The importance of sleep.
I hear from a lot of people how they feel that sleep is a luxury rather than a necessity. They like to stay up at night, going to bed between 10pm and 12pm and wake up with the kids/for work at 5-6am, whilst catching up on sleep debt at the weekends. However, that can be detrimental to your health.
Things I hear a lot are “wait til you have kids”, “I like to stay up late and just get up later” or “I can never sleep properly”.
If you put in the hours at the gym, you live a healthy lifestyle and you require energy to look after your kids, or for your job, why wouldn’t you put in the time for your health by sleeping well? Alternatively, if you are just beginning your journey to a healthier you, starting with sleep can put you on the right and positive path.
I am known to love a nap and will always schedule this into my day. By having enough sleep you will be healthier, happier and more mentally focused.
Why sleep is so important
Sleep deprivation is a serious contribution towards any health related issues.
Sleep is essential to health and survival. Even if you don’t eat very well, you can still expect to live around 75 years. But if you don’t sleep, you’ll likely check out in a couple of weeks — the Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation is 11 days.
If you find yourself reaching for sugary snacks when you get that slump in the afternoon, guzzling down coffee like its battery fluid and always feeling a little bloated throughout the day, you might want to look at your sleeping patterns.
A study in 2005 by Voronoa RD, et al found that people between the ages of 35-49 who slept fewer than 7 hours a night were more likely to be obese. Why?
Sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is the metabolic capacity to handle eating carbs – to use them for energy, instead of storing them as fat. A reduction in insulin sensitivity means that you’re more likely to store food as fat (and then still be hungry afterwards). With this weight gain you’d likely see insulin resistance (IR), glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes.
Ok, so you might eat an extra burger and a few more chocolate bars? It doesn’t happen that often right?
Not quite. Eleven healthy men in their 20s were only allowed 4 hours of sleep for six straight nights. At the end of this, the young men had the insulin sensitivity of a 70 year old pre-diabetic!
Getting less than 7.5 hours of sleep each night also means that you’re at greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death than your pals who get plenty of snooze time.
With lack of sleep, daily life function can suffer as well, including moods, cognition, and memory. Going 24 hours without sleep is similar to performing with a blood alcohol level of 0.10%. Good luck navigating the grocery store and/or gym while “intoxicated” from minimal sleep.
I know when I am not sleeping right. I feel groggy, fidgety and really grouchy. But not everyone is aware when they are sleep deprived. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University found that those with 4-6 hours sleep didn’t even notice their own performance declines. When participants graded themselves, they believed that their performance declined for a few days and then tapered off. In reality, they were continuing to get worse with each day. In other words, we are poor judges of our own performance decreases even as we are going through them.
They also found that this group would begin to fall asleep at random times throughout the day. After two weeks, the group with six hours sleep a night had performance deficits that were pretty much the same as if they had stayed up for two nights straight.
Sleep deprivation has a serious effect on health, fitness and wellbeing. Without the right amount of sleep, we become:
More hungry - Sleep deprivation has been shown to lower leptin (an appetite-suppressing hormone produced by fat cells, which is normally produced in abundance at night) and increase ghrelin, (a hormone released by the stomach that stimulates hunger, which is also secreted at night but normally in lesser amounts).
Cortisol elevation – this hormone, when out of sync with the body due to lack of sleep, can cause obesity and type II diabetes.
Sick – when we seriously lack sleep our immune system becomes compromised, not being able to fight bacteria and “bugs”. The inflammatory state, which supports the immune system by enhancing the body’s ability to form an initial immune response to invading bacteria, has been shown to do nothing to support the immune system when we are suffering from lack of sleep. It only impedes it’s function, and puts the body at risk for infection, chronic diseases, and cancer.
How can we fix our sleep?
According to some sleep experts, because of the way our natural circadian rhythms work, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. We’re meant to go to sleep when it gets dark, and to wake when it gets light. That old saying about early to bed and early to rise still stands the test of time.
Wind down – do something that chills you out before bed time. Whether that be a bath, a book and a cup of tea, meditating or a light and soft session of yoga.
Take ZMA – A blend of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, it is the magnesium we are interested in. Magnesium is vital for the function of GABA receptors, which exist across all areas of the brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling. If you choose the bath route before bed, magnesium-based epsom salts as magnesium is also known to help with sleep.
Create a dark room before bed time - Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain that signals to your body it is time for sleep. Making your room as dark as possible will maximize your melatonin production.
Exercise regularly - Exercise helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. Try to exercise at morning to midday, avoiding late night workouts which can rev us up and have us bouncing off the walls before bed.
Have a nap – A brief 20-30 minute mid-day nap can reduce levels of fatigue, improve reaction time, promote learning, and improve coordination.
One last food for thought….
Blue light. With the amount of people that own iPhones, iPad’s and computers, who sit till late at night and flick through Facebook, Instagram or choose this time to work, saving you time in the morning and allowing you to have that lie in, you are actually inhibiting melatonin production and making it harder to fall and stay asleep. (Sunsets produce red light.)
I suggest trying to turn off all your electronics half hour to an hour before bed and leaving your mobile away from your bedroom. If you have to use your phone as your alarm or are on-call in the night, then download f.lux, which changes the brightness and tone of your screen in time with sunset and sunrise, reducing evening blue light.
How to wake up
The human body is designed to get sleepy when it’s dark and to wake when it is light. Research shows that when people are slowly roused by gradually increasing light levels, they feel much more alert and relaxed than when they’re woken up by a sudden, blaring alarm.
However, this isn’t always feasible when its winter or when you have to get up before the sun itself is.
I recommend buying yourself a dawn-stimulating alarm clock. It was quite possibly one of the best purchases I have ever made.
Increasing light has also been shown to raise cortisol in the morning (which is an important signal to your body to wake up), and to improve sleep quality. It can even decrease depressive symptoms in seasonal affective disorders.
This has got to be a bonus. I am not recommending more vegetables, a smoothie diet or that you move around more. I am recommending and encouraging you to get a 20-minute nap, get an earlier night and sleep more. WINNING!