BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are one of the many supplements people can take to help improve their exercise performance and recovery.
What are amino acids?
Acid can sound a little intimidating, but amino acids are part of the essential makeup of your body. You may know that protein is a vital nutrient required by the body to function properly. Amino acids are the smaller building blocks that makeup protein. There are 20 different amino acids, and your body needs all of these to be able to function. Amino acids normally end in -ine such as alanine, arginine, glutamine etc.
These amino acids can be categorised into two main groups: essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are not able to be produced by the body, and therefore, they are an essential part of your diet, as consuming them is the only way you can attain them. Non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body, and therefore it is not essential for you to consume them in your diet (although it wouldn’t hurt if you did!).
What contains amino acids?
Amino acids are commonly found in meats, eggs, whey protein, and other animal proteins. Animal proteins are generally considered ‘complete’ proteins as they naturally contain all 9 essential amino acids. However, you can also find amino acids in plant proteins such as chia seeds, beans, kidney beans, and peas. Generally plant proteins are lower in essential amino acids, meaning it can be a little harder (but not impossible) to consume enough essential amino acids. A diverse diet with a variety of vegetables, grains, and legumes can allow you to consume enough essential amino acids.
BCAA supplements traditionally include three essential amino acids; leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The ratios of these amino acids within the supplement can vary from brand to brand.
What benefits will BCAAs give me?
BCAAs are believed to help muscle synthesis (growth) and recovery during exercise. In fact, one study found that BCAA supplementation before a squat exercise session helped to decrease DOMS (the muscle soreness you can feel after exercise) and muscle fatigue after the session. To save you from all the scientific and technical language, essentially they believe that BCAAs may help to reduce any protein/muscle breakdown that can occur during exercise, and leucine may act to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis/growth.
Additionally, a study performed on resistance trained males found that BCAA supplementation increased muscle mass, strength, and fat loss more than groups who consumed whey or carbohydrate drinks after the workout.
Essentially it is believed that BCAAs can improve your recovery, make you stronger, leaner, and increase your muscle size.
Do I need to take BCAAs?
In summary, no you don’t need to take BCAAs. You can still improve your strength, fitness, and muscle growth without a supplement. You can also consume essential amino acids through your regular diet by eating a variety of protein sources. However, BCAA supplementation may help you to recover faster, and improve your muscle strength and growth.
Top 3 Mistakes Gym Newbies Make
1. Comparing Yourself to Others
You might walk into the gym on your first day and see fit, strong, ripped athletes lifting heavy weights. Some people want to be like them, and some people are intimidated by them. No matter which one describes you, it is important to remember not to compare yourself to them.
These individuals that you see have probably been training for a long time, much longer than you have. You might not be able to do as many sessions as them and recover, you might not be able to hit the weights they can, and you might not be able to hit the same goals they can. But that’s ok. You’re at the beginning of your journey, and they’re well into theirs. Trying to do what they can and compare yourself to them will most likely leave you injured and disheartened.
Compare yourself to you, and focus on improving yourself. Gradually build up your strength, volume of training, and technique base. Constantly trying to better yourself and improve your own performance will be a more rewarding and fruitful journey than trying to be like someone else.
2. Ignoring Proper Form
You need to build a strong foundation when it comes to your training, and in this context, that means learning and using the correct form for all exercises. Without a strong foundation, your fitness ‘house’ will crumble, likely leaving you injured and unable to train.
Building up proper form will take time, and will probably mean you will be lifting lighter weights and fewer reps than you may see the people around you doing. You need to understand that this process will take time, but will pay off for you in the long run. Trying to accelerate your progression before you are ready may work for a small period of time, but eventually, you will either burn out and get injured, or you will plateau.
3. Unrealistic Goal Setting
Goal setting is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track. Remember that these goals may need to be fairly small and simple, to begin with and that if you are starting with no prior training experience you need to start building from the ground up.
