In a previous article, we discussed some sleep basics. We covered the importance and impact of sleep on recovery and training, the consequences of sleep deprivation, and the major components involved in sleep loss. You didn’t think we'd leave you hanging with just that, did you? Of course not!

In this part, we'll explore the many ways that we sleep-deprived elitefts™ citizens can improve sleep and maintain, and even increase, swoleness. Let’s dive deeper into sleep, science, and swoleness!

Nap time!

Who doesn’t love naps? Any hard training athlete will benefit tremendously from taking a nap, particularly if a training session is scheduled for the afternoon or evening. The benefit of a brief (5–15 minutes) nap is almost immediate after the nap and lasts a limited period [1–3 hours (12)].

There are a few factors that affect the benefits of naps, including the circadian timing of the nap, with early afternoon the most optimal time for the nap. Longer periods of prior wakefulness support longer naps over brief naps. Individuals who take a regular siesta (Spanish for nap) seem to show greater benefits than those who rarely nap (4, 12). How do we know this?

Well, science has explored this area. Waterhouse and colleagues (28) investigated the effects of a lunchtime nap on sprint performance following by partial sleep deprivation (four hours of sleep). Following a 30-minute nap, 20-meter sprint performance was increased, alertness was increased, and sleepiness was decreased when compared with the no-nap trial. The afternoon nap lowered heart rate and intra-aural temperature. Alertness, sleepiness, short-term memory, and accuracy of an eight-choice reaction time test were improved by napping. Therefore, post-lunch naps improve alertness and aspects of mental and physical performance following partial sleep loss and have implications for athletes with restricted sleep during training or before competition. Talk about a power nap!

Napping has been shown to have a positive influence on cognitive tasks following a night of sleep loss of two hours (20) and a positive influence on learning skills, strategy, or tactics. Napping is beneficial for athletes who have to wake early routinely for training or competition and those who are experiencing sleep deprivation (20).

The bottom line on naps: Don’t question it. Just do it!

Sleeping man

The “swole train” (interventions to enhance sleep)

How do you enhance sleep? Well, for starters, you can actually get good quality and quantity sleep. Check out some good tips at the end. But first, here are some interventions to likely aid in additional pillow time.


I know, right? Carbs probably weren't on your radar for sleep enhancement. Carbs get an unnecessary bad rap for many things related to training and nutrition but can provide a good strategy for catching some extra zzzs. The main principle of carb use for sleep is to stimulate the release of the hormones melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland and helps regulate sleep and wake cycles while serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates the sleep/wake cycle.

Carbs and their effect on sleep have been reported for years. Early work provided six male subjects with a high carbohydrate meal (130 grams), a low carbohydrate meal (47 grams), or a meal containing no carbohydrates 45 minutes before bedtime. The high carbohydrate meal resulted in increased REM sleep, decreased light sleep, and wakefulness (19). However, the caloric content of the meals wasn't matched in the study. Another early study looked at a low carbohydrate (50 grams/day) diet for seven days and reported increased REM latency when compared with sleep before the intervention when subjects were consuming their usual diet (10).

There have also been some findings on meals versus drinks with high, normal, and low carbohydrate content versus water at various time intervals before sleep. An early study found that solid meals enhanced sleep-onset latency (time taken to fall asleep) up to three hours after ingestion, and the liquid meal was slightly better than water, but there wasn't any effect from meal or drink composition on sleep (17).

Studies from the same group of authors (1, 2) have examined carbohydrate ingestion before sleep in healthy men. In the first study, high or low glycemic index (GI) meals were given four hours or one hour before sleep (1). The high GI meal significantly improved sleep-onset latency above the low GI meal, and providing the meal four hours before sleep was better than providing the meal one hour before sleep. In the other study, there was more of a mixed meal but very low carbohydrate diet (1 percent carbohydrate, 61 percent fat, 38 percent protein) and a control diet (72 percent carbohydrate, 12.5 percent fat, 15.5 percent protein) matched for caloric content four hours before sleep (2). What’s interesting is that it was found that the very low carbohydrate diet increased slow wave deep sleep and all stages of NREM whereas the control diet decreased REM. Just this year, research looked at the effects of a carbohydrate-enriched night meal on sleepiness and sleep duration in night workers and found that the carbohydrate-enriched meal increased the duration of sleep in obese workers and may influence sleepiness (14).

