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Sleep Great Without Prescription Drugs: Part 2

Getting consistent, restful sleep, is undeniably one of the most essential components of a successful strength training program. Being able to recover from workouts, build muscle mass, lose body fat, and manage the stress of everyday life is all dependent on the amount and quality of sleep that you get. In part 1 of my How to Sleep Great without prescription drugs article, I detailed several effective and no-cost methods of improving your quality of sleep, whether your problem lay in difficulty falling asleep, not achieving a deep sleep, or waking up during the night. In Part 2 we’ll go over some additional modifications you can make to your lifestyle and diet if you are still not getting the quality sleep you need.  Keep in mind that the following tips are not meant to replace the advice of a qualified medical doctor.


Magnesium is one of the key nutrients necessary to achieve a deep, restful sleep each night.  Additionally, magnesium is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies as a result of poor eating habits and the consumption of foods that are grown in nutritionally deficient soil.  It is easy to see why so many people suffer from poor sleep and resort to the use of prescription sleep aids or alcohol (a nightcap) to get to sleep.

The quickest way of determining a magnesium deficiency is by getting a blood test for your red blood cell (RBC) magnesium levels.  The standard reference range according to BioReference Laboratories is between 3.9-5.9 ng/mil. If you are below the reference range, or are near the bottom of the range, you may want to consider magnesium supplementation.  Magnesium can be taken in multiple forms such as oral, transdermal, intravenous, or intramuscular.  For most, a high-quality chelated magnesium supplement like Poliquin’s Ubermag is a convenient option.  The dosage of magnesium will vary depending on the level of deficiency, which is why blood testing is a useful tool in fine tuning your supplementation.


I have found phosphatidylserine to be one of the most potent supplements in addressing sleep issues.  Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that functions by lowering the hormone cortisol.  Having low cortisol in the evening makes it easy to fall asleep, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to wind down after work or a training session.  If you train multiple times per day, you could also use phosphatidylserine after a session to help get in a quick midday nap.  In addition to the sleep improvements, expect to have improved mental clarity and cognition during your waking hours.   100mg taken on an empty stomach is a good dose to start with for most people, although some may benefit from a higher dose.

Vitamin D

The health benefits of having good Vitamin D levels have been well documented, but recent research has shown that it also plays a role in regulating sleep.  Vitamin D deficiency can cause insomnia, sleep apnea, and overall poor quality of sleep, which will lead to a cascade of other problems.  How do you increase your Vitamin D?  Well, my preferred method is to bask in the sun on a tropical beach, but if you you live in a northern city like New York and can’t always escape the bitter cold winters, then the next best option would be to simply take Vitamin D in supplement form.  The dose, and frequency of dosing obviously depends on your current level as well as how much sun exposure you currently get.  There is some debate as to what the optimal level of Vitamin D is, but between about 60-100ng/mL seems to be the consensus for an optimal Vitamin D range.  To check your levels, ask your doctor for a blood test.  If you want to read more about Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, check out Dr. Stasha Gominak’s thorough write-up on the subject.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 24 hour Biorhythms

If you consistently are unable to sleep through the night, make sure to take note of when you are waking up. The hour that you wake up may be an indication of the cause of your sleep problem. From the book, Healing with the Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra, I was introduced to the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of daily biorhythms.  Each major organ is functions most highly at specific times of the day.  Imbalances or weakness in a particular organ that is over stressed during normal sleeping hours will result in waking up prematurely during the night.  Below is a list of particular organs which may be affected:

11pm-1am: Gallbladder

1am-3am: Liver

3am-5am: Lungs

5am-7am: Large Intestine

From this list, you can determine which organ may be at the root of the sleep problem. For example, if you tend to wake up between 1-3am, assuming you are asleep around 10pm, this is an indication of possible liver toxicity. An appropriate course of action could be taking nutrients such as glycine, N-Acetyl-Cystene, and milk thistle to help detox the liver, in addition to reducing the toxic burden on the liver by eliminating alcohol.  Keep in mind that remedies for sleep problems are very specific to the individual and require a thoughtful analysis of one’s overall health.

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