It’s funny how concerned people are in health, fitness and athletics with performance enhancers whether it’s anabolic steroids, a radical diet plan, or a new supplement. The best performance enhancer is right under our noses and that’s sleep. Sleep is the only performance enhancing tool that can actually cover virtually all of the health, fitness and performance adaptations we seek when we set goals. Like any performance enhancer especially steroids the actual performance agent doesn’t give you the direct result it merely puts your body in state to be leverage and maximize the result. For example taking steroids doesn’t make you stronger or bigger, strength and hypertrophy training makes you stronger and bigger and strength and hypertrophy training while taking steroids gives you a performance advantage by way of augmented biochemistry.
If people understood that sleep functions the same way people would be utilizing that way more. Now you just can’t have any sleep it has to be functional sleep, sleep that’s optimized for general routine housekeeping and then responding to whatever stimulus is experienced from training and nutrition. Let’s break it down
The primary function of sleep is to repair, recover, restore an prepare for the next day. Imagine sleep as being the pit crew for your body in slower time. Sleep releases all the chemicals, hormones and metabolic factors, to deal with inflammation, autophagy, mitophagy, detoxification and oxidative stress from the day. After the clean up crew works through these processes your body goes to the equivalent of a car wash and your brain, and spine, central and peripheral nervous systems as well as other tissues gets bathed and hydrated through imbibition. In fact the brain actually shrinks overnight by 40% to create space for hydration and drainage. All of these processes take place in the first half of a full nights sleep and this is primarily known as “physical repair”. The second half of sleep is known as “psychogenic repair” this is where mental and emotional processes are handled. Stress management, mental processing, memory retention and learning faculties, neurotransmitter rebuilding takes place etc.
If your overall sleep-wake phase is disordered you may be suboptimal in either or both of the physical repair phase and the psychogenic repair phase. You can do an assessment to find out what’s suboptimal everyone responds to poor sleep differently. Some people can function physically but mentally and emotionally not be in the greatest of moods, and unless there’s an obvious reason
“waking up on the wrong side of the bed” is a sign of poor psychogenic recovery. Others can have optimal psychogenic repair but physically they feel awful. Timing plays a key role your ability for sleep to be maximized. There is also a governing loop that dictates how sleep processes will go and a lot of it has to do with your circadian rhythm. If your sleep is subpar then your body defaults into a prioritization mode whereby there’s only so many resources and so much time to get a certain amount of tasks done and because sleep is suboptimal the bandwidth to task everything has limits so priority takes precedent. Typically the body will prioritize based on the level of inflammation systemic and local, or in other words wherever the biggest fires are that’s what will be dealt with first. When you’re in a prioritizing state with sleep because its poor things will slip through the cracks and your health will suffer at some point. On the flipside if you have optimal sleep and all systems are good and optimized your bandwidth increases and you’re able to do more things such as burn more fat, lose more weight, put on more muscle, have more brain power, more sustained energy and feel an overall sense of wellbeing and happiness.
So for the person who has an optimized sleep they have budget to spend on extra things, like a person who has enough money left over to go on a trip. For the person who has poor sleep they have to budget and catch up on debt, like a person who has bills mounting week after week. To the person who sleeps optimally; sleep is like taking a steroid and to the person who has poor sleep: its like a bandaid on a wound.
All of the efforts and investments we make with our health and fitness, nutrition and training are all forms of stimuli that we like to see bring us dividends. Those dividends have the maximum amount of yield during sleep; provided you have a surplus, or in other words enough bandwidth to cash in on that. The “accounts” are there as well for this to happen in the form of neurohormonal chemistry. Melatonin, testosterone, growth hormone, dopamine, leptin and more. The cocktail of hormones and chemicals that circulate during sleep are designed part and parcel to the stimuli of your training, nutrition, health and fitness. This feedback loop by default customizes the chemical recipe that will yield the dividend of your health and fitness goals. This is what makes sleep the ultimate steroid. You won’t have to put as much effort in your training and nutrition to achieve your goals and even maintain them if you can get a high yield from sleep. To optimize this process now check out my powerdown protocol it’s the first step in optimizing sleep for performance.