Supplements That Help (and Hurt) Sleep

As a caveat to this brief article, I want to make clear that supplements should never be your first line of defense. When it comes to sleep, your main defenses should surround important habits, such as limiting blue light in the evening, exercising earlier in the day, and many other key tactics which I cover in this in-depth article on how to master your sleep (without letting it control your life).

That said, if you’re doing a lot of the right things (or doing what you can given your schedule) but still need a boost, supplements can provide that boost. But first, let’s cover the supplements you should actually avoid.

Avoid Exogenous Melatonin

Naturally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep, you’ll want to grab a melatonin supplement. However, in the long-term this is a problem. You see, when you take melatonin, you signal to your body that you don’t need to produce melatonin naturally at that time. If you take it regularly, you’ll suppress your body’s melatonin secretion, right when you actually want to do the opposite.

There are times with melatonin is helpful to supplement with. One such example is traveling across time zones. If you take melatonin when it’s night time at your new location it can help you adjust, but in general you’ll want to avoid it.

Avoid Caffeine Later in the Day

You probably know this, but you probably don’t realize that caffeine taken in the afternoon can affect your sleep quality without you even realizing it. Caffeine’s half-life is five hours on average, which means if you have 200mg of caffeine (a large cup of coffee) at 3 pm, that means at 8 pm you’ll still have 100mg of caffeine in your blood. So, you actually need to avoid caffeine earlier than you think.

While it can vary from individual to individual, I think noon is general a good practice. Check out this article for more specific thoughts on caffeine consumption.

Add Magnesium Before Bed

The research on magnesium is clear: it’s essential for sleep and recovery. Additionally, it’s really hard to get magnesium through food. That makes it one of the few supplements I recommend to nearly everyone. The problem with most magnesium supplements though, is that they come in forms that are also laxatives. Not only will this make you run for the toilet, but it will also make the magnesium go right through you, defeating the entire point of magnesium supplementation.

Yes, there are so more bioavailable forms you can supplement with orally, but another option is get magnesium that you can rub on your skin and absorb that way. Personally, I like Ease Magnesium.

Another choice, which I guess isn’t really a supplement in the strictest sense, is to take an epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is chemically called magnesium sulfate, and by soaking in it you can increase your serum magnesium levels. Not to mention all the other benefits of taking a relaxing bath that can help you unwind.

Get Your Dose of Potassium

Potassium, like magnesium, we also know is so essential for so many jobs, including sleep. Unlike magnesium though, a supplement might not be the best route of action here because you can get potassium in ample doses and bioavailable forms through many foods. For example, I make a point to have a banana in my smoothie almost every day. But tons of fruits and veggies from grapefruit to broccoli provide a nice dose.

Potassium is a great reminder that even though in theory it would make a good supplement, the best choice is to just have a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

Master Your Wearable in 6 Minutes

I’ve talked about how your heart rate variability is one of the most useful measurements on your wearable device. From improving your sleep, to helping you never get sick again, a wearable device is an essential tool in your arsenal.

Understanding HRV is also not that complicated, once you get a hang of it. And once you can grasp HRV, it opens up a whole for you to optimize your health, performance, and wealth. Because of it’s simplicity, I decided to create this video and accompanying ebook, Master Your Wearable.

With Master Your Wearable, you’ll learn everything you need to know to start making real actionable change today with your wearable device.

Watch the video and download the ebook for free.

Oh, and if you’re looking to go really deep with Heart Rate Variability, I also recently wrote an in-depth article for Simpli Faster on how to Manage Your Recovery with HRV.

Cold Water Isn’t For Everyone

It is super important that you know your own data. Now, I’m all for the Wim Hof Method and cold water immersion. But at the right time. In particular, at the right time for you

But the only way we know if it’s right for you is if we have your data and so we can measure how you react to it. I read an article today on Wim Hof’s page on supercharging your sleep. To summarize, the thesis was that cold water immersion right before bed will help optimize your sleep.

Really great.

Well, it was brought to my attention because a couple of my clients told me they wanted to add this in.

So we did.

A week later, we took a look at their data and all of their sleep was cycles plummeted over the course of a week, HRV nosedived, their resting heart rate spiked by 10-12 beats over the course of the week. The only difference was they started doing cold plunges or taking cold showers before going to bed.

