Sleeping is extremely important
Sleep is obviously important for our overall health, recovery, muscle growth and above all else, our sanity! There are many reasons why we don’t sleep, most of which are associated with elevated stress levels and the hormones our bodies release as a result. These hormones, primarily cortisol, released by the adrenal glands, have a nasty habit of keeping us awake at night, and that familiar feeling of staring at the ceiling and being physically tired, but mentally still very active.
Is cortisol the enemy?
Now don’t get me wrong, cortisol released at the right time and in the right amounts has profound benefits for fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, however, elevated cortisol levels have massive implications for other hormones in the body, creating imbalances that cause a myriad of conditions from excessive weight gain to muscle wasting, which is the exact opposite of what we want as athletes (or as any normal person really!).
There are many things that can cause stress in the sports/exercise world, such as heavy training volumes, competition related mental stress and dietary deficiencies due to either poor nutrition or phases of weight loss. In this article, I aim to outline a few things we can do to supplement our diet that will help you get those extra zzzzz’s, some you may have thought of, others you may have not!
Zinc, magnesium and aspartate (ZMA)
One of the most common concoctions of ingredients used in sleep aids is that of zinc, magnesium and aspartate (ZMA).
Zinc and magnesium are elements responsible for thousands of complex chemical reactions which promote normal function and are lost during periods of activity through sweat and increased metabolic demands. This leads to deficiency, one of the symptoms of which being interrupted sleep. Both zinc and magnesium are involved in reactions that maintain normal levels of cortisol, with magnesium, in particular, showing that supplementation has profound effects on reducing excessive cortisol levels.
Several studies into supplementing with ZMA have demonstrated a reduction in cortisol levels and improved sleeping function. Aspartate has been proposed to help to maintain testosterone levels that may be decreased during high training volumes and periods of stress, which may aid recovery, particularly during sleep.
ZMA is manufactured by many brands, although here at CSN we have our favourites, specifically targeted for aiding sleep, that is combined with other ingredients that also help promote sleep (we’ll get on to these). At CSN we recommend our own ZMA, while also recommending MusclePharm Z-Core PM, as it has been formulated using the amounts and ratios of ZMA comparable to studies that have demonstrated improved sleep and recovery, with 7.5mg of magnesium aspartate and 113mg of Zinc as aspartate. Taken 30-60 minutes before bedtime this should help you drop off and improve the overall quality of sleep. We recommend giving ZMA ago as the first port of call to help with sleep.
How else can you improve sleep beside ZMA's?
Melatonin is another key ingredient found in some sleep aids. Melatonin is a hormone that is a key player in the regulation of the sleep cycle and is controlled by daylight. As light levels drop, melatonin is released encouraging the body to sleep. Supplementation of melatonin has been shown to encourage deeper, longer sleep and increased sleep quality and has been used to treat a large number of sleep disorders.