It is important to set realistic goals that you will be able to achieve in a timely matter. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals are best, as they are structured to be realistic and motivating. It is a good idea to have performance goals (such as to hit a 60kg back squat or run 1km in 6 minutes) rather than purely aesthetic goals (such as weight loss or muscle building).
There are quite a few performance goals that can be set, and these can be achieved regularly. However, if you focus purely on aesthetic goals, this can sometimes be demotivating as they can take longer to achieve. Additionally, if you pick extremely large and unrealistic goals, such as making it to the Olympics for weightlifting 3 months into your training journey, you may also find yourself demotivated and disheartened. SMART and realistic goal setting includes both aesthetic and performance goals and will motivate you throughout your fitness journey.
No pain, no gain. It’s a famous saying and one we hear far too often in the fitness industry. But is it really safe to train through pain?
What is DOMS?
There are 2 major types of pain commonly associated with training, DOMS and injury pain. DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is the term used to describe the pain you may feel for one or two days after a tough training session. The pain is the result of microscopic tears and inflammation in the muscle and connective tissue. It is not something to be concerned about, and everyone from beginners to well-trained athletes experiences it. Injury pain, however, will result from an instance where your body has experienced some kind of acute trauma resulting in an injury. This kind of pain will generally be stronger, debilitating, and last for an extended period of time.
How Do I Know if I’m Injured or Have DOMS?
DOMS is described as a generalised pain, where you experience pain throughout a large area. An injury, however, will generally have more localised pain, meaning you experience pain is a smaller and more defined area.
2. Type of Pain
DOMS will cause your muscles to feel tight, achy, and sore to the touch. An injury is associated with sharp, stabbing pains that may occur both when the affected area is used and at rest.
If you experience pain on both sides of your body, for example, both legs, it is most likely DOMS. This is due to both sides being used equally during exercise. However, if you experience pain on one side such as in one hamstring, this may point towards an injury.
Injuries can be associated with localised swelling. DOMS can cause some swelling, however, this will be spread out over a larger area and not as obvious.
5. Give it Context
What happened in the previous few days before you started feeling pain? Did you start a new training cycle? Did you do a high volume of work? Then the pain you are feeling is probably DOMS. If you trained a week ago, but haven’t been able to train again due to pain in one shoulder, it might be an injury.
Did you hear a noise? A noise such as a pop or a crack may occur when an athlete injures themselves. This will not be the case with DOMS induced pain. If in Doubt, See a Professional!
Do you have some pain that hasn’t subsided for a few days? Or maybe you have pain that is very localised or asymmetrical. If in doubt, see a professional! A doctor or a physiotherapist will be able to help determine the source of your pain and formulate a plan of action to get you back to pain-free. You are better off seeking help earlier rather than later, as catching an injury earlier will make the rehabilitation process easier and faster.
So, Train Through Pain?
It is ok to train through minor cases of DOMS, as moderate exercise will not make your condition worse or cause an injury. The pain associated with DOMS usually subsides after a warmup and some stretching. But, if your pain is strong and debilitating, or you have an injury, it is best to lay off training. You can still train unaffected body parts, but training on an injury can cause it to become worse and lengthen your rehabilitation time.
At some point in our lives, each of us has probably watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ at least once. The race to lose the most weight brings with it a lot of emotions and many hours of exercise, with some of the winners losing well over 100kg. However, what is the real cost of the show?
While it may be hard to believe, there are some benefits and positive outcomes from The Biggest Loser. For starters, some individuals who compete on the show can make real, and dramatic changes to their lives. These individuals have previously tried to lose weight on their own, but have been largely unsuccessful. The show provides both support and advice that the participants may not have had access to without participating. By shedding their significant excess weight, they are able to have a new lease on life.
For people watching the show at home, they may feel inspired and more accountable. Walking into a gym, overweight individuals may not feel inspired or be able to relate to who they see around them. It can be intimidating as an overweight person to walk into a gym full of ripped and fit people, in turn making them more demotivated as there is no one they can relate to and they feel out of place.
