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The Other 23 Hours in a Day - Part One: Sleep


While showing up at Madlab three-four days a week goes a long way in keeping you fit and healthy, it's generally not enough. It takes up just one hour of your day, leaving 23 hours for you to make all kinds of destructive decisions.

And in 11 years of coaching, I have learned that one of the most common poor decisions people make is around sleep!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.....

The truth is, you may not. A colleague of mine at the Morning Chalk Up wrote this article recently about sleep. In short, there's evidence that, while the great majority of us require seven to eight hours of sleep a night, there are some people, based on genetics, who can flourish with six. And most recently, scientists think they found a gene that some people have that allows them to be fully functional with just five hours sleep. As someone who needs nine hours a couple days a week with the odd sprinkler of a 10-hour night, that is unfathomable to me. But, we're not all created equal.

Bottom line: If you're not taking care of your sleep—whether that means 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours a night—chances are you're leaving some serious health benefits on the table, and probably happiness benefits, too! It's tough to be happy and present and to get the most out of the day (and your training session) when you're running low on sleep.

Before you feel guilty, you're not alone. Here are some statistics about the state of sleep affairs today:

  • Harvard University School of Public Health estimates as much as 5 percent of obesity in adults is caused by a lack of sleep. 
  • Snoring affects as much as 48 percent of the American population, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Forty percent of people reported falling asleep at work unintentionally in the last month.

Ok, now to three solutions for troubled sleep:

  1. Sleep deprivation in the short-term

If your sleep is super out of whack and you have trouble falling asleep at night, this one might be for you:

Though it sounds counterintuitive, sleep deprivation is one of the methods used in Cognitive Behavioural Insomnia Therapy (CBiT), a type of therapy that helps build good habits associated with bedtime.

Here’s how short-term sleep deprivation works:

  • Calculate how many hours of sleep you get on average. Let’s assume this number is five.
  • Decide on a consistent bedtime and wake up time that gives you five hours of sleep. For example, if you wake up at 6 a.m., this means you will go to bed at 1 a.m. and get up at 6 a.m.
  • No matter how tired you are, go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. until you experience seven consecutive days feeling little to no restlessness when you’re trying to fall asleep. 
  • Once you achieve this, set your bedtime back 20 minutes to 12:40 a.m. Repeat the above. Go to bed at 12:40 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. until you experience seven good nights of sleep.
  • Repeat again. Now your bedtime is 12:20 a.m. Keep repeating until your bedtime is such that you’re getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, or however many hours you deem is optimal for your body.
  1. Get rid of your clock and your sleep app

If you’re stressed out about how much sleep you’re getting and have been using an app to help you out, this one might be for you:

It’s pretty common for us to sleep with our phones, or next to a clock, which we often check when we’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Often this causes even more problems. For one, the clock can be a source of anxiety, as we start to worry that it’s 1 a.m. and we still haven’t fallen asleep. Or, maybe we’re asleep and then wake up and check our clock. Now the bright light wakes us up, even more, making falling back asleep even harder.

The same is true of many sleep tracker apps out there. While they can tell us valuable information, such as how deeply we are sleeping, or how much REM sleep we are getting, they can be a source of anxiety if our sleep isn’t where we want it to be. This stress and pressure we put on ourselves to have better sleep than the night before can contribute to even more stressed out sleep.

  1. Melatonin

If you have trouble feeling tired when you want to, or wake up a lot during the night, this one might be for you:

If you’re considering supplements, melatonin is highly recommended, as it’s natural. In fact, melatonin is a hormone we create ourselves in the pineal gland of our brains. It also happens to control our sleep and wake cycles. 

Melatonin works along with the body’s circadian rhythm—i.e. our body’s internal clock. Essentially, when melatonin levels begin to increase, it signals our body that it’s time to sleep. 

Various factors can cause low levels of melatonin at night, such as smoking, exposure to too much light in the evening, or not getting enough natural light during the day. 

While melatonin is found in some food we eat, such as meat, grains, fruits and vegetables, it’s only found in small amounts. Thus, melatonin as a supplement is wise for many, as it helps normalize our internal clock.

If you're thinking about heading down the supplement road, some other options to help sleep include ZMA, calcium and magnesium.

Sleep Tight!