It’s all too often I hear people respond to “How are you?” with “I’m tired.” We tend to sacrifice sleep first on our list of needs, just so we can catch up on our favorite shows, work later or down a few alcoholic drinks.
No big deal, right? We can just catch over the weekend, or maybe next week or even next month.
You can’t actually catch up on sleep. And because of that, a lack of sleep can potentially be negatively affecting every other aspect of your life.
Or more correctly, we mean a sufficient amount of quality sleep. Poor sleep causes damage and could be what is holding you back from hitting your goals in — and out — of the gym.
Getting the quality sleep your body needs could just be the secret to weight loss, making more money, thinking smarter and enjoying a better quality of life.
The Wall Street Journal reported on “Your Body’s Witching Hour” and how light and dark influence our natural biological systems. To understand just how important quality sleep is, you must first understand the science behind it.
Not all sleep is created equally.
Your body goes through sleep cycles, and should optimally dip into deep sleep for a period of time. It’s during these periods of deep sleep that all of the benefits occur. Just because you close your eyes and drift off does not mean you are going into deep sleep.
So just what are the benefits of better sleep?
Good Quality Sleep Cuts Hunger & Burns Fat.
Any new parent like myself knows there is a well-known weight gain with having children. And when you ask parents what the biggest hardship is, its lack of sleep. It’s simple cause and effect. Lack of sleep correlates with fat retention and here is why.
The two hormones that regulate sleep are cortisol (daytime hormone) and melatonin (sleepy time hormone). Like yin and yang, these two vital hormones must remain in balance. When this balance is disrupted, it can wreak havoc on your energy levels, your ability to fall asleep and your ability to know when your body is tired and requires sleep.
Bad sleep also disrupts the hormones that regulate hunger: ghrelin (increases appetite) and leptin (decreases appetite). This is why you end up reaching for the high calorie fatty and sugary foods when you’re tired.
Insulin is also affected. This is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This is a must know fact for those who deal with or have a family history of diabetes or hypoglycemia. Along with the increased blood sugar comes an increase in stress, heart rate and blood pressure.
Is there more? Yup.
Sleep Pumps Up Your Sex Drive.
The two hormones that are directly involved with sex drive are testosterone and growth hormone, and levels of both are lower in those who don’t sleep well. This not only affects sex drive but also body fat levels (higher) and muscle mass (lower). Good sleep means better sex and better hormonal balance, which drive healthy and lean bodies.
Better Sleep Makes You Smarter and Perform Better at Work.
Sleeping poorly makes you stupid, literally. College students who sacrifice sleep on a regular basis tend to have lower GPAs.
Research has also shown bad sleep is correlated with a decrease in cognitive function. Work tasks can now take longer to complete, and you’ll still have a higher rate of making mistakes. So is it possible to make more money by improving the quality of your sleep? If your performance at work dictates your paycheck, then yes.
To Sum It Up, Poor Quality Sleep Makes You …
… Fat … Irritable … Lazy/unproductive … Sick… Unhealthy … so what can you do?
4 Steps To Improve Your Sleep Immediately:
1. Cut Screen Time 90 Minutes Before Bedtime & Dim Lights
Light, especially that which comes from screens (TV, computers, tablets and smart phones) emits blue light. This wavelength tricks your body into thinking it should be awake and disrupts the melatonin/cortisol balance. Even if your body and mind need rest, you don’t know it and falling asleep becomes harder to do. This includes most fluorescent lights and bright lighting in general so dim the lights in the evening to tell your body its nearing time for bed.
One trick you can do is to block the blue light emissions by wearing orange tinted glasses. Gunnar Optiks makes stylish eye protection from the harmful blue light specifically for gamers, office workers and late night TV watchers. Or just toss the TV and phone out of the bedroom and try some alternate bedroom activities.
2. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can knock you out, but limits your ability to fall into deep sleep. It’s during deep sleep that your body “downloads” your thoughts, experiences and memories into long term memory. This is why heavy drinkers can black out after a big night. Give your body plenty of time between your last drink and bedtime (two to four hours) to metabolize the alcohol.
FYI – this should also include many sleep aids. Many are just sedatives that knock you out (just like alcohol), but you never really fall into deep sleep.
3. Cut Late Night Eating
Eating causes a release of cortisol. Cortisol, besides being your daytime hormone, is also your stress hormone. Just when you’re trying to put your mind and body to rest is when you want the lowest levels circulating the body. In those who are already at healthy weight, the release from eating a late night meal is minimal. But in those who are overweight, eating late can actually stimulate a huge release of cortisol and limit your ability to fall asleep or fall into deep sleep, thus hindering your efforts to lose weight.
3. Ensure Your Bedroom Supports Quality Sleep
This means a bedroom that is cool, dark and quiet. Consider using black out shades, earplugs, a fan or other white noise device to create an environment that suits your needs. Remember men and women prefer different temperatures so you might need to compromise on setting the thermostat.
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you and monitor how much you move/wake at night (there is an App for that! Sleep Cycle) and how you feel in the morning. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, try to set limits on how often they sleep with you.
Want to learn more?
Check out the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. He’s taken the time to research how sleep quality affects your quality of life and what you can do to improve it. Or check out his free podcast on iTunes, “The Model Health Show,” where he talks in-depth on sleep and other fitness, nutrition and health-related topics.
Use technology to your advantage. Many fitness trackers (Fitbit or others) also track sleep. Sleep Cycle is a highly-rated app, available on both iPhones and Androids.
Every fitness, health and weight management program worth its weight should address the quality of your sleep. If you’re doing everything right but not seeing the results you think you should, then take a look at your sleep patterns. Be honest with yourself and address the areas of your life that are preventing you from getting the sleep you need and deserve.
– Fitness Director Jesse Frank