Well, when the DNA test came back and we really took a deep dive into it for them, they run in sympathetic overload. That’s what actives the flight or flight response, as opposed to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

When we’re going to bed, we want the parasympathetic nervous system to take over so we can get into deep sleep quicker. When we took away the cold immersion before going to sleep, everything came back in the right direction. 

Does That Mean Cold Plunges Are Bad?

No.

It means it was bad for them at that given period of time. They still use cold immersion after they workout and sometimes in the morning depending on what their HRV said the night before. But it’s all about understanding a time and a place. It’s not “this tool is going to change your life.” No. That’s a receipt for disaster.

That’s why we need to know our HRV, resting heart rate, sleep cycles, and more. This is how we test modalities on ourselves and figure out what does revolutionize the way we feel. We determine it through certain interactions, variables, and tests. With this, we can get the results we want.

6 Ways to Improve Your Evening Workouts

“What time should I train” is an age-old question. While the morning and afternoons have their own benefits, everyone agrees that training at night is not ideal. Simply, training at night disrupts our circadian rhythm, and floods sympathetic hormones like cortisol and adrenaline when we should be gearing up to unwind and let our parasympathetic nervous system take over.

However, for many busy people, training in the evening is the only option. So, how do you make the best of a not ideal situation? Here are six simple tips you can apply immediately to get the most out of your evening workouts. 

Add Electrolytes Throughout The Day

Whether that’s a protein shake or a drink mix, most nutritional drinks contain ample electrolytes. By giving our body ample electrolytes before our workout, we’re keeping our electrolyte balance intact throughout our training.

Add in Collagen To Your Drink

Usually, you can add a scoop right into your beverage. So at the same time as you get the extra protein and electrolytes, you can get some collagen. 

Nap During the Day

Getting a nap in can give you the energy you need for the workout. Even just 10-20 minutes will go a long way.

Have a Snack

Get an afternoon snack. Digestion takes a few hours. So, by getting extra fuel in the afternoon it’ll be ready to power your evening training.

Replace Caffeine with Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

If you take caffeine in the middle of the day, it messes up your sleep. IN fact, sleep consistency is the number one indictor of getting into deep sleep quicker, and ultimately having higher quality sleep with less actual sleep time.

BCCAs provide us with essential amino acids to help us preserve muscle while we train and provide an energy boost without the stimulant effect of caffeine.

Unwind Immediately Post Workout

If you are doing an evening workout, you need to do some parasympathetic activities immediately post training so you can have a good night’s sleep. Journaling, meditating, breath work, or deep stretching are all great ideas to accomplish this.

The 4 Stages of Training

Making progress depends on understanding what phase of your training you’re in. When people first start out, they imagine that by working out consistently and attacking their goals, they will slowly but surely achieve what they set out to achieve.

While consistency is your training is absolutely key, progress does not follow a linear path. There will be some phases of your training where you’ll make incredible progress over the span of a few weeks. Then, even though you’re still training, your body enters a different phase where it won’t shed fat or build muscle because it’s in an overreaching stage

These undulations are part of the training process. Training progress, in reality, is a set of short bursts combined with plateaus for recovery. Over time, with consistent training, the peaks and valleys of progress will average out to a straight line

But, this starts by understanding the 4 stages of training.

In any training state, we can either be in an optimal or maintenance stage, a functional overreaching stage, a nonfunctional overreaching stage, or a restorative state.

The Optimal or Maintenance Phase

This phase of your training cycle is what we would consider “normal.” We’re training consistently and effectively, but we’re not pushing ourselves to our limits or trying new forms of training. This maintenance phase is essential, but if you always stay in this phase, your body will eventually see no reason to continue to make progress. In other words, you will plateau.

In this phase, our HRV and resting heart rate hover in our normal range.

The Functional Overreaching Stage

In the functional overreaching stage, we’re pushing our training to challenge our bodies more, adding additional stress. To make progress, this extra push is vital. Here, you won’t yet see or feel the fruits of all your labor. In fact, you’ll start to see some of the opposite at first: slight decreases in HRV and increases in resting heart rate. 

As we’ve talked about before, the HRV score taken from our wearable device while we sleep measures the internal strain on the body. The more strain we’re putting on externally — in the form of increased workout load — the more we’re going to see the HRV gradually go down.

But if we’re balancing our workouts, other everyday stresses, , and recovery, we’re going to see HRV go up and down. Your HRV curve will decrease from the added workout stress, then increase back up. When your HRV is slightly undulating like this, you’re in a functional overreaching stage.

