7 Steps to Optimize Sleep and Boost Testosterone

I used to have sleep problems.
Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I used to sleep five hours a night, on average.
Consequently, I was tired most days, and could never seem to gain muscle.  And to top it all off, I would have trouble maintaining an erection when I had slept particularly poorly the previous night. Yeah, not fun. And the thing is, I’m not alone.  Not even close.  According to the CDC, over one-third of Americans suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.  There’s a good chance that you do to. And because most of our testosterone, growth hormone, and luteinizing hormone are produced while we sleep, sleep deprivation weighs particularly heavily on those of us who like to lift heavy shit.  Not only can it kill our sex drives, it can also deprive us of the energy and motivation we need to crush it at the gym.  And worst of all, it can impair our recovery, robbing us of our gainz.


How do you know if you’re sleep deprived?  Well, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.  If you’re not getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, you’re probably sleep deprived. If you get enough sleep, your body will wake itself up.  If you need to use an alarm clock to wake up “on time,” you’re not getting enough sleep. If you feel like shit first thing in the morning, you’re either not getting enough sleep, or getting low-quality sleep. If you sleep in later on weekends to catch up on sleep, you’re not getting enough sleep during the week. If you’re not waking up with morning wood, you’re not producing enough luteinizing hormone and testosterone when you sleep. And if any of those apply to you- or if you just want to gain more muscle and have better sex- you need to re-evaluate the way you sleep.

Start your Day Off Right

Quality sleep isn’t just about what you do at night.

It all ties into your body’s circadian rhythms. This means that good sleep is built throughout the day- starting when you wake up.

First off, you want to wake up from the lightest phase of sleep.  This will happen if your body is waking up on its own. Alarm clocks can jolt you out of deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy, grumpy, and low on energy throughout the day. If you absolutely need to use an alarm clock, find a smart alarm clock app for your smartphone.  These apps select an optimal wake-up time by using your phone’s accelerometer to sense when you move during sleep. Another thing you want to do first thing in the morning is optimize your cortisol levels for the day.  Far from the gainz-eating boogeyman it’s made out to be, cortisol is actually good for you– during the day.  What you don’t want is high cortisol at night. Charles Poliquin and John Romaniello both recommend optimizing cortisol levels by starting your day off with lime juice and salt water.  Mix 1/4 tsp of sea salt or Himalayan salt, an ounce of warm water, and an ounce of fresh, pure lime juice, and gulp it down.  This will help ease you into an optimal cortisol pattern- high in the morning, and low at night. Finally, once you’re out of bed, you want to get your body fully woken up ASAP.  The best way to do this is to take a short walk. The combination of sunlight and physical activity will tell your body that the day starts now, and that sleep time will be 16 hours (more or less) in the future.

Steps to optimize sleep and boost testosterone

The lime juice, salt and water mixture is the real deal. I strongly suggest you give it a shot.

Signal Your Brain with Light Cues

Part of the reason why an early morning walk works so well is that sunlight- as well as related signals such as vitamin D- is the primary signaling mechanism that your brain uses to determine when it’s time to be active, and when it’s time to sleep.

Specifically, the human brain has evolved to use the presence of sky-blue light as an indicator that it is currently daytime. To nudge your brain into a healthy sleep pattern, treat it to extremes of light and darkness. Give it lots of blue light during the day, and none at night.

Going outside in the morning will give you that blue light. If you can’t make it outside- or you live in Alaska and there’s no sun to be had- use an app or a device such as the Phillips Go-Lite to shine some blue light in your eyes. Following that, keep your environment throughout the day as bright as possible.  If you’re stuck in an office, keep the lights cranked up, and step outside a few times a day for some sun. At night, you want to do the exact opposite. Stop any and all blue light from hitting your eyes, and any light at all from touching your body when you sleep. First off, light-proof your room.  Cover your windows with black sheets or blackout curtains to block out external light. Turn off or cover up any light sources in your room, such as fans or computers. Second, take steps to filter the blue wavelengths out of any light that hits your eyes for the last couple hours before bedtime. A free laptop app called f.luxx will redden your screen in the evenings. A cheap pair of amber-tinted glasses or goggles can have much the same effect, albeit while making you look like you’re getting ready to do some welding.

Tax Your Nervous System

Most people “know” that exercise helps you sleep.

And yet, the effect can be very inconsistent. Some nights you’ll sleep like a baby, while other nights you’ll toss and turn, despite having completed an exhausting hour-long workout that day.

The thing is, there’s a specific type of exercise that helps you sleep: exercise that taxes your sense of balance. And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be exhausting to be effective.  It can be as simple as spending more time on your feet, or incorporating more iso-lateral movements into your workouts. To see a dramatic example of this effect, perform an hour-long workout consisting entirely of iso-lateral movements. These include dumbbell rows, Bulgarian split squats, and one-armed dumbbell overhead presses. Then marvel at how easily you sleep that night. Fortunately, there’s no need to redesign all of your workouts just to sleep better.  You can see a significant benefit just by incorporating 4-8 sets of iso-lateral movements in each workout.  Alternatively, you can stand on one leg to the point of fatigue, 2-3 times on each leg in the evening. Of course, you probably don’t work out every day.  Another solution is to spend 6 or more hours on your feet every day.  If you work in an office job, get a standup desk if you can. Try to alternate between periods of sitting and standing. Now, I know 6 hours isn’t very convenient, so there’s one other alternative- substituting intensity for volume.  Instead of standing for 6 hours, you can stand on one leg to exhaustion, 2-3 times on each leg.

Saturated Fat in the Evening- Good for Testosterone, Great for Sleep

Steps to optimize sleep and boost testosterone

Steak is an awesome source of both cholesterol and saturated fat. Not to mention the fact that it’s absolutely delicious.

