Can I Just Sleep On It?

Nothing hurts physical and mental performance more than a lack of sleep… Well maybe a swift kick in the unmentionables, but lack of sleep comes a close second.

A lack of sleep can ruin your enjoyment of life, saps your strength and can make you act like a jerk the rest of the day. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can have you waking up feeling as if a rainbow of happiness is travelling right across the sky and hitting you in the face!

So how does sleep benefit you?

Lower risk of heart disease
A number of clinical studies have shown that those in the population that don’t get enough z’s are at a greater risk of heart disease. Even a single night of reduced sleep can increase cortisol levels (your stress hormone), decrease glucose tolerance (a pre-diabetic state and also a precursor for heart disease) and drastically increase your sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight). This leaves your poor little body constantly alert and in an almost panicked state. Shockingly, one study discovered that people who only get 5 or less hours sleep a night are about 39% more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who get the recommended 7-8 hours.

Reduced stress levels
Noticed how when you don’t get enough sleep everything starts going wrong. You become irritable, little things start annoying you and you seem to constantly be on edge. That’s the sympathetic nervous system again – either that or you genuinely are just surrounded by assholes.

Increased memory capability
A process called memory consolidation occurs during sleep. This is where your brain filters everything it has learnt during the day. Important things are stored and unimportant things are discarded. Getting more sleep improves your brain’s ability to process what happened during the day, connecting events, feelings as well as all the input your senses were receiving.

Makes you more alert
Duh…

Help control weight and bodyfat
Disrupted sleep can mess with your hormones big time. As stated earlier, it has a negative effect on cortisol levels. One of cortisol’s nasty side effects is it increases your fatty tissue, particularly visceral fat (that’s the fat that forms in your deep tissue and around your organs. You really don’t want a lot there). Ghrelin and leptin levels also go a bit nuts too and these little bad boys help regulate your appetite. This may be why we tend to crave food when we’ve had a crap night’s sleep, especially the high energy crap that will only satisfy you a few minutes. Not a great combination!

Reduced risk of depression
Sleep releases serotonin – your happy hormone. Decreased serotonin levels have been shown to be linked to depression. You do the math.

Physical repair
This is the biggie for all you gym bunnies out there – sleep can help you build muscle! As you enter deeper phases of sleep, your body releases growth hormone. This is the stuff bodybuilders spend millions on and you’re producing it in your sleep! Growth hormone stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration in humans. Sleep also fends off destructive inflammation which can inhibit your gains.

Solutions

So now I’ve shown you just how important a proper kip can be, here’s some advice to get you sleeping like a baby:

No caffeine late in the day
A pretty obvious one to start with, but I guarantee most of us will have had a coffee, cola, tea, Redbull or other energy drink late on in the afternoon. Caffeine can remain in your system from 6-12 hours depending on the dose. Top up your level too late and you’ll spend time staring at the ceiling unable to drift off and wondering why. I aim to stop caffeine intake around 1-2pm and from then on I’ll stick to things like herbal teas if I want a hot drink.

Small snack/protein shake just before bed
If you’re training hard during the day and don’t eat before bed you may be disturbed by a grumbling stomach in the night, however, if you eat too much your metabolism will fire up and demand energy keeping you up. You will also want to avoid taking on carbs before bed. This would cause a spike in your insulin levels and hit your sleep. A small protein based snack is ideal. Cottage cheese, protein shake, boiled egg, nuts etc.

Get shutters or an eye mask
Light is sleep’s nemesis. A darkened room will allow you to produce melatonin, one of the things that regulates your 24-hour biological clock. Production of melatonin by the pineal gland is repressed by light and increased by darkness. For this reason melatonin has been called “the hormone of darkness”. It’s the badass of the endocrine system.

Despite being a badass, melatonin is actually one of the most useful hormones around. It is an extremely potent antioxidant, aiding repair and stopping aging…but it’s not done there, melatonin has been shown to aid the immune system by fighting off viral and bacterial infections. It has also been shown in some studies to fight the HIV virus and just as excitingly, some cancers.

phone

No phones allowed
As above, more dark = more melatonin = better sleep and better health. Also there’s nothing more annoying than your drunk mate pocket calling you from the bar he’s at at 3 in the morning. Understandably, some people may have to look at screens after dark – having to work late, for example – so if you can’t avoid it, try installing an app like f.lux or Twilight on your phone/tablet/computer. These apps increase the colour temperature of your screen during the course of the night to limit the amount of blue light you’re viewing. The wavelength of blue light is the most damaging to your biological sleep cycle, so although it’s best to leave the bright things alone (this goes for TVs, computers, mobile devices… anything that will stimulate your brain) it’s good damage limitation.

Mind dump
This is something I like to do before bed and I feel it helps clear your mind and stops you worrying about all the bits and bobs you have going on. Literally take a pad of paper and write down your plan for the next day. Either make a to-do list or do a detailed description of your day from when you wake up. Include all the little things you need to remember; business, personal, training wise, whatever. If it’s got to be done, jot it down then relax.

Give these suggestions a try, get yourself some decent shut eye and I promise, you’ll quickly feel more healthy, alert, positive and just generally more awesome.

Night night!

Image Credits
coffee | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – https://www.flickr.com/photos/blu_pineappl3/14028754235/
Author: jen https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Addiction | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – https://www.flickr.com/photos/dixielaw/4438953409/
Author: Dixie Lawrence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/