The Nonfunctional Overreaching Stage

This is synonymous with overtraining. And it’s the one stage you don’t want to get to. This is where we overreach too much in our training, and we’re not giving our bodies enough rest and recovery to bounce back form the strain we’re placing on it. Here we start to see a chronic decrease in HRV and a chronic increase in resting heart rate. We’re going to be more irritable, our sleep will start to suffer, we’ll have more body soreness than usual. Those are all signs that you’re in a nonfunctional overreaching stage. 

The Restorative State

The restorative state comes after the overreaching stage. It’s where you’re placing less strain on the body than normal. Paradoxically, even though in this stage you’ll be training less, it’s when you’ll actually see the progress. Only as we recover can our body actually gather the resources to build muscle, burn fat, and increase performance. This is what performance coaches often call the “deload.”

HRV And The 4 Stages of Training

If you’re using any type of wearable (Whoop Band, Fitbit, Oura Ring, and more), monitor your HRV. Make sure you don’t have four or five days in a row of a decreasing HRV. That’s a sign you’re in the only stage you don’t want to enter: the nonfunctional overreaching stage. If you are, you need to have some type of intervention, such as extra sleep or a decrease in your exercise level. 

Now, the other aspect is resting heart rate. If it increases 4 days in a row, you need to intervene.

Keep in mind, increased training load is not the only variable that causes a decrease in HRV and an increase in resting heart rate. Stress, sleep, nutrition, immune systems function, all play a role. But if we’re just talking about exercise, be sure to understand those four stages: maintenance phase, functional overreaching, nonfunctional overreaching, and restorative.

By looking at your HRV trends, you can know what stage you’re in and use that information to adjust your training and recovery.

A post shared by Justin Roethlingshoefer|Coach (@justinroeth)

How to Use Your Wearable to Never Get Sick Again

We all know the feeling.

You wake up with your eyelids weirdly sticking together. Your head lightly throbs as you wake up, your throat scratches at is yearns for water. Dammit, you’re sick.

The first thing you’ll want to do is sleep in, of course. Then, you’ll grab for the zinc and vitamin D and start steeping the tea. These are great steps to healing, of course, but we all know that by this point it’s too late. The virus has already come, and really, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do now except ride out the cold or flu symptoms, lying in your bed.

If only you’d known you were going to get sick, you would’ve taken the few previous days much easier and stomped the pathogen in its path. But, obviously you can’t know you’re going to get sick until you’re, well, sick.

Or can you.

Wearable devices like Whoop Bands provide you with all kinds of information. And, if you know what you’re looking at, you can predict when your immune system will be working over time and your body will be predisposed to catching an illness.

In fact, all you have to do is look at these two metrics and, if you respond appropriately, you can glean the information necessary so you don’t get sick at all. Imagine if you all those sick days you typically deal with year in and year out were replaced with some of your most productive, energetic days.

You just have to look at these two numbers carefully: resting heart rate, and heart rate variability

This is why we track 2 metrics that will allow you to prevent sickness and reduce your number of sick days:

Resting Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability

Before we get into to talking about these two common metrics and their relationship to one another, first we have to understand why we get sick. Now, novel viruses like SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) aside, getting the flu and the common cold — and their effects on us — depends not only on encountering pathogens but also whether our immune system is able to ward off those pathogens.

If we have elevated stress levels, are working out hard, and not sleeping as much or as well as we need to, the immune system will take a hit, leaving us more susceptible to common illness. 

Our immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens, simply, depends on our recovery from all of life’s stresses. So the question then becomes, how can I tell when the stress of my life exceeds my recovery?

Resting Heart Rate 

As your recovery slides and your body becomes fatigued, one fo the first easily recognizable signs will be your resting heart rate. Your wearable will record your resting heart rate while you sleep each night. This will give you a consistent day-to-day log for your RHR. And, generally, you’ll see a consistent number.

If your RHR rises up about 10-15% over the course of two days, that’s a sign you’re more fatigued than normal, and you should take the precautions for recovery as if you were sick. So, if your RHR is normally 50 beats per minute, and suddenly it’s 55, that’s a red flag. If this happens, cancel your workouts, get extra sleep, steep the tea, take the zinc and vitamin D. Ease off of the stress on your body.

Heart Rate Variability

HRV, as the name implies, is a measure the fluctuation (variation) in your heart beats. If your HRV is high, that means your heart rate varies more, a sign that it’s responding to changes in your environment. For example, if you start run, your heart rate will shoot up. The quicker it shoots up, the better your body is responding, and the higher your HRV will be. During activity is an extreme example, but even while we’re sleeping our body has different demands at different moments, and a high HRV is a sign our body is aptly responding. 

