Sleep is important for everybody, period. But we know that it’s particularly important for people who want to perform well athletically [1], and we also know that it becomes increasingly important during contest preparation in physique athletes. It’s not uncommon for subjective ratings of sleep quality to drop during contest prep [2]. In fact, during the prep that resulted in my bodybuilding pro card and pro debut, sleep deprivation was by far the most troublesome side effect I experienced. Just ask my coworkers- I often showed up to the lab around 2:00 or 3:00 am due to my persistent, diet-induced insomnia!

Unfortunately, poor sleep is both common and problematic for strength and physique athletes. Sleep deprivation alters the release and circulating levels of aldosterone [3] and cortisol [4], which can lead to some wonky fluctuations in scale weight that make progress more difficult to track. It has also been linked to changes in endocannabinoid concentrations [5], along with increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels, resulting in increased hunger and appetite [6]. Altogether, the effects of sleep deprivation have been linked to obesity [7] and inflammation [8]. If that doesn’t get your attention, consider this: Research has shown that sleep restriction during weight loss decreases the loss of fat mass and increases the loss of lean mass [9]. Needless to say, the sleep-deprived condition is far from ideal for successful competition in strength and physique sports.

Whether you’re deep into your offseason and trying to increase lean mass, or well into contest prep and hoping to enhance your look on stage, sleep should be prioritized. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean crossing your fingers and hoping for a good night’s sleep; we can take proactive steps to enhance the duration and quality of our sleep.


Light Exposure Before Bed: Avoiding the Blues

One easy method of improving sleep quality is to avoid blue light in close proximity to the onset of sleep. Light in these short wavelengths (446-483 nm) has been shown to have a particularly potent effect on sleep cycle disruption [10], and the effects carry over to affect drowsiness and energy metabolism the following morning [11]. Unfortunately, we receive blue light from fluorescent lighting, LED lighting, and most devices with digital screens. The most straightforward way to implement this information is to simply avoid artificial light and digital screens within 1-3 hours of bedtime. However, if you absolutely need those last few hours of screen time to end your day, amber colored lenses might be beneficial. Amber lenses specifically block light in the blue wavelength spectrum, and research has shown that wearing amber lenses for three hours prior to sleep enhances mood and sleep quality [12].

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