Sleep: Still More Important Than You Think

30 09 2013

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A few months ago I wrote a little piece to explain the importance of sleep. Well, Precision Nutrition just came out with a new article on sleep to further hammer home the point. Ladies and gentlemen, there is NO substitution for a good night’s sleep. If you think you’re in optimal health but have irregular sleeping patterns or fail to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night, I assure you that your health is suffering. Why?

  • Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving your health. If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this.
  • Good sleep helps our bodies and minds recover, keeping us lean, happy, mentally focused, and healthy; chronically bad sleep leads to an increase in body fat, screws up our hormones, ages us faster, increases chronic illnesses, and drains our IQ and sex drive.

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Now although I’m well aware that it isn’t easy for many people to get enough high-quality sleep every night, Precision Nutrition laid out the blueprint. The Coles Notes on how to get enough quality sleep?:

  • Create a sleep routine: Try to do the same things every night and your body will gradually learn to shut down on and prepare for sleep.
  • Keep a regular schedule: If you’re consistent, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed, and stimulating hormones when you wake up.
  • Minimize alcohol and caffeine. Now, you all know how I feel about the glorious drug known as caffeine, but you should minimize intake after 2pm (caffeine is typically metabolized in 5-6 hours, although for some people it can linger for a longer period of time). As for alcohol, although it may seem to help you relax and maybe even put you to sleep, it will interrupt the quality of your sleep and you won’t reap any health benefits, even if you sleep 7+ hours.
  • Minimize food and water in the few hours before sleeping. The digestion of a big meal can prevent you from falling asleep and water will result in midnight bathroom breaks.
  • Do a brain dump. Thoughts on your mind? Studies have shown that taking a few minutes to write things down can lead to a more restful sleep. Keep a pen and pad of paper in your bedside table.
  • Turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed and minimize lighting as bedtime approaches. As light levels decrease, our brains release melatonin, which is critical to achieving a deep sleep.
  • De-stress before bed. This will mean different things for different people: read, stretch, meditation, whatever- just do something that helps you decompress.
  • Make sure to go to bed before midnight. 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 are truly meant to sleep when it gets dark and to rise when the sun comes up.
  • As discussed above, sleep a minimum of 7 hours. And no, it doesn’t count if you go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 6am; you need 7 hours of quality sleep, not 7 hours of time in bed.
You are not a horse. Sleep for at least 7 hours.

You are not a horse. Sleep for at least 7 hours.

  • Exercise regularly: It helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. Just make sure not to have a crazy workout late in the evening- this will prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Take a bath or shower: some prefer a warm tub, whereas others take advantage of the strong parasympathetic nervous system response (ie, after the initial shock, it will help you sleep)

The article also speaks to the importance of the sleeping environment. Some tips?:

  • Keep the room as dark as possible. Again, this is all about melatonin production: the darker it is, the more you produce, the better you sleep. Shut off all the lights, cover the windows, and cover all electronic devices that produce light (alarm clocks included!!)
  • Keep your room tidy and organized. A messy room can be stressful and lead to a distracted sleep.
  • Regulate your bedroom temperature. Most people sleep best around 67 degrees Fahrenheit, or in normal Canadian terms, around 19 degrees Celsius.
  • Use white noise if you need it. Unorganized noise can drown out louder outside noises and contribute to the maintenance of a solid rest.

Finally, how you wake up can also be critical to your quality of sleep. As the article writes: “Think of sleep as something that begins the moment you wake up. In other words, what you do during the day will affect what happens that night.” So how should you wake up in the mornings?

  • Take advantage of natural rhythms.  This doesn’t mean getting rid of your alarm clock, but instead you should consider switching to an alarm or app that will wake you up in the morning when you’re at a light point in the sleep cycle. I recently downloaded the SleepBot app, and am currently testing it out. I have high hopes! However, if you don’t like the idea of alarms…
  • Wake up to 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. Increasing light has also been shown to raise cortisol in the morning (which is an important signal to your body to wake up, not to mention a fat-burning hormone), improve sleep quality, and decrease depressive symptoms in seasonal affective disorders. Something like a BioBrite does the job. However, if you just want to keep waking up to your phone alarm…
  • Use a progressive alarm sound. This will gradually wake you up and prevent you from waking abruptly to a loud, annoying song, which can lead to a spike in stress hormones.

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  • Get out of bed as soon as you wake up. Hitting the snooze button is a bad choice and leads to grogginess and a lack of mental and physical focus. When you hear that alarm, get those feet on the ground and get your day started!
  • Expose yourself to as much light as possible upon waking. Again, this is about halting the production of melatonin, which will lead to a feeling of wakefulness. Additionally, the more bright natural light you can get during your normal waking time, the more your body will know to gear down at your normal sleeping time. Sunlight (and vitamin D) is an amazing thing!