When you’re underrecovered and stressed, a drop in HRV will be one of the first signs. It means your body (and heart, specifically) aren’t responding the way they should. A 5-10% drop means you should ease off of your stress levels and prioritize your recovery above all else.

What Happens When These Head In the Wrong Direction

Often, your resting heart rate will have an inverse relationship with your HRV: when one drops, the other rises. If you want to ward off illness before you feel its effects, its paramount ot take action on this data before you start to feel symptoms. Once you’re symptomatic, you’re going to have to ride it out.

Getting sick is a lot like getting a small injury. Nobody wants to stretch when they feel good, but once they pull their hip flexor, you’ll see them on the foam roller all day. When really, if they just regularly stretched their hip flexors when they felt good, they wouldn’t have gotten injured in the first place.

That’s what sickness is like too. Except, with the wearable, you now have to data to know when exactly you need to prioritize recovery and taking care of your body.

Using your wearable device to make small changes is a perfect example of what mean when we talk about the importance of “being a pro.”

The ONE Prerequisite For Reaching Any Goal

One day this summer when Alyse and I were in Florida, we were out on the water with our friends. As you do when you’re boating, you don’t actually spend most of the day boating. You pack your lunch, your drinks, your sunglasses, and then boat out to a place where the waves or calm, the breeze refreshing but not overwhelming.

brown ship sailing on sea during daytime

On this July Florida day, we headed out to a cove and found the perfect spot. As soon as the engine was turned off, I dove into the cool water.

But then, I noticed the boat seemed to be moving away from.

“Justin,” Alyse called out, “We didn’t put the anchor down yet, the boat’s going to keep moving away from you.”

Now I felt like the only thing that mattered was swimming back to the boat, even if it wanted to elude my grasp. That was my goal, and it looked so far away and impossible to get to. If I didn’t move, this goal would get further away.

Often in life, we feel like our goal is so far away.

We look and you see it and seems like from me to the boat feels like it’s just eons away and those steps (or in this case strokes) to get there are so hard.

Each time I did my best Michael Phelps impression, a wave came and knocked me back ten feet. At some point, I was just trying to stay above the water.

But, I just focused on step at a time, on the process of stroke after stroke.

I had a Alyse there coaching (or more aptly put, making fun of) me as I moved.

Eventually, I made it back to the boat right as the anchor caught on the bottom of the sea.

And in one semi-pull-up motion I yanked myself out of the water and onto the boat. I was like Zac Efron in Baywatch (not really). 

But that triumphant moment was a result of consistency.

If we just take one step at a time and focus on the process… Maybe we have mentors and coaches to help us along the way, helping us create a systems that we can follow day in and day out, then over time that distanced between you and the goal you’re looking up at will shrivel away.

When you pop on to the platform of your goals, everybody will be astonished when you pop out of the proverbial water, and on to your platform of success.

But it’s all about consistency.

The moment you fall the love with the journey, the moment everything becomes simple. What is your journey, and what system are you on?

Why Business Leaders Need to “Be a Pro”

As leaders and high-performers in business (or aspiring leaders), we need to treat our bodies the same way the professional athletes I work with do.

Sure, it may sound like an NHL hockey player and a CEO don’t have much in common with regards to preparation, but often the demands of the business leader are even higher.

A CEO is often expected to “play” 14 hours a day. Now, we would never expect Lebron James to be on the court 42 minutes a night, or Sidney Crosby to be on the ice for 60 minutes a night. 

If these athletes did, we wouldn’t expect them to make the right decisions, perform their role, or be their best. 

As the essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, Those who work much do not work hard.”

You need to give yourself a reprieve and recovery so you can bounce back…

And ultimately be the best you can be.

That’s why I tell our clients at the top of business game: 

You Need To Be a Pro

Act like a pro.

Train like a pro. 

Eat like a pro.

Recover like a pro. 

Sleep like a pro. 

I’ll share one story of a client who’s a CEO of a major company.

He told me, “Justin, I’ve been eating like an a**hole.”

Then I ask him how he’s sleeping, and recovering from his workouts, and, unsurprisingly, those are missing the mark for what needs to be performing at his best.

“Hm. I guess I’m just an a**hole,” he replied with a chuckle, knowing he needed to make changes to his nutrition to solve those other issues that were hurting his performance at work.

