If you’re someone who works out at night and constantly fights the battle of having a restful night’s sleep afterwards, you’re not alone. For a lot of strength athletes, the night is the only time to truly get a lift in.
Save the “Just workout in the morning or lunch,” arguments, because those get old and some lifters don’t physically have those options. It’s not that working out late is the issue, it’s the falling asleep afterwards. For a lot of athlete’s calming the nervous system after a strenuous late lift becomes an art.
Personally, I’ve struggled with restless sleep for quite sometime, and I lift in the evening four out of the five workdays. I love lifting in the evening, it’s when my body is most receptive to heavy loads (I’m not a morning guy). The constant struggle of sleep – while a pain the butt – has taught me how to utilize different strategies after late lifts.
The goal of this article is to help you get your body prepped for a state of rest post late night lift. Below are tips to help lower your heart rate, decrease body temperature, and calm your nervous system, all things extremely important for peaceful sleep.
Step 1: Fluid and Food Manipulation
Late night lifts often require late night meals and drinks. Small meals before bed can be beneficial for muscle protein synthesis, as demonstrated in this study from 2015 analyzing healthy men consuming small meals pre-bed. However, big meals can cause a prolonged rate of deep sleep or disrupted sleep.
There are two strategies that work well when aiming to hit your daily caloric/macronutrient goals when lifting late nights.
- Consume bigger meals throughout the day, then save a smaller, protein rich meal post-workout.
- Make a fluid and food cutoff time in the evening.
- As in, 10 p.m. is your last time during the day to eat or drink anything for a 11 p.m. bedtime. A good rule of thumb I use is a full hour to hour and half gap between my last consumption and sleep. Although, everyone will have different preferences, so experiment with times and your body. Also, food choice can hinder sleep.
Step 2: Shower Temperature
Once you’ve set up your food and drink strategy, it’s time to turn to the shower. Warm showers have been seen to support sleep, but for someone who lifts in the evening, this logic has to change a little bit.
Body temperature will be higher following a workout, so a steamy shower can actually hinder your ability to sleep by raising body temperature even higher. This is where I’ve learned the balance of water temperature can become an art. You want to lower your body temperature, but avoid doing so quickly (a cold shower could stimulate alertness).
This all being said, when you shower post-workout in the evening, try a luke warm shower. You don’t want to be dancing around because it’s cold, it should feel relaxing, almost refreshing when hitting your warm skin.
Step 3: Room Temperature
A general guideline is that a cooler room (60-67 degrees) promotes a better sleep. This environment signals the body to slow heart rate and relax, which causes that instant feeling of lethargy you get when you come home and enter your cold room.
If you’re an athlete who lifts in the evening, then try swaying towards the colder end of the suggested spectrum. With increased body temperature, a colder environment can be a good thing when trying to regulate body temperature to fall asleep quicker.
Step 4: Magnesium
This supplement is an amazing tool for restful sleep and strength gains. It’s a common mineral the public is deficient in, and one of the most important for strength athletes in particular. Magnesium supports recovery and has been linked to higher testosterone levels.
Magnesium promotes restful sleep by relaxing the muscles and reducing stress. This in return, helps calm the body when lying down and prepping for bed. After late night lifts the nervous system will be firing at an increased rate. The supplementation of magnesium can be a way to combat an excited nervous system and begin to calm the body as a whole.
Step 5: Unplug and Meditate
Turn off screens and bright light 30-minutes before fully unwinding. Set your morning alarms and take a break from all LED screens. One study suggested that 30-minutes of staring at LED screens in the evening led to melatonin being suppressed by up to 91%. This point is crucial for melatonin production. Since late night lifters are already at a point of increased excitability, then it’s crucial to do everything possible to unwind.
Once the screens are away and you have time to reflect, try a little meditation. It doesn’t have to be long, or super intense, but a few minutes of reflection is a great way to unwind and start recovering. Try a savasana for 10-minutes. This is the form of relaxation usually performed at the end of a yoga classes. The goal of a savasana is to silence racing thoughts and let the body begin its steps to recovery.
Building Your Own Method
If you lift at night, then there needs to be a special focus on a nighttime sleep regimen. An over stimulated nervous system is an easy way to lose quality sleep, which can seriously hinder gains in the gym. The above steps are a few suggestions I’ve found that work to calm the body.
Work to build your own sleep regimen and experiment with different methods to find what calms your body down the most. A solid sleep regimen won’t be built overnight, so be patient and listen to your body along the way.
Feature image @davidbracetty photography.
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