Healthy Living Blog

Fitness Foundation – Part III – How Well Are You Sleeping?

Quick questions…

What do the most successful people spend over a third of their day doing?

Answer:  Sleeping!

In his best-selling book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made famous the idea that 10,000 hours is the amount of practice time it takes to achieve mastery in an area of interest. This is based, in part, on a study conducted at Florida State University where the researchers also found that top performers slept, on average, 8 hours and 36 minutes per night.

Another study on professional athletes found that increasing nightly sleep from 6.5 hours to 8.5 hours produced better physical results in only a matter of weeks; even better than years of training and artificial steroid use. The point is loud and clear, for optimal physical and mental performance, you need to sleep more.

Why is sleep so important?

First of all, sleep is more than just a way to combat tiredness. In today’s culture, we tend to think of nighttime sleep as only being necessary to ensure we are not tired and run down the next day. While that may be true, sleep does so much more for you than that.

When you sleep, your body is laid bare for a whole host of metabolic processes to take place which otherwise would not happen due to wakeful functioning. Hair, skin, nail, bone, and muscle growth primarily take place during deep sleep. Without proper sleep, muscular and bone repair and regeneration are halted. This means you are less likely to recover from your workouts or make progress in the gym.

Furthermore, hormones like testosterone and growth hormones are produced during deep sleep. These are essential for breaking down fat tissue as well as the repair and growth of muscle. They also positively affect your mood and make you look and feel younger.

Negative Effects of Not Sleeping Well

Lack of sleep promotes negative hormonal environments. Cortisol (the stress hormone) is produced and insulin resistance increases with poor sleep habits. Both lead to an internal environment that is favorable for fat storage and muscular breakdown. Without a good night’s sleep, many of your internal organs are not getting a chance to catch up.

Sleep time is also a prime calorie burning time. More calories are burned during deep sleep than are used during sedentary awake time. So if you want to feel better, recover from workouts (and minor injuries), burn fat, build muscle, and perform at your best, get some sleep.

But how? How does a person go from being a “problem sleeper” to getting full, restful nights of sleep? The answer has a lot to do with light exposure. There are many helpful practices that can be introduced to help a person optimize their sleep, but managing light exposure is the most important factor by far.

A study from Harvard Health found that exposure to blue frequency of light, disrupts your biological time clock and your sleep cycle. Some of these sleep robbers include artificial lighting (especially energy efficient varieties), screens, and electronics. The study goes a step further explaining that exposure to blue light at night may contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. No doubt, this is related to the fact that exposure to blue light in the evenings is a sleep killer and less optimal sleep is linked to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, as we know, can open the door to many metabolic disorders such as those described above.

So, it’s pretty simple then. In order to start getting better sleep, limit your exposure to artificial light and screens once the sun has gone down, especially in the hours leading up to bed time. TV’s, Ipads, smartphones, fluorescent lights, etc. should be decreased to allow you brain to produce melatonin, a natural sleep inducing hormone. Furthermore, try to black out your sleep environment. Even alarm clocks and “rest lights” from electronics have enough blue light emission to disturb sleep pattern and cause you to wake up during the night.

Some other helpful tips for fixing poor sleep habits include:

Limit Caffeine After Noon – Caffeine has a 5 hour half-life, which means it stays in your system for a long time and can disrupt sleep during the evening.

Drink Less Fluids in the Evening – No brainer here. Drink most of your water in the early day.

Develop a Routine – This is classic conditioning at its finest. Bedtime routines get your body ready for sleep time and can become behavioral. Some things that work well in a routine are: gentle stretching, reading (not on an electronic device) and writing a to-do list for the next day.

Turn the Temperature Down – 68° F. seems to be the magic number for best sleep quality.

Skip the Booze – Alcohol (like prescription sleep aids) can disrupt sleep cycles leading to less restful sleep. It’s best to minimize your exposure in order to sleep well.

Sleeping well can make a big difference in your daily life. Try some of these tips and let us know how it works for you.

Other suggested reading:  Fitness Foundation Part I-BreathingPart II Hydration


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