Sleep is absolutely crucial to your health. Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving your health, performance, and body composition. Good sleep helps our bodies and minds recover, keeping us lean, happy, mentally focused, and healthy. But chronically bad sleep slathers on body fat, screws up our hormones, ages us faster, increases chronic illnesses, and drains our IQ and mojo.
Often the real reason for lack of sleep is rarely long work hours or physiologic abnormalities; rather, most people lose sleep due to voluntary bedtime delay. If we were to remove forms of artificial stimulation and excessive work/life demands, humans would likely sleep for about 8 hours per night, based on the natural sleep/wake cycle of the brain.
“Sleep loss due to voluntary bedtime curtailment has become a hallmark of modern society… Chronic sleep loss, whether behavioural or sleep disorder related, may represent a novel risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes.”
Spiegel K, Leproult R, Cauter EV. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet 1999;354:1435-1439.
While there are many reasons that lack of sleep could influence body fat, one of them may be the decreased growth hormone (GH), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and increased cortisol, most notably in the evening. Moreover, chronic sleep restriction results in elevated sympathetic nerve activity and a slow insulin response. Pragmatically speaking, lack of sleep may lead to more body fat simply because more time spent not sleeping means more time to eat. And those junk food commercials start looking pretty appealing at 1 a.m.
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.
Here are 8 reasons why getting a good night’s shut eye will set you up for a brighter day.
1. Weight Control
2. Increase Concentration
3. You’ll be in a great mood
4. You’ll look more attractive
5. Increased ability to make better informed decisions
6. You’ll live longer
7. Improved athletic performance and reaction time
8. You will reduce your risks of getting ill (as lack of sleep can suppress your immune system)
With a few simple strategies, you can get the high-quality, restful sleep your body and your mind deserves.
CREATE A SLEEP ROUTINE
Just like you can’t go from 0 to 100 first thing in the morning, you can’t do the reverse at night — going from “on” to “off” in a few minutes. Your body needs transition time and environmental cues to wind down.
- Keep a regular schedule – If you’re consistent, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed, and stimulating hormones to help you wake up. You’ll feel sleepy when it’s time for bed and wake up more refreshed, often without needing an alarm.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake – Even though it seems like alcohol is relaxing, more than 1-2 drinks in the evening can interfere with deep sleep, as can too much caffeine. Although you may “sleep” for 7 hours, your sleep won’t be high quality, and you won’t get the recovery benefits.
- Eat and drink appropriately – Having a large meal immediately before bed can disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep. Instead, eat a regular-sized (or even smallish) meal a few hours before bedtime. In addition, try to limit your fluids 2-3 hours before bedtime to prevent frequent waking for bathroom breaks. While total sleep time is important, uninterrupted sleep time is even better.
- Do a brain dump – We’ve all done it: Stared at the ceiling, long after lights-out, obsessing about all the things we’re supposed to do tomorrow, tossing and turning and getting more and more stressed by the minute. Whatever is in your brain, get it out and on to paper. It clears your mind for genuine relaxation
- Turn off electronics – Digital devices stimulate our brain with their light, noise, and mental demands. Unplug from allscreens — TVs, computers, phones, tables — at least 30 minutes before bed. Our brain produces melatonin as light levels decrease. This ensures deep sleep, and may also help regulate metabolism. If we have too much light at night, we don’t get proper melatonin production.
- De-stress before bed – What de-stresses you? Do that! Gentle movement — such as stretching or yoga; Reading before bed — but make sure it’s not too engaging; Meditation, deep breathing, or other relaxation exercises.
- Sleep at least seven hours – Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 7 should be your baseline. Also factor in transition time. Don’t stop what you’re doing at 9:29 and expect to be snoring by 9:30. Start moving in the direction of bed by 9:00.
- Exercise regularly – Exercising regularly helps normalise circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. However, some people report being “revved up” by intense exercise so if this is true for you then you may wish to save the higher intensity exercises for during the day if possible.
- Take a bath or shower – Warm water before bed can help us relax and de-stress, which is key for falling asleep. A short, very cold shower may also do the trick. The logic is that cold water stimulates a strong parasympathetic nervous system response once the initial shock has passed.
OPTIMISING YOUR SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
- Keep the room as dark as possible
- Create a relaxing sleep area that is quiet and free of clutter
- Set your room at an appropriate temperature
- Use white noise if needed
- Good sleep is crucial for good health. There are no short cuts, despite what the “sleep hackers” say.
- Make good sleep a priority. Your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing will thank you.
- Think about good sleep as a 24-hour process. What you do during your waking period will affect your sleeping period, and vice versa.
- Reinforce your natural circadian needs. When it’s supposed to be dark and quiet, make things reallydark and quiet. When it’s supposed to be bright, noisy, and stimulating, get moving with some bright light.
- Give your body and mind transition time. Allow at least 30 minutes (and preferably an hour) in the evening to slowly wind down and prepare for sleep.
- Stick to a routine. Bodies love routines and consistency. If your body knows what to expect in your day, it’ll help you wake up and doze off at the right time.
- You can’t control your actual sleep. But you cancontrol your sleep behaviorsand environment. Take charge of your actions and surroundings, be consistent, and enjoy the Zs.