By watching the show they may become more conscious about their dietary and exercise habits, and they are able to see ‘role models’ who are in a similar situation to themselves who are being successful at weight loss. These factors combined may be enough inspiration to lead them to overhaul their own bad habits and pursue a successful fat loss journey.
With rapid and dramatic weight loss, comes quite a few drawbacks.
Firstly, the exercise the participants are asked to complete on the show is extremely intense and can cause injuries and illness such as rhabdomyolysis, a condition where your muscles begin to break down causing severe muscle pain. The participants on The Biggest Loser are generally individuals who have not performed exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, in a long time. This sudden increase in activity coupled with a high body mass can be a recipe for injury.
Unmaintainable Weight Loss
Another issue with the rapid weight loss encouraged on 'The Biggest Loser' is it is most often not maintainable. The metabolism and hormones of the contestants are negatively impacted by the very low-calorie diets they are on in order to lose weight. As a result of these diets, the participants’ resting metabolic rate is often slowed, meaning they do not burn as many calories throughout the day before exercise.
A slower resting metabolic rate will predispose the participants to regain the weight they have just worked so hard to lose. Additionally, once they leave the show they must go back to a regular schedule which can include structured work or education and other real-life commitments. This change in timetable provides a vast change from the whole-day exercise sessions the participants are exposed to on the show. Quite simply, the participants do not know how to assimilate back into normal, everyday adult life and balance their commitments with an exercise regime.
Unhealthy Body Image
Some anecdotes from previous participants on the show also reveal what really went on in The Biggest Loser household. Not only were participants often shamed by images of themselves decorating the house, but the competitive nature of the show encouraged dangerous methods for weight loss. By dehydrating themselves the participants could achieve rapid weight loss which was better for the cameras, but not their health.
The focus on purely weight loss and not body composition does not reward individuals who started smaller than others and also does not take into consideration fat loss compared with muscle gain or muscle loss. The weight loss focus does not encourage a healthy, balanced lifestyle with fat loss and muscle gains, it promotes starvation.
SO WHAT'S MY OPINION
It’s important to remember that the Biggest Loser is a TV show, and it isn’t true life. As mentioned above, the way the show is filmed can be manipulated to make people seem as though they are losing more weight than they are – and this form of editing is not unique to The Biggest Loser.
When embarking on a weight loss journey, remember that losing fat is not the only goal. Setting goals around cutting out bad food choices is a great way to gradually improve your eating habits without rebounding and binge eating. Setting performance goals such as learning to squat 60kg or running 1km can be so much more rewarding than hitting your target weight.
Performance goals can be a much more encouraging way to motivate yourself through your weight loss journey other than purely aesthetic or weight-based goals. Also, the scale will fluctuate day to day, and is not always a reliable way to track your progress as gaining muscle may mean gaining the same amount of weight you just lost in fat. Taking photos, or even just noticing changes in the way your clothes fit you are much better ways of assessing your progress. Having looser jeans or starting to see your biceps pop soon become much more exciting than seeing the number go down on the scale.
It is also important to remember that because of the structure of the show, the contestants have a great support network. They cannot access the food they would normally eat, they are forced to exercise, and do not have to worry about real-life chores such as cooking a meal for the family, going to work, or getting children to various commitments. Therefore, it is important to take away from this that you cannot model your weight loss journey off what you see on TV.
Being in such a controlled environment makes it easy to lose weight, and assuming that will work for you as well will not allow you to make realistic plans and goals. Instead, be inspired by the changes the contestants have made to their lives and allow that to fuel your decision to take your health into your own hands. Set yourself realistic goals and expectations, and organise your nutrition and training around your actual life schedule. The harder you make things for yourself, the less likely you are to follow through. Don’t expect the world from yourself, just get started!
You have probably heard that sleep is important for your health, but do you really know why? It may surprise you to know that lack of sleep can have long term effects on both your physical and mental health.
