does not mean that excess Vitamin D will further improve your sleep, but ensuring an adequate level is worthwhile.
Magnesium is one of the most prevalent electrolytes found in the human body, yet deficiency is relatively common in the western world due to dietary practices. Deficiency in magnesium has been associated with poor sleep quality, and conversely, replacing that magnesium has been shown to improve sleep. Thorne’s Magnesium Bisglycinate provides a readily available, easy to take form of the mineral.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which signals your body that it is time to sleep. This process is triggered when blue light exposure wanes at the end of the day. Exposure to blue spectrum light in the evening, primarily through screens or harsh lighting, will delay this process. Taking oral melatonin has been shown to help with sleep onset and treating jet lag.
👨⚕️ You have a few choices for Melatonin:
👉 Quicksilver Liposomal Melatonin (more bioavailable and faster acting)
👉 HVMN Yawn combines a light dosage of Melatonin (1mg) with Magnesium, L-Glycine, and L-Theanine for an all in one Sleep Aid.
Cannabidiol (or “CBD”) is one of many cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It is thought to have numerous medicinal qualities, and it will not lead to any psychoactive effects. The hype around this supplement is significant! Some would suggest that it will cure almost everything, and improved sleep is often cited as a benefit of CBD use. There are not many studies (yet) to support this; however early data would suggest that CBD may be a good treatment for anxiety. Those who struggle to sleep because of anxiety may benefit from using CBD. Additionally, I have seen numerous patients in whom deep sleep is increased when using CBD before bed. This is not a uniform observation, but utilizing a sleep measuring device can help you determine if you might benefit from CBD in this way.
There is lots of discussion about the right dosage amount of CBD, and the answer is that everyone is different, and it is not the size or weight dependent. I recommend that you start low and increase overtime to find the right amount that works for you.
When choosing which CBD is right for you, you have two choices to make. First is what format do you want to take it in:
Drops that you hold under your tongue for 60 to 90 seconds will let you absorb more of the CBD, but some people are very sensitive to the taste.
Liquid Gels are less bioavailable (i.e., you will want to take a higher quantity) and it will take longer to become effective, but you avoid the taste issues.
Second is whether you want CBD Isolate or CBD Full Spectrum
CBD Isolate is only CBD and has 0% THC. Most of my athletes take this for testing purposes as CBD is permitted there is some uncertainty right now with WADA about other Cannabinoids. Tested athletes should not use CBD when in-competition.
CBD Full Spectrum is potentially more effective due to what is considered the "entourage effect" of the Cannabinoids all working together, but it does have trace amounts of THC (below 0.3%) and shouldn't be used by a tested athlete.
👨⚕️ Here is a good choice for Drops:
👨⚕️ Here is a good choice for Liquid Gels:
The term “sleep hygiene” refers to the practices and regimen around one’s nightly sleep, which serve to improve sleep quality. You’re probably familiar with the idea, if not the terminology. Optimal sleep hygiene includes:
- Removing light from your sleep environment so that the room is as dark as possible.
- Ensuring the room is cool, ideally 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon and evening before bed.
- Limiting blue light exposure and screen time in the two to three hours before bed.
- Avoiding large meals in the hours before bed.
- Having consistent sleep and wake times, even on weekends.
- Decreasing stressful stimuli by reading, meditating, or just being with loved ones.
- Seeking sunlight exposure during the waking hours.
- Engaging in regular, daily exercise.
- In general, achieving good sleep hygiene requires honing a routine that you find helpful and effective. Measuring your sleep can aid in achieving this, and numerous wearable devices now allow for this.
Concerning sleep hygiene, you must address the basics before worrying about hacks and shortcuts. For the most part, it requires discipline. If you need a bit of help though, you can buy devices that cool your bed or glasses which block blue light. Many of the athletes I work with use blue light blocking glasses in the evenings. Exposure to blue light signals the pineal gland in the brain to stop producing melatonin, that hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep. By wearing glasses which block this blue light, you can mitigate this effect on melatonin.
Regardless of your goals for the day, your ability to achieve them starts at night. Adequate amounts and quality of sleep set the stage for your daily performance, whether that is athletically, mentally, or both.
If you are interested in learning more about sleep, I would highly recommend Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
Sleep well 💤
Dr. Kevin Sprouse
Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice. Before implementing any information contained herein, you should first discuss it with your doctor. The use of this information or materials linked from this article is at the user's own risk. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Readers should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions. In no way does this article establish any doctor-patient relationship.