What ONE thing can improve your health, weight, sex life, and memory? Sleep.
Everyone knows they should sleep more and it would be better for them, but so many people cut sleep first when they are short on time. I am hoping that you will read this and decide to reprioritize sleep as an extremely important, and integral part of your day. Sleeping is equally important to getting your workout in for the day.
I used to be one of those people that “didn’t” need as much sleep. I could do it all without much sleep and do it well. Except, there were more times that I got a cold, or was bitchy, or felt tired on my work-outs. At some point, I felt that I was starting to head into an overtraining period. I knew I had to back off of my training and get some rest. I read more about sleep and finally started to buy into sleeping more regularly and the benefits of it. So, what are the benefits? how much do we need? and how do we get quality sleep?
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP?
- Stronger Immunity: A study occurred in which 150 people were exposed to a cold virus. The people who slept 7 hours or less per night were almost 3X as likely to get sick as the people who slept at least 8 hours per night. Your body produces extra protein molecules while you’re sleeping that help to strengthen your ability to fight infection and stay healthy. These protein molecules help your immune system mend your body at a cellular level when you are stressed or have been exposed to compromising pollutants and infectious bacteria.
- Better Health: Studies have found links between insufficient sleep and some serious health problems: heart disease, heart attacks, obesity, and even diabetes over time. Sufficient amounts of sleep helps to repair your body, lowering blood pressure, and elevated levels of stress or inflammation. High levels of “inflammatory markers” are linked to heart disease and strokes. Physical effects of stress (wear and tear on the body) can degenerate cells and propel the aging process. Sleep slows these effects and encourages a state of relaxation. Lack of sleep can also affect how your body processes glucose, making the risk greater for Type 2 Diabetes.
- Better sex life. The National Sleep Foundation polled people…26% of people say that their sex lives suffer because they are just too tired. Need you read further down the list?!
- Less pain. If you have chronic or acute pain (recent injury), sleeping more can decrease your pain. Studies show a link between sleep loss and lower pain threshold.
- Lower risk of injury. Minor or serious accidents involving anything from vehicles to something as simple as tripping and falling are more likely to occur when you are tired.
- Better mood. When we are tired, we are more prone to snap at others, be agitated, and cranky. When insufficient sleep becomes chronic, studies have shown it can lead to long-term mood disorders such as depression or anxiety.
- Better Weight Control: Enough sleep can maintain weight, whereas not enough sleep can lead to weight gain. Leptin is a hormone, that helps you to feel full/control your appetite. Leptin drops when you don’t get enough sleep, which can increase your appetite and give you cravings of foods high in calories, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Clearer thinking and Better memory. Sleep loss impairs your cognition, attention, and decision-making. Studies show that while we sleep, our brains organize and correlate our memories each day. Without enough sleep, memories might not get stored correctly, and can be lost. Not sleeping enough often leads to memory problems with facts, faces, lessons, or even conversations.
HOW DO I GET THE MOST OUT OF MY SLEEP?:
- Cold Room: Temperature 60-68 degrees is best. Too warm can cause insomnia.
- Quiet Room: White noise from a fan can help. Traffic noise is bad. Keep cell phones off.
- Dark Room: Blackout curtains are good. Cover up lights of ANY kind from electronic devices or use a sleep mask.
- Improve Cortisol Awakening: Expose your body to natural sunlight (or artificial simulated sunlight) as soon as possible after waking for 10 minutes.
- Sleep in 90 minute cycles: Allow yourself 15 minutes to fall asleep and then set your alarm for as many 90 minute sleep cycles as possible. (15+90+90+90+90+90) for 7.5 hours of sleep…actually set for 7.75 hours of sleep.
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it, even on weekends. The body loves a ritual. Don’t sleep in if you can help it. Set your alarm for as many sleep cycles as possible. Take a nap the day before or after days of less sleep.
- Develop a “Power Down” ritual before bed. Decrease screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime. Bright light can confuse the brain thinking it is 2pm instead of 2am. Sleep won’t be as deep, and therefore is less restorative.
- Ditch Alcohol and Caffine: Alcohol helps you get to sleep, but is damaging to the sleep cycle once you are out (choppy and restless sleep). Caffine shortens phases three and four, where REM sleep and dreaming occur. Limit caffine after 12-2pm.
- Get a good bed. We spend 24 years asleep-your bed/pillows/sheets deserves serious investment.
- Take a power nap. Set an alarm for 15 minutes for a 10 min power nap.
- Take a 90 minute nap. (don’t wake up between 20-90 minutes, as you will be interrupting deep sleep)
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO I NEED?
7 to 9 hours per night is what most experts agree is needed for adults.
The University of Pennsylvania and Washington State University did a study with groups sleeping 8, 6, and 4 hours per night for 2 weeks. Sleep debt “has a neurobiological cost which accumulates over time.” After 1 week, 25% of the 6 hour group was falling asleep at random times throughout the day. After 2 weeks, the 6 hour group had performance deficits equal to staying up for 48 hours straight. Interestingly, the 6 hour group didn’t notice their own performance declines. They declined each day, but weren’t aware.
In other words: more sleep (generally) = better performance. Another study with Standford Basketball players had them sleep 10 hours instead of 8 hours. After 5 weeks, accuracy and speed increased. Free throw shooting went up 9%, 3-point shooting went up 9.2%, and their 80 meter sprint increased by .6 seconds.
So, make sleep a priority. SLEEP HAS SOOOO MANY BENEFITS. You must schedule sleep like any other daily activity. Put it on your “to-do list” and cross it off every night. But don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need!