Australian adults get an average of 7 hours and 18 minutes of sleep per night, bordering on the low end of the recommended 7-9 hours by the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep Time = Recovery Time
While you sleep, your body is using this time to recover and heal itself. Exercise can be a stressful process for the body, taxing your muscles, heart, and blood vessels. Without enough sleep, the body does not have enough time to repair these structures, which can lead to chronic health issues. Small amounts of muscle damage can continue to build, and something that may have started as a minor niggle can turn into a serious injury.
Ongoing sleep deprivation can also be linked to increased risks of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Lack of sleep can also negatively impact your immune system, meaning chronic insomnia may cause you to have trouble fighting common infections.
Less Sleep = Increased Hunger
Your hunger is regulated by two hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Leptin makes you feel full, while ghrelin makes you feel hungry. Sleep allows the body to balance these two hormones.
A lack of sleep can increase the levels of ghrelin in your body and decrease leptin, making you feel more hungry than if you were well rested. A study performed on 10 healthy men found that even a single night of sleep deprivation can increase feelings of hunger and ghrelin levels in blood plasma.
If you find yourself getting hungry throughout the day, even after you’ve already had a meal, maybe you need to look at the amount of sleep you are getting.
Sleep is Good for Your Brain!
Quality sleep allows your mind to reset for the next day. Being sleep deficient can negatively impact your decision making, problem-solving abilities, and emotional wellbeing. You may find it difficult to pay attention, and it can increase your risk of depression.
Sleep Improves Performance
A study performed on eight young men found that sleep deprivation significantly reduced performance on both sub-maximal and maximal lifts for both the upper body and lower body. The reduction in performance became more pronounced with successive days of sleep loss. What this means is that without adequate sleep, physical performance can be reduced. If you are consistently sleep deprived, you are more likely to have reduced performance.
If you’re consistently running on empty and not getting enough sleep, chances are you not only won’t be performing at your peak, but you could also be doing damage to your body. To be both physically and mentally ready for exercise, it is important to get a solid, restful night’s sleep.
To ensure you get the best out of your next workout, aim to get between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the previous day.
I’ve often joked with members in the gym, how easy it for them to squat because of their Asian squat mobility. It can’t be denied that athletes of Asian descent more often have a comfortable, well-balanced squat and often require less coaching to achieve an optimal squat position.
What is the ‘Asian squat’?
You may not have heard of the term ‘Asian squat’ before. It is essentially a squat where the individual is able to sit in an extremely deep squat position while keeping their heels firmly planted on the ground. Often the individual feels this position is quite comfortable, and some people can stay there for prolonged periods of time while performing activities such as eating, taking photos, playing with children or yes, even going to the bathroom.
Why is the ‘Asian squat’ so predominant in Asians?
As you may or may not know, squat toilets are fairly predominant in Asian countries. They are often deemed to be more sanitary (although this may be debatable depending on the condition one finds these toilets in) as there is no bare skin and seat contact. In addition, lots of people see the squat as a great way to sit and prefer it to using chairs as it can be performed anywhere. In comparison, Westernised countries have adopted the upright seat-style toilet that we are more familiar with in Australia, and use chairs far more frequently. In this case, the saying is true, practice has made perfect with the Asian squat.
However, it is not exclusive to people of Asian descent. I have seen people who do not have Asian heritage and are able to sit into identically deep and comfortable Asian squats. I have seen people with Asian heritage who have never used a squat toilet and can still sit into a perfect squat. I’ve seen people of Asian descent who cannot squat deeply. Also, I’ve seen toddlers able to sit into squats more easily than most adults, regardless of race. So, if the Asian squat isn’t exclusive to race, what makes it so easy for some and so difficult for others?
What allows for a deep squat?
One of the most important factors for a deep squat is ankle flexibility, and unsurprisingly this isn’t exclusive to people of Asian descent. Having flexible calves allows you to sit into a deep squat while pushing your knees forward. If you’d like to get technical, Bryan Ausinheiler measured the ankle flexion angle of his one day old daughter, which was 70 degrees. The majority of people in the West have approximately 30 degrees. If you do not regularly mobilise this area of your body, as some people do when they are using the bathroom daily etc., this area will tighten up and make it difficult for you to a deep squat. This problem is even more pronounced in individuals who wear high-heels on a regular basis, as regularly having your heel higher than the ball of your foot can cause the calf to tighten up. As for Asians who have never used a squat toilet and have been born and raised in Westernised countries, they may have adopted the position by copying their parents and other relatives throughout their life.