Cholesterol is the building block for testosterone- and in fact, for all of our sex hormones.

Eating fat, and particularly saturated fat, causes the body to produce more cholesterol. Studies show that athletes on low-fat diets tend to have low testosterone. Those who eat high amounts of saturated fat have higher testosterone levels. An independent study by the John Fawkes journal of broscience associated low-fat diets with a heightened interest in boy bands.

Because you produce most of your testosterone while you sleep, the benefits of saturated fat become more apparent when consumed in the evening. Interestingly, eating saturated fat at night also seems to have a significant sedative effect. Adding a small amount of healthy sugar (notice both emphases) seems to enhance the sedative effect.  In practice, this tends to mean eating a couple of sausages or a few ounces of cheese, dipped in one or two teaspoons of honey or agave nectar, within 3 hours of bedtime.  While animal fat is preferable, you can optionally boost the saturated fat content by adding in some coconut oil.

Supplement Smartly or Not at All

Most sleep supplements are either useless or counterproductive.

Specifically, most herbal supplements just don’t do much. Most sedatives- such as antihistamines and prescription sleep drugs (or alcohol for that matter)- induce sleep while lowering its quality.

Nonetheless, there are a few supplements worth mentioning.  The first two are magnesium and zinc.  Both of them contribute to both sleep and testosterone production. Zinc is the most important micronutrient for testosterone, while magnesium has much more of a sedative effect. It plays a central role in the regulation of GABA, the main neurotransmitter responsible for sleep maintenance. You can take them together in supplements such as ZMA. For an even stronger sedative effect, try powdered magnesium supplements such as Natural Calm.  You also don’t want to over-supplement zinc. You can test your zinc levels cheaply and easily by using zinc sulfate monohydrate, which tastes differently depending on your zinc levels.

Next up, there’s melatonin, the main hormone responsible for sleep initiation.  There’s a lot of debate about the usefulness of melatonin. Some people swear by it, while others insist that it’s useless or can even throw your natural hormone production out of whack. The truth is, they’re all correct, in a way.  Melatonin can be very useful. But in this case, less is more.  Taking too much can shut down your body’s natural melatonin production and impair sleep quality.  Also, your melatonin levels naturally rise throughout the night, peaking a couple hours before you wake. Higher doses of melatonin fast-forward this process, paradoxically causing you to wake up earlier. So what dosage was found effective in studies?  As little as .3 mg.  All you need is .3-.5 mg, one hour before bed.  This is a problem, because the pills you find in pharmacies are usually dosed at 3, 5, or even 10 mg.  While you could grab the smallest pills they have and try to break them up, your best bet would be to order liquid melatonin online and measure it out with a dropper. The other alternative would be to take 5-HTP* or L-Tryptophan, both of which are precursors to melatonin.  In that case the optimal dosage is 100 mg of 5-HTP or 1 gram of L-Tryptophan.  The optimal timing here would be about 4 hours before bed. This is because they take some time to convert to melatonin. Additionally, 5-HTP can have a short-lived stimulatory effect as it first begins converting to serotonin.

*Safety note:  Don’t take 5-HTP with anything else that acts on serotonin, such as Prozac or St. John’s Wort.

Steps to optimize sleep and boost testosterone

Yes. You do!

Prime Your Mind for Sleep

Finally, you need to address the psychological aspect of sleep.  In short, you need to learn to relax as hard as you train.

Rule number one: don’t bring work or stress into your bedroom.  If you have to work, pay bills, or talk on the phone with angry relatives at home, find another room to do it in.

Rule number two: use your bed for sleep, sex, and reading before bed.  That’s it.  You want your brain to develop a Pavlovian response to your bed. When you get in bed, you should immediately feel sleepy.  Or horny, if you’re getting some on the regular.

Rule number three: spend at least an hour before bed relaxing and winding down.  Preferably two hours.  That means stop working, doing chores, or thinking about all your problems at least an hour before bed. If you’re worrying about something you have to do the next day, put it in a to-do list. Plan out that task earlier in the day so you can more easily put it out of your mind.  And if you do end up working late, push back your bedtime.  It’s actually better to stay up later than planned than to try to force yourself to sleep before your mind is relaxed. Spend the last half hour before bed reading a novel (again, unless you’re having sex).  Do not watch TV- that blasts your eyes with light and puts your brain in wake mode.  Reading nonfiction won’t do either. It tends to get you thinking about the real-life uses and implications of what you’re reading.  Nothing relaxes your mind like a novel. It’s fun, relaxing, and gives you nothing to worry about because it has no bearing on your life.

Finally, if you find yourself unable to sleep because you can’t quiet your mind- as opposed to any kind of physical reason- take up meditation.  This can mean taking a class. Or it can be as simple as sitting in a chair, breathing deeply, and blanking out your mind for five minutes a day.  Five minutes a day, every day, will get you results.  Longer sessions, done without consistency, won’t.

Maintaining the Right Mindset for Sleep

Along with diet and exercise, sleep is one of the three pillars on which our health rests.

Yet too often, people treat sleep as a luxury to be sacrificed to make time for something else. For the sake of work, socializing, or even fitness, we deprive our bodies of a need every bit as vital as food or water.

The mantra of “no pain, no gain” gets used to justify a self-defeating and unhealthy lifestyle. Don’t make that mistake.  Treat sleep the way you treat going to your job- as an obligation that the rest of your life has to fit with.  In other words, it’s not negotiable, you plan other things around it, and only extreme circumstances justify missing out on it. If you want strength, more energy, and more sexual vitality- put in your 7-9 hours a night, every night.

About the Author

John FawkesJohn Fawkes is a full-time fitness coach and part-time bro. He helps guys get cut and jacked by changing their habits and pushing themselves harder than they ever thought possible. He also sings a damned good cover of Hunger Strike.