No Time To Sleep
Sleep Is Vital for your Health and Wellbeing
You know you need it. You also know roughly how much you should have and yet you still don’t get enough.
But the truth is, in this modern world it seems that sleep is vastly underrated…
It gets in the way of a night out
Whats on the TV
Having to get to work
In fact more often than not sleep is just not even considered as vital for your health.
The chances are, you are not fully aware of what sleep actually does for you and how you can maximise your immunity, health and performance.
Having trouble sleeping and tossing and turning all night is a sure fire way to make you tired and cranky the following day. The whole day becomes a struggle, you need caffeine just to get through the day, your productivity tanks and you end up going to the gym for a rest rather than a brutal training session.
Lack of sleep is also something that can disrupt your health. Your productivity through the day will be affected, lack of concentration, a lack of energy and a lack of clarity and focus are just a few of the symptoms a lack of rest brings. And if you are exercising (as you should be) it can stop muscle gain and halt fat loss dead in its tracks, which can have a real adverse effect on your overall health and wellbeing.
Imagine though, how cool would it be to grab a good, refreshing night’s sleep and what it could do for you. You wouldn’t need to survive on caffeine (which in excess is damaging your adrenal glands by the way), your sugar cravings would subside, and your performance at work and in the gym or at your martial arts sessions would be more effective!
I am sure you have all heard the myths about getting in 8 hours kip and all is good, you will be fresh and busting with energy. However, our bodies are way more complex than that.
It isn’t just a simple case of climbing into your pit and closing your eyes.
Other factors are involved such as…
Do you need a certain amount of hours?
Do you need to go to bed at the same time?
How much does sleep quality matter?
Is it a combination of all of them?
Let’s look at these questions and break down the important facets of sleep as follows:
- The various sleep stages
- The benefits of sleep
- How you can optimise your sleep time
Sleep can be broken down into 4 stages
Stage 1 – Characterised by drowsiness, relaxation of all your muscles and shallow breathing. This occurs in the first ten minutes or so of the sleep cycle.
Stage 2 – Your Heart rate slows and your body starts to relax in the next 10 minutes of the sleep cycle. Your body temperature starts to drop and you become unaware of what’s going on around you.
Stage 3 – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This occurs multiple times per night and is characterised by dreams due to increased brain activity and an increased heart rate.
Stage 4 – Deep sleep. The stage you must reach for as long as possible, every night.
The Benefits of Deep Sleep
Sleep is a vital part of the way your body recovers and recuperates from whatever stresses you throw at it over the course of a day. Sleep is not a luxury, it is mandatory for your mental health and wellbeing!
From a health perspective sleep must be considered just as important as training and nutrition. You cannot hope to be at your best at the activities you perform through the day and be able to train intensely on a regular basis if you are not giving your body enough quality recovery time.
Think of it this way, the longest recorded duration a person has gone without food is 40 days, most people can survive 30 days without food. With sleep it is 11 days, however after 2 days you can hardly function, concentration is poor and hallucinations occur after 4 days.
When you’re lying asleep, your body slides into a period of low metabolic activity. During this time there is increased blood flow to your muscles as less is needed for digestion, movement etc.
There’s also a large release of growth hormone during sleep. Growth hormone is VITAL to muscle rebuilding and repair, fat loss and indeed all round health, and is the main reason why people suffering from a lack of sleep tend to be at an unhealthy weight and have the strength of a baby!
Increased muscle building means a greater muscle mass and a higher metabolism. Ultimately it means you are burning more calories at rest and the next time you train. Growth hormone is known as a ‘fat burning’ hormone rather than a ‘fat storage’ hormone and is released in episodic waves during your sleep, with the largest wave coming around an hour after you sleep.
In 2000 a study by Cauter et al found that deep sleep decreases from 20% of total sleep time in males under 25, to 5% in males over 35, with a corresponding fall in human growth hormone.
This makes it particularly important for adults to pay greater attention to ensuring they maximise deep sleep as they get older if they are hoping to reduce body fat.
The recovery process, when maximised will also help ensure you don’t feel so stiff or sore after a high intensity weight or conditioning sessions so make the most of it. Ignoring your body’s need for regular patterns of deep sleep will find yourself struggling through training sessions and not getting any reward for your efforts!
Lack of sleep tends to compromise your immune system and allow a greater susceptibility to colds and infections and just a general feeling run down. Indirectly this will hamper your attempts to get rid of your belly as you won’t be able to train and are likely to feel a greater need to comfort eat.
Finally deep sleep ensures your memory, reaction time and mental alertness remains high. This will do wonders for your day job and training sessions alike.
Implement as many of the following practices into your daily / nightly routine and you will soon feel more energetic, more alert at work and able to push through your training sessions on your way to a strong, lean, high performing body!
These tips are written in no particular order. Don’t pick and choose – do them all for the best results!
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Your weekends should not be much different otherwise you will still confuse your body.