Essentially, we are all born with the flexibility for an Asian squat, but it’s a case of use it or lose it!
Are there any benefits to a deep squat?
Being able to perform a deep squat is a great display of flexibility. Being flexible, to a point, is beneficial to your overall health and movement. There is a small tradeoff between strength and flexibility, however. Having too much flexibility can create instability in your joints, increasing your risk of injury. Also, there is an optimal amount of stretch in muscles which facilitates the greatest amount of strength and power output. Sitting in too deep a squat can be a great way to limit your 1RM or maximal squatting strength.
Additionally, squatting while defecating has been theorised as a much healthier way to go to the bathroom, due to a more optimal positioning of the muscles within the pelvis although this is still somewhat debated. Most Western toilets do not allow for squatting, but you can purchase products online which imitate a squatting position without the use of an actual squat toilet. Whether these are a bit of a gimmick or not is somewhat unclear, but whatever helps!
Hip osteoarthritis (a condition regularly associated with advanced age) is very rare in Eastern countries such as India and Asia, although knee arthritis rates are similar to Western countries. While there may be genetic or other factors (diet etc.) that play into this, the regular performance of deep squats may also play a part. Additionally, maintaining strength and a larger range of motion can allow individuals to stay more independent for longer at an advanced age.
11 Ways to Curb Your Bad Eating Habits
1. Hide Your Vices
This step seems fairly simple and obvious, but having tempting foods sitting in front of you on a regular basis does not make it easy to avoid them. Try to avoid buying these foods altogether, but if you must have them in the house-place them somewhere you will not see them very often. Out of sight, out of mind!
2. Make Small, Manageable Changes
It can be a little overwhelming to completely revamp your diet all at once. This method works for some people who are ‘all or nothing’, but if you’ve tried this method and failed you may want to rethink your methods. Try making small changes, such as drinking more water one week, cutting out soft drinks the next, and including a vegetable in each meal the week afterwards. These smaller changes are easier to adapt to, meaning you can use this method to gradually cut out each bad habit and replace them with new ones.
3. Write a Shopping List
Look through your cupboard and fridge before you leave home, and work off a meal plan if possible, so that you can buy the exact foods you’ll need for the upcoming week. You will not waste money on buying excess food that you do not need, and you’ll have all the ingredients on hand for your meals. This means no last minute dinner plans (which are usually unhealthy choices) because you don’t have ingredients. An added bonus is that you won’t find yourself strolling down the tempting food aisles as you try to remember what you needed because these usually spell disaster for sticking with healthy eating!
4. Don’t Shop Hungry
This is a simple and effective tip. When you shop hungry, you’re more likely to buy items you are craving such as simple snacks and junk foods. Eating before you shop will make it easier to stick to your shopping list and make healthier choices.
5. Practice Mindful Eating
Eating while distracted can cause you to mindlessly overeat as you do not allow yourself enough time to feel full. This same principle applies when you eat food on the run such as in the car. Instead, try eating at the table without distractions such as TV. This can lead to some great bonding time with family and friends, and also allows you to eat more slowly and mindfully.
6. Change Your Plate Size
It’s amazing how we can trick our mind with plate sizes! Placing your food on a smaller plate or bowl can make the same portion size appear a lot bigger, leaving you more satisfied with your meal.
7. Avoid Sugary Drinks
Calories from sugary drinks such as soft drinks and juices can add up even though we are not aware of it. Instead of consuming these excess calories in the form of a drink, try to limit yourself to primarily water. By doing so, you can eat those calories rather than drinking them which will make you feel more satisfied and help you stick to your weight loss goals.
8. Drink More Water
It is important to keep hydrated throughout your day, otherwise, your body can struggle to function. However, drinking water also has another benefit. The water will fill your stomach without the same calorie burden as a snack and can help hold you over until your next meal.
