Sleep, sweet sleep! We all know we need it, but why exactly?
And how does it affect ourperformance in the gym? It might seem counter-intuitive that sleep benefits our weight loss and muscle gain, but it’s true! For starters, our bodies burn stored fat while we’re asleep, mostly to keep our temperatures regulated during our slumber, but there is a lot more happening than just that. Our bodies are surprisingly busy while our minds are lost in dreamland.
Okay yeah, so it’s important to sleep – but what’s more important is knowing HOW to get the MOST out of our time asleep and there are a couple factors to consider. The duration (between 7-9 hours seems to be the magic number), and of course, the quality. We could spend 8 hours in bed, but if it takes us forever to drift off and then we toss and turn and wake up throughout the night, we might as well have only slept 4 hours.
Lack of sleep makes the neurons in our pre-frontal cortex slow down, which has a negative impact on our decision making, reason, problem solving abilities and much more. Have you ever tried to work out a problem late at night and feel like there is no solution – and then tried again after a night’s rest and figured it out, easy peasy? This is the scientific benefit of sleep at it’s simplest.
Sleep deprivation also has a huge effect on our mood, which in turn affects our motivation, which slows us down both mentally and physically. We can combat this by loading up on caffeine, of course, but this is only a temporary fix. There’s nothing wrong with a cuppa joe in the morning – in fact, caffeine has great benefits, especially pre-workout. But you need to be careful when you’re consuming caffeine, and how much of it.
The human body’s ability to build up resistance to substances is astonishing. Try and skip the morning caffeine rush and wake yourself up naturally (a short burst of exercise followed by a shower usually does the trick!) and then strategically use caffeine for those days/times when you need that extra boost. The less you drink it, the more effective it will be. If you insist on having caffeine all morning, every morning, try to finish your caffeine intake at least 6 hours before you go to bed, as the physical and neurological effects linger in your body long after the rush has come and gone.
Most of us have experienced the phenomenon that is the internal or biological alarm clock. You set an alarm to wake up at 7AM and you wake up on your own at 6:58. The scientific term for this is the circadian rhythm – the biological process of feeling awake and sleepy at certain times throughout the day. The circadian rhythm operates on a 24-hour cycle, as if it were engineered by the earth’s rotation itself. The way our energy peaks and valleys throughout the day is our circadian rhythm communicating with us and if we listen to it, it can have exponential benefits to our performance, mood and overall health.
When we’re nearing the end of our sleep cycle, our body releases the cortisol hormone (a stress hormone that wakes us). Cortisol drops off throughout the day when melatonin (a sleep hormone) gets stronger and allows us to fall asleep at night. Our circadian rhythm depends massively on our daily routine and can easily be dis-regulated and thrown outta whack. The best thing for regulating the circadian rhythm is routine. Getting into the groove of going to bed and waking up around the same time everyday is the best, most effective way to sync it up for optimal sleep results. This is of course not possible in some cases, but the more of a routine you can get into, the better your sleep quality will be.
There are hundreds of tips on how to improve your sleep, and like everything else in thisinformation-obsessed world, we need to sift through all the options and find what’s best for us. The things that are scientifically proven however, are hard to argue. For instance – it’s proven that sleep quality is highly affected by light exposure. This is why it’s normal for us to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Interestingly, light is one of the main factors that control our circadian rhythm. Unplugging from electronic devices for at least an hour before bed, including TV, will help you getto sleep as the blue light from electronics has been proven to inhibit the release of melatonin.
Not only unplugging from electronics, but actually taking the time to consciously wind down for 1-2 hours before bed can have wondrous effects on the quality of your sleep. Our busy and overactive minds can be the biggest obstacle during the period of sleep onset (the time it takes us to fall asleep), so the more you can unplug and relax before bed, the better. It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world when you’re dead-tired but you just CANNOT shut off your mind to go to sleep. Luckily, there are a couple things you can do to avoid this. Meditation is a highly effective tool, but for the common population it’s not easy to get to this state or find the timeto do it regularly.
My advice would be to make the time – but I do know it’s easier said than done. If you can’t or don’t want to try meditating, try writing. If you’re in bed thinking about your to-do list for the next day and it’s keeping you up, write it down! Writing things down is almost like surgically removing the thoughts from your head, allowing you to let them go and succumb to the melatonin your body is desperately emitting.
Of course everyone is different and it can be hard to follow hard/fast rules, but the truth remains: when we’re sleep deprived, it leads to making poorer choices including the food we eat. Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a good groove of being active and exercising regularly, you actually crave healthier foods? It’s the same kind of thing for sleep – the less you sleep, the poorer decisions you’ll make. When you consistently get little or poor sleep, your body needs to make up for it to keep you awake and alert even though you’re basically just running on fumes.
The energy exerted to do this takes away from the energy that would be better used elsewhere.There are far too many people who believe in the “sleep when you’re dead” philosophy. So much to do, so little time! So they sleep minimal hours thinking they are making themselves more productive, when in truth it’s the exact opposite. So many necessary processes happen in our bodies while we’re asleep. To name a few: memory consolidation, information processing and hormone balancing. No wonder we feel so out of sorts when we’re low on sleep!
Our bodies NEED this time to regenerate. If you truly do have less time in your schedule for sleep, you better MAKE SURE the sleep you ARE getting is high quality.