In conclusion, sleep is pretty darn important. It is absolutely critical to maintaining a strong, lean body, but even if athletics and body composition aren’t your thing, quality sleep with increase the quality of your life and certainly lead to longevity. Try some of the strategies above and see what a good night’s sleep can do for you!

For information on sleep, exercise, or healthy eating, you know how to find me!

DW





Sleep: You Need More of It

22 04 2013

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Before I begin, I want to state that I am aware that it isn’t easy for most people to get regular, uninterrupted sleep. For myself, a single 30-year old man, I can sleep whenever I want, and I realize how lucky I am. My sister, on the other hand, has a toddler and a new born- she sleeps whenever she gets the chance, which isn’t often. She likely resents me a bit for this, and after reading this article, I’m sure she’ll now want to punch my face just a bit harder- which is justified.

With that being said, let’s talk about sleep. As we have always been told, sleep is extremely important and we should all try to get 8 hours a night. This isn’t earth-shattering news for anyone, but it is the absolute truth. For the average person, getting less than 8 hours of sleep has a few repercussions, if getting less than 6 hours a night becomes a chronic condition, there can be some serious consequences. According to the Harvard Health, getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night has several negative effects, but of specific interest to my readers:

  • Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
  • Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

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This means that, forgetting diet and exercise for a minute, sleep alone plays a major role in overall health and body composition. Simply put, if you get 8 hours of sleep every night, you’re more likely to have a healthy immune system, you’re less likely to become overweight or obese and you’re more likely to avoid chronic disease.

But I exercise all the time, does this still apply to me?

If you exercise, getting adequate sleep is likely even more important than for sedentary people. If you take it one step further and actually train for a specific performance or body composition goal, sleep will be more important that you ever imagined. Exercise, and especially training, buts an increased demand on the human body. Your body requires more oxygen, burns through more energy, subsequently requires more energy in the form of food and then must digest and convert all these nutrients for tissue repair and metabolic need.  Due to these increased needs, even a few nights of less than 8 hours of sleep can be extremely detrimental to subsequent daily activities and more importantly, performance goals. Supplements will not help. Eating will not help. There is no substitute for sleep, no matter what health and nutrition companies may have you believe. Let’s elaborate:

  1. As I mentioned above, a lack of sleep can make you gain fat. This is because the hormone ghrelin (responsible for hunger) will be elevated while levels of letpin (responsible for satiety) will be low; this will cause you to be hungrier during the day, and will also delay the signal that you are “full”, making you more susceptible to overeating. Additionally, sleep deprivation can decrease the insulin sensitivity of existing fat cells, making them more susceptible to store calories as fat.
  2. Lack of sleep also means that your body will secrete less Growth Hormone (GH). Sleep is when the body produces the majority of its GH, which is extremely important in the regeneration, reproduction and growth fo cells (read: repairing and building muscles). Higher levels of GH also lead to an increased metabolism, which of course leads to fat-loss.
  3. Cortisol levels are also a major concerns. Getting 8 hours of sleep is required to adequately lower catabolic cortisol levels; a lack of sleep can actually serve to increase this detrimental hormone: higher levels decrease metabolism, breakdown protein from existing muscle, and cause ingested carbohydrate to be stored as fat (again though, you shouldn’t be eating carbs for breakfast!). High levels of cortisol are also negative because they make it hard to sleep (cortisol is the “stress hormone”), so this can quickly turn into a vicious cycle.
  4. Sleep also has a major effect on serotonin, which is an important mood regulator. Without serotonin, you will feel unmotivated and depressed, which can obviously hinder workouts and overall quality of life; this is another scenario that can quickly turn into a vicious cycle and lead to fat gain and health problems.
  5. Finally, just think about it from a logical point of view: If you went to the gym and lifted weights, you went out of your way to create millions of micro-tears in your muscles and exhausted your energy stores. Your body already needed sleep for hundreds of basic metabolic functions, but now you’ve gone and damaged additional fibers and taxed yourself metabolically. If you do not get enough sleep, not only will your basic functions suffer, but you will have no chance to adequately recover, nor will you have any shot at performance or body-composition gains.
Gold medal. In everything. 8 hours of sleep.

Gold medal. In everything. 8 hours of sleep.

So there you have it. For the regular person, getting 8 hours of sleep is critical for health, but for those of us with specific performance goals, sleep is equally as important as a good workout program or nutrition plan. If you’re going to spend hours in the gym beating yourself up, you’d better spend 8 hours a night letting yourself recover!

For more information on health and nutrition, don’t hesitate to post a comment below or to send me a message!

Happy Monday!

DW