The T Protocol is a complete review of what is known to optimise Testosterone in Men.
Originally intended as a single resource, it has grown into a series of posts on key areas that Men need to address in order to realise the natural Testosterone levels that are their birth right.
Sleep is the foundation of building healthy T levels.
Without sleep, no amount of attention to diet and supplements and training will enable you to manifest great T levels.
A number of years ago I recall discussing sleep with a very high profile surgeon whilst flying back from a meeting.
He was bragging about how little sleep he needed. Usually only 3 to 4 hours a night.
“Sleep is for wimps!” He exclaimed.
I looked at him quizzically as he sat next to me, taking in his hunched posture and belly spilling out over the seat belt around his waist. His hollow, blood shot eyes stared back at me.
“No sir," I replied.
"A lack of sleep creates wimps.”
Not surprisingly, we never did much business after that. But it did highlight the lack of insight someone can have regarding the restorative powers of a decent nights kip.
Your Testosterone levels are an important part of that restorative power.
This surgeons attitude is, sadly, typical of the modern approach to sleep, where gritting through the days on a minimal dose of sleep is seen as a rite of passage. Add this to artificial light permeating our lives 24 hours a day, chronic caffeine abuse and high stress levels, and you have the perfect storm for poor sleep patterns.
In 1960, a survey of over 1 million people found a sleep duration of 8.0-8.9 hours. By the year 2000, polls conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicated that the average duration of sleep had fallen to 6.9-7.0 hours. Today, many people are in bed only 5-6 hours per night on a regular basis. (Van Cauter 2005)
Testosterone is released in what is known as a diurnal rhythm. T levels usually peak around 8am, and conversely, a trough in T secretion is seen around 10pm (Luboshithzky 2001) Testosterone concentration increases as sleep time increases (Arnal 2016), probably because the majority of daily testosterone release in Men occurs during sleep (Leproult 2011). Conversely, Testosterone levels decrease with total time spent awake.
What does sleep restriction do to Testosterone levels?
The literature surrounding testosterone and sleep is simple enough at first glance. Limiting sleep beats down your T levels, even in otherwise healthy young Men.
Leproult (2011) subjected 10 young, healthy, Men to 8 nights of sleep restriction. They slept from 12.30pm to 5.30am, for a total of 5 hours sleep. The reduction in sleep time from an average of 8 hours 55 mins to 4 hours 48 minutes reduced T by 10-15% in all subjects.
Just one night of total sleep loss will reduce your Testosterone levels even further (Penev 2006, Carter 2012, Cote 2013).
Total T levels have been noted to be highest in men who slept between 6 to 8 h or more (Anderson 2011) and amount of night time sleep in healthy older men was found to be a significant and independent predictor of their morning total and free T levels (Penev 2006).
A reported sleep reduction to 4.5 hours, from 7.5 hours, corresponded to T levels of 200-300 ng/dl compared to 500-700 ng/dl.
That amount of Testosterone reduction would make a very noticeable difference to a Man’s mindset and wellbeing.
What about a bad night’s sleep?
Even if you hit your bed with the best intentions to sleep the night away, fragmented sleep, especially disruption of your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep can have a similar effect as sleep restriction on your Testosterone levels (Luboshithzky 2001).
Fortunately, an interesting trend has been observed that allows you to compensate for the occasional all nighter, or a bad night of sleep.
It has been demonstrated that daytime sleeping causes the same exponential increase in T levels as normal night time sleep. (Axelsson 2005). It would appear that Testosterone release is not completely bound to a circadian rhythm. Instead, sleep is the critical factor (Andersen 2011)
The timing of sleep and Testosterone
As always, nothing is conveniently simple and the research on this topic is occasionally equivocal. Recent investigations have shown that the timing of a night time sleep restriction may ameliorate the reduction in Testosterone. (Wittert 2014)
Schmidt et al (2012) investigated this. They showed that total sleep deprivation, or sleep restricted to the first half of the night (22.30 to 03.30) caused a significant reduction on Testosterone levels, as expected. But, strangely, sleep restricted to the second half of the night (02.45 to 07.00) had no effect on T levels.