- Reduce electromagnetic forces from around you such as tablets, mobile phones, radios and televisions as these may interfere with your brain activity.
- Minimise light and noise by using dark curtain, eye shades and ear plugs. Melatonin, a hormone which aids recovery and regulates our body clock is only effective in complete darkness
- Shut out as much light as possible. Even the smallest amount of light on the skin reduces the hormone melatonin.
- Minimise or remove caffeine particularly in the afternoon. Caffeine can have an adverse effect on your sleep, especially if you are stressed, hence why most people are on a ‘VICIOUS circle’ of surviving on caffeine through the day then not being able to sleep. Caffeine actually raises your cortisol (stress hormone) levels for up to 18 hours. So in order to sleep well, you actually want lower cortisol levels on an evening not raise them!
- Ensure you have the right pillow. Your pillow should help you maintain a straight neck. This will reduce muscular tension allowing you to relax and sleep better.
- Avoid intense exercise 4 hours before bed.
- Find a good mattress which helps you maintain good postural alignment. You usually find you get what you pay for.
- Make sure you feel secure and safe wherever you are sleeping. It’s a common problem for people to struggle to sleep in strange places. The safer you feel, the more you can relax mentally and physically.
- Freshly washed sheets always feel softer and smell great which again will help you relax.
- Aim to hit the sheets between 10-10.30 at the latest every single night, this maximises the role of the liver which is highly active during your sleep as it tries to detoxify and metabolise anything that’s going into your body that shouldn’t really go in there. Let’s be honest, for most people there’s a lot of that, whether they know it or not.
- Stress another major factor with sleep issues and should be avoided, however in today’s world that is easier said than done. Stress increases cortisol output which, as we spoke about before needs to be low on an evening. Look at why you are stressed and work towards a solution.
- Don’t clock watch if you do have trouble sleeping – this will only make things worse. One way to actually fall asleep is actively try and keep awake, try it, it works!
- Don’t fight sleep. You will probably end up awake for a lot longer as you will enter an over tired restless state. If you are trying to read and keep nodding off just go with it and put your book down.
- Create a relaxing ‘going to bed routine’ such as a warm bath or listening to music. Avoid mental stimulation such as television and factual / exciting books within an hour of bed time.
- Minimise alcohol consumption and smoking. Alcohol may help you get to sleep but it will prevent you reaching deep sleep thus doing more harm than good. Just like the caffeine hit in the morning this can become a ritual or using alcohol to get to sleep, but not having deep sleep to make you feel fresh.
- Take steps to minimise stress in your life. I cannot emphasis this enough!
- If you wake up through the night between 3-5am, you may feel the urge to go to the toilet. However, it’s highly unlikely that emptying your bladder is responsible for waking you up. It’s more likely that your blood sugar is low. When your body detects low blood glucose levels, it raises cortisol our stress hormone to metabolise sugar for energy. However, cortisol is also part of your natural sleep cycle to wake you up in the morning. It is also prudent not to drink lots of liquid before going to bed.
- Processed food is also an example of something that most people have no idea is keeping them awake. Most of the foods people are eating are laced with MSG, E- numbers and other things that have no place being there in the first place. The human digestive system does not like and just cannot handle this crap. This is the reason when you’re trying to get to sleep, your stomach and liver are working overtime to try and deal with all of it, especially if it’s part of the last meal you ate that day. Things like, ready meals, sauces, ketchups, bread, pasta etc are all processed garbage that are making your insides work overtime when you should be sleeping. Your body requires natural whole foods to operate as efficiently as possible. Sadly that has diminished alarmingly over the last few decades.
- Generally 7-8 hours of sleep works best but experiment for 1-2 weeks a time to find what works best for you.
- Supplement with Magnesium. Magnesium is used for over 350 processes in the body and most people are deficient in this essential mineral. one thing it does is help you to relax. magnesium is essential for allowing the central nervous system to relax. Thus it is excellent for people with “restless legs”, poor sleep, stress and anxiety.
Implement all of the above, and you will notice dramatic differences in the quality of your sleep.
I would suggest every few weeks add a few more of these suggestions into your routine to better make them stick.
This is the key. Whilst it is accepted that 7-8 hours is the optimal range of sleep per night, you need to pay close attention to the quality of that sleep.
In 2006, Sanjay Patel of Cleveland’s Case Western University was part of the research team which studied the links between hours of sleep per night and weight gain. Over 16 years, women who reported sleeping five hours or less per night gained about 2.3 more pounds than those who slept seven hours per night. During the same period, women who got six hours of nightly sleep gained 1.5 more pounds than those who slept an extra hour per night.
All of this evidence goes to show that losing body fat requires total lifestyle changes and won’t occur to any noticeable degree simply by doing a bit more on the cross-trainer or eating a salad every day.
Every part of health counts!
Optimise your recovery and see the results of your dedication to your health
Now go and make sure you get enough sleep and reap the rewards.
To your strength and Health