The bottom line on carbs: Carbs can definitely be a helpful strategy to increase sleep. However, various meal compositions exist, so it’s recommended that the individual tries different methods and various meal compositions. Some suggestions are some types of yogurt, carbs and protein, oatmeal, and/or milk.

yogurt sleep nap jon mike 060914

Dietary intake

This is where things really start to get interesting and perhaps slightly confusing. Keep in mind that there is inter-individual variability among mixed meal compositions with sleep. It's quite common to develop various responses to training versus sleep, as both need to be approached differently based on individual response.

When it comes to sleep, the effects of diet and mixed meals have been investigated for years, including a study of women for seven days on high protein (>100 g), low protein (<15 g), or normal daily protein intake. It was found that a high protein intake resulted in increased restlessness while a low protein intake resulted in lower amounts of slow wave deep sleep, but there weren't any differences in total sleep time. Just last year, researchers manipulated the diet of 44 adults for four days. Diets were high protein (56 percent protein, 22 percent carbohydrate, 22 percent fat), high carbohydrate (56 percent carbohydrate, 22 percent protein, 22 percent fat), or high fat (56 percent fat, 22 percent protein, 22 percent carbohydrate). Diets higher in carbohydrate resulted in shorter sleep-onset latencies, and diets higher in protein resulted in fewer wake episodes (11).

Who has protein before bed? Say I! You’re in luck because a recent report found that protein ingestion before sleep improved post-exercise overnight recovery. Sixteen healthy young males ingested 40 grams of casein protein or placebo 30 minutes before sleep and found that casein protein was effectively digested and absorbed resulting in a rapid rise in circulating amino acid levels, which were sustained all through the night. The protein ingestion before sleep increased whole body protein synthesis rates and improved net protein balance compared to the placebo. It was concluded that mixed muscle protein synthesis rates were approximately 22 percent higher in the protein group versus the placebo (22). In fact, this is the first study to show that protein ingested immediately before sleep effectively stimulates muscle protein synthesis (and swoleness) and improves whole body protein balance during overnight recovery. Similar results have also been reported in the elderly (7). Better get your bedtime feeding snack!

The bottom line on dietary intake: With dietary intake, it’s often difficult to draw conclusions based on overall meal composition and macronutrient ratio. However, carbs can certainly have a benefit, but protein before sleep will enhance recovery and increase swoleness via whole body protein synthesis. Further, it’s suggested that a low intake energy ratio of proteins and a high intake energy ratio of carbohydrates, a low consumption of staple foods for breakfast, and excessive intake of the essential foods at lunch and dinner are linked with poor sleep-wake regularity.

Limit/avoid caffeine and alcohol

Many of us use normal “pre-workout” stimulants like a double shot of espresso before training sessions or even have another “java” stimulant so that we can stay up and work until 12:00 a.m. However, while these methods are great, they're always temporary and can wreak havoc on our sleep. The principle behind this is that caffeine can prolong sleep latency, decrease total sleep time, increase light sleep and shorten deep sleep time, which makes it more challenging to obtain REM sleep (25, 27). A near identical effect of alcohol and sleep is also present. Consumption of alcohol 30–60 minutes before sleep results in disruptions in sleep maintenance and sleep architecture that are mediated by blood alcohol levels (23, 24). Moderate doses of alcohol facilitate “rebounds” in REM sleep and stage 1 sleep, with subsequent suppression in REM and stage 1 sleep in the first half of an eight-hour sleep episode, and can likely alter slow wave sleep (23, 24).

The bottom line on caffeine and alcohol: Limit caffeine to a training aid and don't consume it before sleep. Alcohol consumption should be used either on non-training days or limited to wine, not hard liquor.


Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 12.14.34 PM Figure 1: Factors affecting sleep

Sleep and “Swolementation”

This isn't your typical Dr. Oz “take this” voodoo and you’ll be on your way to melting fat and “curing your life” crap. This section highlights some supplement strategies to augment your sleep that actually work.


