It is amazing to see how people will follow all kinds of different exercise or nutrition fads in order to look good and feel good. Yet, even with all these efforts of exercising every day and following these crazy diets, people often don’t feel or perform at their best. But wait, how can this be? Isn’t exercising and proper nutrition the ultimate recipe to a healthy body? Unfortunately, there is one ingredient missing in that recipe! Many people forget or neglect one very important factor which is SLEEP.
Sleep is essential for life. No one can live without sleep. In fact, the world record for someone not sleeping is 11 days. Meanwhile, someone could not exercise and have terrible nutrition habits and still live for decades. So why do people neglect such an important factor? We blame today’s society because we live in a world that is on 24/7. There are no breaks! People expect things to be done immediately and it has become the norm to skip out on sleep in order to do it. Not only has the workforce lead to a decrease in sleep, but people are choosing to sacrifice sleep for recreational purposes such as socializing with friends or binging on TV. It seems that sleep is no longer a priority in the 21st century. As a matter of fact, the average hours of sleep per night has dropped a staggering 2 hours since a century ago. We now average 7 hours per night, while a third of the population actually gets less than 6.5 hours.
The consequences of sleep deprivation have drastic effects on an individual’s health and performance. Studies have shown that sleeping less than 7 hours per night can have a negative impact on weight and excess body fat. Less sleep results in an increased level of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin which signals the body that it should eat and a decreased level of the hormone leptin which signals the body to stop eating. Therefore, people who sleep less tend to eat more and consume more calories within a day which increases the risk of obesity. Sleep deprivation also results in lowered glucose tolerance and an insulin resistance therefore increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. So if you’ve been struggling to lose those few extra pounds by exercising and eating properly, you may want to take a look at your sleep routine.
Sleep deprivation also has an impact on athletic performance as it leads to reduced levels of arousal and motivation, lower reaction times and recovery. An interesting fact is that going without sleep for 24 hours is the equivalent of performing with a blood alcohol level of 0.10%. Try winning a competition while drunk and you probably won’t win! Recovery is a huge part of an athlete’s periodized program and is essential for the body to perform at its peak. How do you recover from intense training? …You got it! Sleep! Athletes need to realize that sleep is just as important as actual training. Our body goes through physiological processes to repair itself during sleep. The general recommendation for physiological and mental recovery is 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
At this point, you can clearly understand why sleep is so important. However, some people try to get enough sleep but simply can’t fall asleep or have terrible quality of sleep. There are numerous tricks and tips that can be implemented into our lifestyle that can improve sleep quality. The following list will provide some helpful habits to help increase quality of sleep.
Optimal Sleep Checklist
- Darkness and free of distractions
Your bedroom should be set up for sleeping. Keeping it simple with the least amount of distractions will help you fall asleep. Also, having it as dark as possible will help your body emit it’s sleep hormone, melatonin, faster. Eye masks have been proven to be beneficial to help with total darkness. Having TVs, tablets, computers or phones in the room will cause distractions and emit lights that can have a negative impact on melatonin release. Try flipping your phone upside down if you develop anxiety from not having it next to you.
- Quiet environment and cool temperature
Keep your bedroom extremely quiet and if needed, use a steady source of light noise such as a fan to muffle surroundings sounds. Earplugs may be helpful as well. Just remember you need to hear your alarm clock in the morning!
Since thermoregulation and sleep are strongly correlated, keeping a room temperature between 18-22 degrees will help with sleep quality.
- Routine and staying consistent
Our bodies like routine, therefore, having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time will help the body establish a proper sleep hormone release time schedule. Try to avoid all-nighters and sleeping past noon on weekends.
Establishing a pre-bedtime routine such as reading, light stretching, or meditation will help you relax. A good tip is to write down a to-do list for the following day before going to bed. This will free your mind of any worries and calm you down.
- Sleep at least 7 hours and nap
The average person needs around 7-8 hours of sleep per night while athletes may need closer to 9. Remember that falling asleep is not immediate, therefore, factor in transition time of going to bed and actually falling asleep. Use a sleep record diary to see if you are reaching the recommended sleep time.
Adding a siesta in the afternoon can also go a long way in helping your body recover, especially if trying to recover from sleep deprivation. I am sure you have all heard of European countries closing shop at noon for nap time. Needless to say, they might be onto something! Studies show that 30 minutes of napping is enough to “reset” cognitive and motor functions. However, be careful not to nap too late in the afternoon as it could hinder sleep at night.
- Avoid alcohol or stimulants
Avoid any stimulants such as caffeine in the late afternoon as it can inhibit your body’s ability to fall asleep. While people may think having a little whisky or scotch before bed will put you to sleep quicker, it actually has a negative impact on quality of sleep. Alcohol affects the deep sleep stage of sleep, therefore, even though you may have slept 10 hours after a night of drinking, that sleep doesn’t have the health benefits or recovery of 7-8 hours of sober sleep. So think twice before having that extra glass of wine before bed.
Try and exercise regularly as it helps regulate hormone levels and also the sympathetic nervous system. Exercise can also have positive effects on the circadian rhythms, also known as the body’s internal clock. However, since exercise causes secretion of adrenaline, avoid having intense bouts of physical activity to close to bedtime as it can keep you amped up.
There you have it! A few helpful tips for a good night’s sleep. Give them a try and who knows, maybe you will remember what a good night’s sleep feels like!
Don’t let the bedbugs bite!
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