Before you take that as a free reign to stagger to bed a 3am most mornings, note that restricting sleep in the early part of night causes other metabolic disturbances (Van Cauter 2005). How does obesity and diabetes sound?
Pre-loading sleep to prevent T reduction due to sleep loss
What about loading up on sleep before an occasion when you know you are going to be sleep deprived?
Arnal et al (2016) investigated six nights of sleep extension (an average of over 9 hours sleep, for 6 nights) and found that it was not sufficient to prevent the inhibitory the effects of 24 h of awake time on Testosterone reduction.
So, you can’t pre-load sleep, it will still wreck your T levels if you skip too much of it.
Fortunately, in healthy Men, it has been demonstrated that T levels are restored after only one night of recovery sleep (Penev 2006, Arnal 2016).
- Sleep restriction reduces Testosterone significantly
- Daytime sleeping has been shown to increase T as much as night time sleeping, provided the duration is sufficient. (8 hours in the referenced study).
- Fragmented sleep can have the same effect as restricted sleep on T reduction
- Time of sleep loss is significant in T reduction (first half of the night sleep loss doesn’t reduce T, second half of the night sleep loss does)
- You cannot pre-load your sleep to prevent sleep restriction induced T reduction
- T levels recover quickly after one nights normal sleep in healthy Men
What can we action from this information on Testosterone and sleep?
Well, if you MUST skip sleep, then it would appear that sleeping in the second half of the night (3-7am) would be better than sleeping in the first half of the night for your T levels.
Sleeping in the daytime as a ‘catch up’ strategy is a viable option for restoring your vigour via raising T levels, if you have missed sleep.
If you have pulled an all nighter, it will likely smack your T down, but as evidenced, a good night of recovery sleep should fix this.
So, whilst the occasional awake binge won’t hurt you too much, consistently missing out on good sleep will lower your T, as well as have sinister consequences for your overall health.
Since it has been shown that fragmented sleep also reduces T, prioritising good sleep makes sense for anyone who wants to optimise their Testosterone.
Strategies for quality T boosting sleep
- Avoid Caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
Caffeine has a half life of around six hours, so you want your caffeine levels low when you are looking to sleep.
- Back load your carbs around the last meal of the day.
You know that sleepy feeling after a big meal? Some of that feeling is because the carbohydrates you’ve eaten cause a serotonin dump. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that gives you feelings of relaxation and contentedness. By saving a decent portion of your carbs until the last meal of the day, you can benefit from this phenomenon.
- Magnesium supplementation
Magnesium helps to calm down the nervous system, and several studies show it aids in treating insomnia and improves sleep quality. (Abbasi 2012, Held 2002). Add this to the fact that a large proportion of the population are Magnesium deficient and it makes sense to supplement.
- Taurine Supplementation
Taurine works by stimulating GABA release. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it also calming effect on the nervous system.
- Optimise your Vit D
Vitamin D is whole topic in itself. If you live above 33 degrees north latitude, you won’t make Vitamin D via sun exposure between November to March, even if you prance around naked outdoors at Midday (Nolick 2011 - my words, not his!).
Its link with sleep is increasingly being recognised and optimising your vitamin D levels if they are low will often restore quality sleep regardless of the sleep disorder. (Gominak 2012)
5-6000 IU is suggested as a safe and effective daily dose for most people (Nolick 2011). It is also essential for T production, which we will investigate in future articles.
- Avoid blue light before bed
Exposure to blue light before bed ruins your Melatonin production. Avoid technology screens or use a blue light limiting app prior to bed. Melatonin has a mild sedative effect, and is the hormone you naturally produce before onset of sleep.
- Melatonin supplementation
If you are really struggling, for example when suffering from jet lag, A dose of Melatonin an hour or so before bed may help. Be aware, using this too much may down regulate your natural production.
Prioritise Sleep, Optimise your T
As we have seen, poor quality sleep or a limited amount of sleep can hinder your Testosterone production. There are several strategies presented here aimed at reducing that impact if you cannot avoid restricting your sleep. However, a solid routine that prioritises sleep is going to ensure that your T levels are optimal.
Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. As always Men, keep grinding!
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