It’s no secret that athletes need to take their sleep seriously. Not only is there tons of data to support that running low on sleep impairs our daily cognitive performance, but there's also enough science to suggest that athletes specifically experience sport-related deficiencies such as delayed reaction times, decreases in depth perception and generally, slower recovery. So whether you’re jumping from board meeting to board meeting or planning to go cliff-jumping, the science says - we need our sleep.
What we know about sleep is that there are two stages we can intensely benefit from: our slow wave (or deep sleep) stage, and REM. During your slow sleep stage your pituitary gland secretes human growth hormone, which is integral to the growth and development of the body. You can also count on this stage to help with strengthening the immune system, and the growth and repair of your muscle tissues. During REM sleep, the brain works to process the impressions and memories of the day. So if you cram for a big test all day, making sure you get a good night’s sleep with an adequate REM cycle means you’re more likely to retain everything you just studied. This works the same for drilling specific technical changes or skills for your sport!
Your sleep also loves a consistent pattern. Your body will slowly begin to recognize when you typically sleep and wake, and will schedule its sleep cycles accordingly. If you consistently miss out on stages of deep or REM sleep, your body isn’t as physically prepared or physiologically efficient as it can be. We know that sleeping in a dark environment, avoiding blue light, and making sure to curb caffeine intake by a certain time can help with establishing some solid sleep skills - but there are also some supplements you can add to your routine if you're ready to take your sleep seriously.
ZMA (zinc magnesium aspartate) is a zinc, magnesium, and B6 blend. Zinc and magnesium are minerals that are involved in our metabolism, immunity and nerve functions, while vitamin B6 aids in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Supplementing with ZMA is super popular among athletes since they are typically deficient in some combination of the above three, as they sweat frequently and utilize nutrients at a higher rate for recovery and protein synthesis following training. Plus, magnesiums ability to normalize and extend stage 3 and stage 4 slow-wave sleep can directly relate to an athlete’s ability to recover.
So why ZMA, and not other remedies? Melatonin, another popular supplement, is a natural hormone that your body produces around its perceived bedtime to try and bring you into a restful state. However, taking melatonin consistently is a bandaid for why your body may not be preparing itself for sleep naturally. Outside of the occasional recommendation for jetlag, bouts of insomnia, or shift work - it isn't regarded as a long-term solution, as there isn’t much data known about its chronic-use effects, and it's specifically advised against for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those with autoimmune/seizure disorders or depression.
Still need more reasons to try ZMA? Let’s check out the data:
The Whoop recovery journal prompts users to log several recovery-based factors to help determine how primed someone may be to take on strain the next day. Every morning, users track things such as whether or not they viewed a screen device before bed, experienced stress, consumed alcohol, or chose a magnesium-based sleep supplement. Monthly, users get report cards that help them recognize trends between their daily habits and how their recovery is impacted. Below is my sleep score from the month of January.
On nights that I took Earth Fed Muscle's Forty Winkz (ZMA supplement), I experienced an 8% increase in my recovery, and an average surplus of :47 minutes of sleep.
Whoop also tracks your ratio of deep sleep to REM. Remember, deep sleep is where our bodies recover, while REM is where the brain recovers - and generally 20-25% of your sleep should be spent in REM. Below, the lighter blue portion of each column represents my time spent in REM every night - indicating an adequate relationship between my REM and deep sleep stages.
Whoop also gives users nightly sleep scores - based on the amount of sleep that was recommended vs how much was actually obtained. Below is a typical night of ZMA-influenced sleep data paired with a 7-day average of my overall sleep performance:
Time and time again, the correlation between my sleep supplementation and overall recovery is proven. My nightstand is fully stocked with Earth Fed Muscle’s Forty Winkz ZMA, is yours?