I told him to imagine how much more quality work he could get done… how much better his decisions would be… how paradoxically taking the time to treat your body like a pro athlete would open up empty space in your life.

He needed to start treating himself like a pro.

And, if you want to feel your best, perform your best, and advance to the top of your field, you should too.

The First Steps to Being a Pro

Professional athletes have a process. Some of them always take a pregame nap, others have a ritual meal. On the days where they’re not competing, they have routines around recovery, sleep, training so they can be ready for those competition days. 

Establish a Routine

Top professional athletes know what they need to do on gameday to prepare. You should too. Only for you, almost every day is a “game day.”

You need to have a process. Imagine sitting at your desk in the morning, having done your workout, having woken up refreshed.

Because it’s all a part of your process, you can hit the ground running from the first moment and you start working.

You have a very clear understanding of what you need to accomplish. 

The evening comes, and you know what you’re going to do before bed (your nighttime routine, which I’ll cover in another article). You know what time your phone goes away, when you have your last bite of food and your supplements. It’s all part of your routine. 

With your life set up this way, imagine how much more productive you would be? Imagine how much more quality work you would get done? 

Imagine the fewer errors you would make are the speed at which you would increase the work you accomplish.

Whether you’re already a CEO or another high-performer, you’re not just trying to be another brick in the wall of the machine. You are or are trying to be in the top 1% of all achievers in North America, to be the type of person people strive to seep into the footprints of… just like pro athletes.

Start By Monitoring

As you’ll see will be a theme, there’s no way to know what diet, exercise program, or nightly sleep routine works best for you unless you’re looking at metrics. The old adage is “What get’s measured gets managed,” but it goes deeper than that. “What gets measured gets manipulated.” If you don’t know how well you’re sleeping, eating, or exercising, how can you make changes?

We’ll be diving in deeper with each of these topics, but for now, the best thing you can do is start measuring these. Then, use those metrics to guide you in finding your pro-like routine. 

Make The Most of Your One Shot

In life, we only get one opportunity. I know, I sound like an Eminem song. 

But, it’s true. And, even though it may be a bit trite, it’s always a good reminder to tell ourselves that it’s never too late to take a chance, to reinvent ourselves, to steer in the direction of our dreams instead of trudging along a path where we’re digging a deeper and deeper ditch.

I’ve had stretches where I thought I was heading the right direction, but I didn’t realized what it was doing to me. Whether it was my anorexic youth brought on comments from a hockey coach, or the pattern of needing drugs to get through crazy workdays. I needed stimulants to get me going relaxants to sleep at night. I’ve been divorced, fired, completely lost, and unfulfilled.

I’ve felt that pain. You’ve probably felt that pain too. Or, you’re going through it now.

But whether you’re going through a difficult period right now, or whether you’re at your best and looking to go further (man, that’s the time to watch the magic happen), I have the same questions:

What are you investing in? 

I don’t just mean investing money. Are you investing in furthering yourself by reading books instead of scrolling through Instagram?

Who are you investing in?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Which people are you investing most of your energy into? What changes could you make to shift your environment to surround yourself with people more conducive to your growth.

Where are you spending your time, your money, your attention?

Because we have one body, that’s it. One magnificent bag of carbon to guide us through this world until we pass on. We only get one shot at this. But it’s never too late to alter your direction, alter your path.

Business giant (co-founder of PayPal, among other features) Peter Thiel brought up a groundbreaking thought exercise on Tim Ferriss’s Podcast. He said, “if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: why can’t you do this in 6 months?”

As a pure thought exercise, put aside the (seeming) ridiculousness of the questions and think about it, journal on it.

It’s also a reminder to change the way you’re thinking. Imagine big goals even if at first they seem like they require massive otherworldly action. What are the simple steps you can take to achieving them?

Come back and think that movement, physically moving the body, physically challenging the body. It creates confidence and that confidence allows us to take massive action.

What if you could get your body where you want it to be in 2 years in 8 weeks? How would you maximize that and what kind of action would it take to get there?

Imagine you’ve taken those steps, and it takes you 12 weeks instead of 8. You’ve still saved yourself years of time by taking big action. Or, maybe those results aren’t exactly what you wanted after all, but you’ve still moved in the right direction. Now you tweek the plans, and with your new confidence, you take more action.

It becomes a positive feedback loop cycle where you’re now always improving. 

But it all started because you took the initial leap to improve your body.