The Power of Sleep
Sleep. Aside from food and dogs, it's my favourite thing in the world. Do not mess with my 8hours, I pray for you if you do. I'm a really lovely person all in all, but take my sleep away from me and I'm a dragon.
Some people function on far less. In fact, 71% of Britons don't hit the recommended 7-9hours of sleep a night.
SEVENTY ONE PERCENT! And this got me thinking...why!? And then I started to wonder what actually HAPPENS when we're asleep... and then I wondered if sleep actually does matter and that I should be able to function on less sleep like the other 47.726 million people. (I'm still not over this.)
If you're wondering what this has to do with fitness....everything. It has everything to do with fitness, health, mindset, performance goals, nutrition...you name it, it's to do with it. Allow me to explain my fine friends through my guide to sleeping and the joys it holds:
Sleeping for the Greater Good
What Does Sleep Do?
Simply put, sleep allows our body the time to rest and repair. When you're sick, you'll be told to rest (and eat Monster Munch in my case, don't judge.) And there's a reason we are told this. Sleep allows your body to put most of its efforts into fighting off those bugs. But sleep is so important day to day too. It gives our body time to repair our muscles, produce the growth hormone (HGH) to improve muscle performance and boosts our immune system. It also helps our brain function. It boosts mood, creativity, emotions, memory, cognitive thinking, the list goes on. This is amazing, but when we are asleep, our brains flush out toxins that build up when we are awake. Seriously.
Exercise Helps Us Sleep....
Doing exercise helps us sleep. You're more likely to fall asleep quicker and stay in deep sleep meaning greater quality of sleep. There's some debate about when to exercise, as too close to bedtime might mean you are still energised from the workout due to your elevated heart rate and temperature. However, everyone is different so it totally depends on you and how easy you find it to sleep after a workout. If you workout in an evening, guidelines suggest a gap of three hours between exercise and sleep. If you like to do something before bed, some low impact exercises like yoga work best.
...And Sleep Helps Us Exercise
And tit for tat! Sleep allows our muscles to repair, build and rest. Ultimately meaning we get stronger and are much more likely to hit the next workout with energy with a reduced risk of of injury. Enough sleep also helps us to keep on top of our health too. A lack of sleep means we reach for caffeine, sugar and carbs for quick energy but really it's just putting a plaster on the Titanic.
The Sleep Cycles & Why They're Important
So, adults are recommended to hit between 7-9hours of sleep a night. But what's just as valuable is the QUALITY. Good quality sleep means getting 4-6 cycles of sleep a night. One sleep cycle is roughly (very roughly) 90mins and it goes like this:
Stage 1 (1-5mins) Dozing Off Stage: Where you're drifting off, you might twitch and you could be woken up if you had to. Not fully relaxed yet but can easily drift into stage 2....
Stage 2 (10-60mins) Sleep Ready Stage: Your body starts to relax, heart rate and breathing start to slow and your brain activity slows apart from some random little bursts which stop your body being woken up. Mad.
Stage 3 (2-40mins) Deep Down Sleep: This is the stage needed for building and repairing muscle, brain organisation and even boosting creativity. The body is super chilled and it's very hard to wake someone in this stage.
Stage 4: (10-60min) Crazy Eyelid Sleep Stage: Actually called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Most likely, you'll be dreaming in this stage and your body might be temporary paralysed apart from eyes and muscles for breathing. You only hit this after being asleep for 90mins and it's so important for brain function.
And we ideally want to repeat these in full 4-6 times. As always, it depends on the person in terms of how long these last, sometimes the order and even the cycles themselves can differ, but on the whole we want to be going through these for maximum rest. A hell of a lot of things can affect this cycle as I'll go into below....
Creating a Healthy Sleep Routine
Let me just get my science hat. Melatonin makes us sleepy. It's the hormone that tells our body that it's time for bed. But this hormone can be affected by bright lights (such as ones from phones and laptops), alcohol, caffeine, shift work and smoking. All of the above reduce our melatonin levels and therefore stop us getting sleepy.
We can help our bodies by creating good sleeping habits. Here are some things to try:
Make your room as dark as possible
Bright lights (the blue phone kind) off 1hour before bed and put your phone away from your bedside table. If it's your alarm, put it at the opposite side of the room, also means you have to get up to turn it off.
Create a super comfy bed
Cool temperature (15-19 degrees is ideal)
Quiet space (if you live somewhere noisy try playing some brown noise or sleep sounds)
Regular exercise (ideally not too close to bed)
Reduce caffeine intake (ideally not after noon, but not after 4pm)
Reduce alcohol & smoking (in general pretty good too)
Stick to the same bedtime every night (or at least within an hour. This can be tough for shift work but as best you can)
By improving our sleep, you're really looking after yourself. And in my case, those around me.
If you need any support or help with insomnia or having trouble sleeping, you can find support here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/
My friends with newborns; rest, nap and relax when you can. You're smashing it.
Sleep well xx