9. Don’t Eat Out of the Bag, Look at Portion Sizes
Have you ever actually measured out the portion size on the packet? You would probably be surprised how small the serving size may actually be. You may think that you are being very virtuous by choosing a snack with a small amount of fat and carbohydrates, but instead of having 1 serving you eat 4. All those servings add up! Instead of eating straight from the box or container, try measuring out a serving size and placing it in a separate bowl. This will help you understand how much a serving size actually is, and stop you from mindlessly eating more servings than you intended.
10. Meal Plans and Prepped Food
Meal prepping is a great way to stick to your diet. When you come home at the end of the day, you might be too tired to bother cooking a healthy meal. Instead of ordering a pizza, why not pull out your already prepped healthy meal and microwave it? Try cooking multiple servings of a dish, and place them in storage containers either in the fridge or freezer. Some foods keep better than others, so keep this in mind when you are prepping.
Another tip is to try and have things already cut up. Really want a snack but can’t be bothered to cut up carrot sticks? Try and cut up several carrots at a time, and then store away what you don’t need for your snack. This can help you make better choices.
11. What’s Your Trigger?
Lastly, look at WHY you are eating what you’re eating. Is it because you had a bad day and you feel like rubbish, so you feel like you deserve that chocolate? Using food as a coping mechanism does not benefit you in the long run, and can cause more problems than it solves. Start to be mindful of what triggers your bad eating habits, and try to use alternative coping methods. For example, sometimes when I have a rough day I would really like a chocolate, but I know that I will feel worse after eating it. Instead, I try to get out in the fresh air for a walk or head to the gym and exercise. Both of these activities help to release endorphins, which makes me feel much better afterwards.
Finally, it’s good to remember that if you slip up on your diet and make a bad choice, it isn’t the end of the world. The day isn’t a write-off, and you haven’t failed. If you do end up cheating on your diet, accept it and move on. Don’t throw out your eating for the rest of the day. Each meal is an opportunity for you to make good choices. Nobody is perfect and eats clean 100% of the time, we’re all human!
What you are feeling is known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). The general consensus is that DOMS occurs as a result of microscopic damage to the muscle fibres as a result of strenuous exercise. The discomfort is the side effect of the repairing process, which means you are getting stronger!
DOMS can typically last anywhere from 24-72 hours, however, it can last longer in some cases. We are all in this together! The humble beginner all the way through to the seasoned veteran will experience DOMS at varying levels, as a result of their training.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel your body adjusts to the discomfort and severity of DOMS. Chances are it won’t be as intense or painful as this first week. It is likely that you will still experience DOMS again in your fitness journey, and who knows you may even grow to like it!
The million dollar questions is “how do we recover from DOMS”? The severity of DOMS varies from individual to individual here are some methods to reduce its severity.
We suggest that you complete active recovery sessions such as walking, bike riding, rowing, yoga, stretching or something similar at a low intensity to also reduce the effects of DOMS. This helps to flush out the lactic acid build up in the muscles which is the source of the DOMS. You will find that once your muscles have warmed up the discomfort will dissipate.
If you did experience DOMS be sure to let your trainer know exactly how sore you were as this will enable them to cater and plan your future sessions accordingly.
Thought of the day
“Pain is temporary quitting lasts forever. We can’t become what we want to be by remaining what we are.”
– Unknown –
Hookgrip is a method used to grip onto a barbell, which is generally utilised by Olympic weightlifters in order to improve their grip strength. This grip requires you to wrap your thumb around the bar, and then wrap your index and middle fingers over your thumb in order to secure the grip. This is opposed to a normal grip, where the index and middle fingers wrap beside, not on top of, the thumb.
Advantages to Hookgrip
Should I Try It?
Learning to hookgrip is definitely worth it in the long run, particularly if you are somewhat serious about your weightlifting. While it can be difficult to learn and uncomfortable at first, it offers greats benefits for your future workouts and max lifts.
