Reader Question: Sweet Dreams

Tim, an Elitefts reader who’s using the Think Strong method, wrote to me the other day.  Like me, Tim struggles with sleep -- he can’t ever remember sleeping through the night, and even when he can fall asleep at night, he often wakes up a few hours later, unable to ever get that luscious 8-hour rest -- unless he uses an over-the-counter sleep aid like Unisom.  Tim writes:

“I have recently tried to kick the habit, for no other reason than I just thought it might be a good idea for my long-term health…. But now of course I'm struggling with a full 8 hours of sleep again.  My question for you is have you noticed any adverse side-effects (or found any through research) from long-term use of a sleep aid?  Much like you, I do not feel groggy in the morning after use - actually quite the opposite.”

Importance of Sleep

Y’all already know how much sleep improves your training and your overall health.  If you don’t, just take a look at all these great articles:

Sleep More, Lift More
Sleep Strategies for Strength, Speed, and Size
Sleep Science: Hitting the Snooze Bar
Improve Sleep to Optimize Performance
Sleep: Why It's Essential

And dozens more -- all on Elitefts alone (just Google “elitefts sleep”)!

Sleeping Problems

Knowing all the benefits of sleep -- and the downsides of a lack of rest -- doesn’t help at all when your head hits the pillow but you just can’t seem to drift off.  In fact, it’s all too easy to get trapped in the self-fulfilling prophecy of worrying about not sleeping so much that you can’t sleep!  Add that to the difficulty of a zombie-like struggle through a long day, and it becomes obvious that sleeping problems don’t just affect your training, but your whole life.

Now, if you have a good way of solving your sleep issues (like Tim does), I’d generally suggest sticking with it.  (Disclaimer: not medical advice.)  But if you’re like me, sleep meds often leave you worse off than insomnia, and stimulants like coffee help to get through the day, but make sleep more elusive at night.

Getting to Dreamland

For me, the best “cure” for insomnia was to let go of my fear of it -- to realize that if I’m only able to get a few hours of sleep at night then yeah, I’ll probably feel like shit the next day, but that’s not the end of the world.  I can still train (and train hard, and productively), I can still deal with all my other responsibilities, and I will sleep eventually.  Once I accepted that, my sleep problems lessened significantly.  I still often struggle with sleep, but now it rarely interferes with my training.

That’s much easier said than done, of course.  Meditation helped me significantly: it’s a great way to relax and unwind before bed, and it makes it easier to accept the difficulties that result from lack of sleep.  And I still often take supplements to help me sleep (I find melatonin and valerian root most effective).  As always, you’ll have to experiment to find what works for you!

For those of you who do suffer from sleep issues, how have you dealt with them?  Any advice for Tim?

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