Mark Bell - Super Training GymYouTube
Powerlifter Mark "Smelly" Bell, aka the "Meathead Millionaire," may be a world record-breaking powerlifter and all-around buff guy, but that doesn't mean he's free of health concerns—especially when it comes to sleep. Bell, like many powerlifters, experiences sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
Sleep apnea is characterized by episodes of stopped breathing during sleep, which is often accompanied by abrupt awakenings by gasping or choking and dry mouth or sore throat after sleep. Those who have sleep apnea often snore loudly, experience daytime fatigue from a lack of restful sleep, struggle with decreased concentration, and may experience morning headaches.
It can be a scary, life-threatening condition, which Bell knows firsthand.
"Sleep apnea is very, very dangerous. People die in their sleep," Bell said on a recent episode of his Power Project podcast. "It happened to a friend of mine who was a strongman competitor years ago, Mike Jenkins. It happened to a famous football player, Reggie White. These things happen and it's a scary thing because you literally stop breathing while you're sleeping."
To address his own sleep issues, Bell recently started to test out different ways of improving his sleep. On a recent episode of his podcast, Bell broke down some of the habits he's developed to revamp his sleep routine, helping to address his sleep problems.
On the podcast, Bell shares that he's long experienced sleep apnea and other sleep issues without a clear root cause. The 45-year-old fitness buff speculates his lack of sleep could be due to stress, intense powerlifting workouts, or performance-enhancing drugs. It's true that powerlifters and those who strength train to extremes often experience sleep apnea, which some attribute to thicker neck muscles, increased body mass, and performance-enhancing drug use. Sleep problems in these populations may also be attributed to a higher resting heart rate for powerlifters, which can keep the body aroused even while at rest.
Bell says the supplements or sleep formulas he tried wouldn't address his sleep issues, which led him to experiment with sleep remedies on his own. Now, Bell says he's been getting the best sleep he's had in 15 years—and he chalks it up to breathing.
"What has changed most recently is me pushing myself with breathing. Being able to breathe at a higher capacity, doing exercises that are challenging my breath, [and] learning about nasal breathing," Bell says.
Bell says he's seen sleep improvement by embracing running and mobility-focused movement. But he's also taken up myofascial work, a strenuous massage technique that focuses on alleviating pain stemming from the tough membranes that connect and support your muscles. Anecdotally, many people who receive myofascial work report experiencing periods of rejuvenating rest after treatment.
Though Bell doesn't use a CPAP machine, which many doctors prescribe for sleep apnea, he does use a dentist-created mouthpiece and mouth tape to help address his breathing. His mouthpiece forces his tongue to the roof of his mouth and aligns his jaw, which helps open the airway for non-obstructed breathing. The mouth tape prevents mouth breathing during sleep, which can cause disruptive snoring, forcing a user to breathe through the nose for better (and quieter) rest.
Bell has also worked to control the amount of light coming into his sleeping area, a tried-and-true trick. But he's also tried some not-so-common habits, like embracing cold plunges followed by warm showers to prepare his body for rest.
"I just feel like so pampered," he says of the warm shower after a cold plunge. "I feel like a little baby that has been wrapped in a little blanket."
While Bell hasn't had an official sleep study done to quantify how much of the problem he has fixed, he says he has experienced deeper rest since taking on these new habits. While his experience has been entirely experimental and his results anecdotal, Bell encourages those who also struggle with sleep to work at revamping their habits.
"It's very unlikely that the first thing you stumble upon is going to be the thing that helps you," Bell says, adding. "What I would recommend is you try to implement one thing at a time and see if..it's yielding some results."
Watch the entire podcast video below:
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