In today’s workaholic society we are getting less and less sleep. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, yet most people get closer to 6-7 hours or less. Quality, restful sleep is just as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise, but sometimes it’s much harder to achieve. You might be getting yourself to bed earlier, but when your head hits the pillow your mind is still buzzing from the day. Read our tips below to help you drift off.
1. Guided Meditation (Yoga) and Relaxation Exercises
A guided meditation session is a great way to learn to unwind and relax after a long and stressful day. Apps like HeadSpace offer guided meditation programs, which are great for beginners who do not know where to start. Some Fitbit watches provide a guided breathing relaxation setting, which can help you to slow your heart rate and relax. Does your gym run a yoga class? Try it. Even the tougher variations of Yoga re meditative and always remember, just because you can do a yoga pose or are not flexible, doesn't mean you shouldn't attend and improve and learn!
If you do not have access to guided breathing or meditation sessions, try inhaling for a count of 5, holding your breath for a count of 5, and exhaling for a count of 5. While doing this, aim to breathe deeply and focus on trying to breathe in your belly rather than shallow breaths in your chest.
Another method you can use is to contract and relax your muscles while you lie in bed. Starting from your toes, contract single groups of muscles and hold the contraction for about 5 seconds. Repeat this 3 or 4 times on each muscle group, slowly working your way up to your shoulders and neck. As you relax your muscles, you should feel heavier in each muscle group, and as a result, you feel more tired.
2. Avoiding Stimulants After Midday
This tip is fairly obvious, but something we often tend to forget about. If you find that you are unable to sleep at night and you don’t really know why you may be consuming too much caffeine late in the day. Your body can continue to feel the effects of caffeine for 4-6 hours after you consume it. Caffeine can be hidden in things like your pre-workout supplements, which means if you take it before your workout at 6pm you will still have caffeine in your system until late into the night.
Try and limit your caffeine consumption to before midday and see whether this helps you sleep better.
3. Avoid Bright Lights and Electronics
Your circadian rhythm is a biological clock which tells your body when to be awake and when to sleep. Bright lights, especially the blue light emitted from electronics, can impact your melatonin levels which will disturb your natural circadian rhythm. The lights will trick your body into thinking it needs to be awake late at night and suppress the release of melatonin, causing you to struggle to sleep even after you’ve turned out the lights.
Aim to stay off electronic devices such as your phone, iPad, computer, or TV for at least an hour before bed time, and if possible dim your lights. Some devices have a blue light filter which can be beneficial if you need to use your devices late at night.
Setting a strong night time routine can help you relax and settle in at night. Your routine should start at a similar time each night, and may involve a warm shower or bath, reading a book with dimmed lights, and then sleeping after half an hour. Find whatever routine works for you, and try to stick to it each night in order to have an easier time falling asleep. Your circadian rhythm (yes, that biological clock!) will begin to adapt to this schedule, meaning you will eventually find yourself getting tired at a regular time each night.
5. Distraction and White Noise
Sometimes you just simply can’t follow the tips above. Maybe you had to stay back at work, or met with a friend for coffee in the afternoon. Or maybe your mind is just buzzing from the day and you can’t switch off and relax.
I personally find rain noises (particularly storm noises) relax me and help drown out any thoughts that are keeping me awake. White noise or classical music may also work to relax you and allow you to stop stressing. There are many apps you can download, and some even come with timers which will turn off the sounds after a certain time period.
Sometimes it can be stressful when you’re trying to sleep but you can’t, and you know you have to wake up in 7 hours, now 6 hours and 59 minutes, 6 hours and 58 minutes… Distraction methods such as recalling some of your favourite memories or holidays, your favourite movie, or even counting sheep (as corny as it sounds, it can work), may help to take your mind off the fact that you need to be sleeping and help you drift off.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and still can’t sleep, it might be time to see a health professional. A doctor will be able to work out whether there is a medical condition underlying your insomnia and go through treatment options or referrals which will work for you.
Anurag Gill is the Head Coach at HYDRA Movement in Moonee Ponds.