Thanksgiving turkey only comes once a year when you engross yourself into a caloric sleep coma. However, it doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving in order to supplement with tryptophan. Just like melatonin, tryptophan is also secreted by the pineal gland. The body converts the amino acid l-tryptophan into serotonin, one of several neurotransmitters, which can serve to facilitate faster sleep and reduce wakefulness during the night. Oftentimes, you’ll see it as l-tryptophan (5-hydroxytryptophan) or “5-HTP,” which is made from tryptophan and generates the same effects. Due to their effects on serotonin levels, ;-tryptophan and 5-HTP are particularly helpful in improving sleep in people who experience sleep problems. There have been numerous investigations of the effects of tryptophan supplementation on sleep. Based on a recent review, tryptophan doses as low as 1 gram can improve sleep latency and subjective sleep quality (26).


Believe it or not, valerian is an herb that binds to GABA receptors. Say what? Yes, I said GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system (and a mild sedative). It is well established that the activation of GABA receptors favors sleep. It has been shown that GABA increases brain-activated behavioral states [waking and paradoxical sleep and dreaming (6, 8)]. Results of a meta-analysis on valerian showed a subjective improvement in sleep quality (5), although improvements in sleep quantity haven't yet been found. Although you can purchase both valerian and GABA in the supplement store, some side effects of valerian may include drowsiness, dizziness, and allergic reactions. Lastly, a recent review pinpoints that GABA is likely to aid in the release of growth hormone secretion, which definitely aids in our swoleness abilities (21).

Tart cherry juice

Tart cherries are purported to have a number of beneficial health effects, including high levels of antioxidants and improved sleep, due to its high levels of melatonin. A 2010 study examined tart cherry juice on sleep. During each of the 14-day periods, each participant was instructed to drink two eight-ounce servings of the assigned beverage with one serving in the morning between 8:00 a.m. and 10 a.m. and one serving in the evening 1–2 hours before bedtime to avoid excess fluid intake immediately before bed. Tart cherry juice produced significant reductions in insomnia severity (minutes awake after sleep onset) but no improvements for sleep latency, total sleep time, or sleep efficiency compared to the placebo. However, it had modest beneficial effects on sleep in older adults with insomnia (18).

sleep nap supplements 060914Another recent study showed modest improvements in sleep time and quality (9). Although tart cherries also contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals that may influence sleep with the sleep–wake cycle, it may not be melatonin per se that promotes sleep enhancement.

Melatonin and magnesium

Lastly, we all know about melatonin, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that it's associated with circadian rhythms A meta-analysis reported a reduction in sleep-onset latency of 7.2 minutes and concluded that while melatonin appeared safe for short-term use, there wasn't any evidence that melatonin was effective for most primary sleep disorders (3). In addition, a recent review discussed the use of melatonin for primary insomnia and overall reported inconclusive results (13).

A major benefit of taking magnesium is its positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, it has the ability to lower the response of the nervous system, creating a calming effect. It has also been shown that consuming an Mg2+ supplement reduced chronic inflammation stress levels and enhanced the quality of sleep (15, 16).

The bottom line on sleep supplements: On the whole, there is excellent support that these various sleep supplements show a very positive effect for enhancing sleep. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list but still provides good insight. Just because science may or may not show something to be effective, do it if you like it and if you feel it works for you and your sleep!

Sleep tips

For those who may want to keep it simple, here’s a collection of tips that can be helpful:

  1. Get 7–9 hours/night (maybe more) at least once or twice weekly.
  2. Eat diets high in protein to improve sleep quality.
  3. Take a full, 100-minute nap or a minimum of a 30-minute power nap to compensate for lack of sleep during the week.
  4. Try supplementing with tryptophan. Doses as low as 1 gram can improve sleep latency and subjective sleep quality.
  5. Stop watching television by 9:00 p.m.!
  6. Limit caffeine to more of a training aid and don't consume prior to sleep.
  7. Establish an actual bedtime routine just like your pre-training routine. For example, read (as in a book or something that isn't related to social media) for 30–45 minutes (I do this myself).
  8. Consume some type of carbs (i.e., yogurt, carbs and protein, oatmeal, and/or milk).
  9. Drink some tart cherry juice.
  10. If these other tips don’t work, try a sleep aid like GABA or something more potent. Hell, you probably have a CPAP, so there may not be a need for something extra.

Sleep Summary

Sleep is often overlooked in the name of training, recovery, and overall physique improvement. There are numerous factors that can affect sleep, so I encourage you to take a global view of why your sleep can very well be affected. Hopefully, this has provided you with more understanding about the fundamental process of sleep, what it is, its purpose, its role in the training process, and some insight into various sleep strategies. I recommend that you try various modalities or use a combination to match your performance needs.


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