If you ask veteran strength athletes what the most underrated aspect of the muscle growth equation is, without a doubt they would all say that it has to be sleep. Even though sleep is one of life’s simple pleasures, far too many people just take it for granted.
But why? It could simply be due to the fact that sleep is seen as unproductive work, since those hours spent lying in bed could be used to work out or do something that feels more “tangible”.
However, while those may seem like logical reasons to avoid sleep, there are millions of other people that do appreciate the importance of sleep, but just can’t get an adequate amount of it owing to reasons such as anxiety, stress or neurochemical and hormonal imbalances.
But make no mistake – without sufficient sleep, you are never going to get where you want to be in regards to strength, musculature or leanness.
But help is at hand, as there are very effective and safe natural options you can take to optimize your circadian rhythm for restorative sleep. Here are some of your best bets.
One of the best natural sleep aids in the world, the root is the primary source used to deal with insomnia and anxiety. But how exactly does Valerian root help?
Much of its sleep promoting properties relates to how it interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA, which promotes feelings of calmness and tranquility as levels in the brain increase. Valerian root (but more specifically one of its constituents known as valerenic acid) inhibits the breakdown of this neurotransmitter in the brain, enhancing natural sedation.
Another way Valerian root is believed to help promote sleep is by reducing activity in a part of the brain known as the amygdala[i], which is associated with excitatory impulses caused by stress and brings on anxiety[ii].
For reference, the prescription benzodiazepine medications (such as Xanax or Valium) work via a similar mechanism to introduce relaxation and sleep, but Valerian root is a much safer alternative and often used a therapy for patients in benzodiazepine withdrawal[iii].
L-tryptophan is an amino acid found in protein rich foods, but which possesses beneficial effects by promoting sleep. Found naturally in foods such as turkey, this amino acid is believed to be responsible for the drowsiness that in’s use after the classic American Thanksgiving feast.
Serotonin is most often associated with promoting a positive mood, when melatonin is known as one of the body’s natural sleep hormones.
One of the most important functions of melatonin is in regulation of the body’s sleep-wake cycle otherwise known as its circadian rhythm. This is why it is believed that sleeping and waking a consistent time daily foster good sleep patterns, as melatonin can more easily contribute to ensuring restful sleep.
Turns out that magnesium is much more important than for maintaining bone health, as it also plays an extremely important role in regulating sleep. Being magnesium deficient even interferes with sleep, as studies in mice have indicated insomnia and overall poor sleeping patterns in rodents deficient in the mineral[vi].
More directly, magnesium helps to promote restful sleep as it is believed to have a regulator effect on melatonin[vii], a hormone that promotes restful sleep. In addition to this, ensuring you consume sufficient magnesium on a day-to-day basis is associated with a lower incidence of anxiety[viii], depression and cognitive inhibition, talk to be as a result of how it binds to GABA receptors to impair the effect of stimulating molecules.
Whereas the sympathetic nervous system gets your body up and going, the parasympathetic nervous system – believed to be stimulated by magnesium, promotes calmness and relaxation.
Did you know that hops are commonly used in beer and is what is responsible for the bitter flavour? However, long before hops were made into everyone’s favourite alcoholic beverage, it was used to help promote sleep.
While there aren’t many studies available to definitively pinpoint all of hops actions on sleep, one of the most important ones was published by Acta physiologica Hungarica in 2012[ix], and highlighted the fact that it sedative actions was as a result of its ability to increase the activity of GABA in the brain, inhibiting the nervous system and promoting sleep.
An aroma that is immediately associated with relaxation and inner bliss, Lavender holds true when it comes to its sleep promoting properties. One study conducted to investigate how effective lavender was indicated that even inhalation of aromatic components of lavender[xi] improved deep sleep (which is when muscle growth actively occurs), and reduced the frequency of awakenings during the night.
And yes, even though overall sample size and quality of the studies were not top-notch, there is indelible evidence that it promotes relaxation since its constituents are believed to inhibit stimulate you neurotransmitters in the brain.
Have you ever taught you slept sufficient number of hours only to wake up feeling extremely fatigued? Rhodiola may be just the thing you need. Not only does it help to alleviate fatigue, but taken daily over the course of eight weeks, a study disclosed improvement in overall stress symptoms, as well as overall fatigue and feelings of in adequate sleep quality (otherwise known as burnout[xii]).
We always advocate fortifying your nutritional base above all else, which would mean priming your bed by ensuring that you consume sufficient magnesium. Adding a supplement that delivers L-tryptophan is a worthwhile investment as well, and subsequently going with herbs such as Valerian if such measures prove insufficient.
Adaptogen herbs such as Rhodiola are always welcome in this stressful world we live in, and as you just read, even the simple act of spritzing a bit of lavender essential oil around your room at night can yield big dividends on your sleep bottom line.
One thing is abundantly clear – when it comes to sleep, keep things as natural as possible. Do not rely on pharmaceuticals unless you have tried multiple natural remedies and are in desperate need of sleep.
[i] Jung HY, Yoo DY, Nam SM, Kim JW, Choi JH, Yoo M, Lee S, Yoon YS, Hwang IK. Valerenic Acid Protects Against Physical and Psychological Stress by Reducing theTurnover of Serotonin and Norepinephrine in Mouse Hippocampus-Amygdala Region. J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1333-9. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.3412. Epub 2015 Jul 15.PubMed PMID: 26177123; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4685497
[ii] Benke D, Barberis A, Kopp S, Altmann KH, Schubiger M, Vogt KE, Rudolph U,Möhler H. GABA A receptors as in vivo substrate for the anxiolytic action ofvalerenic acid, a major constituent of valerian root extracts. Neuropharmacology.2009 Jan;56(1):174-81. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2008.06.013. Epub 2008 Jun 17.
PubMed PMID: 18602406.
[iii] Poyares DR, Guilleminault C, Ohayon MM, Tufik S. Can valerian improve thesleep of insomniacs after benzodiazepine withdrawal? Prog NeuropsychopharmacolBiol Psychiatry. 2002 Apr;26(3):539-45. PubMed PMID: 11999905.
[iv] Zagajewski J, Drozdowicz D, Brzozowska I, Hubalewska-Mazgaj M, Stelmaszynska T, Laidler PM, Brzozowski T. Conversion L-tryptophan to melatonin in thegastrointestinal tract: the new high performance liquid chromatography method enabling simultaneous determination of six metabolites of L-tryptophan by native
fluorescence and UV-VIS detection. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2012 Dec;63(6):613-21.PubMed PMID: 23388477.
[v] Birdsall TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Aug;3(4):271-80. Review. PubMed PMID: 9727088
[vii] Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9. PubMed PMID: 23853635; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3703169
[ix] Franco L, Sánchez C, Bravo R, Rodriguez A, Barriga C, Juánez JC. The sedative
effects of hops (Humulus lupulus), a component of beer, on the activity/rest
rhythm. Acta Physiol Hung. 2012 Jun;99(2):133-9. doi:
10.1556/APhysiol.99.2012.2.6. PubMed PMID: 22849837.
[x] Franco L, Sánchez C, Bravo R, et al. The sedative effect of non-alcoholic beer in healthy female nurses. PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e37290. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037290
[xi] Chien LW, Cheng SL, Liu CF. The effect of lavender aromatherapy on autonomic
nervous system in midlife women with insomnia. Evid Based Complement Alternat
Med. 2012;2012:740813. doi: 10.1155/2012/740813. Epub 2011 Aug 18. PubMed PMID:
21869900; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3159017
[xii] Kasper S, Dienel A. Multicenter, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2017;13:889–898. Published 2017 Mar 22. doi:10.2147/NDT.S120113