I’m not sure where to start, I didn’t want to write a post that we have seen a million times, we all know we supposed to get enough sleep but do we understand why?
I am no sleep expert however I have read, watched and listened to nearly everything by Matthew Walker, the world leading sleep expert. I would urge you to buy his book why we sleep, or watch his TED talk on you tube, he also has done tons of podcasts (recommended the Joe Rogan one or a shorter version with Deliciously Ella)
The title of this article says it all and I’m going to try and explain why.
First of all, we are getting a lot less sleep than we used to. In the 1940’s a study was conducted and the average adult was getting 7 hours 40 minutes a night. This has dramatically decreased to 6 hours 22 minutes (UK). Could this a big factor in why as an overall society we are suffering from higher levels of anxiety, stress, being less active, struggling with weight to only name a few?
We have to understand why we need sleep and how we sleep to motivate us to try and get that optimal 8 hours per night.
The sleep cycles
Our sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes and each stage are as equally important as the next in terms of benefits.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – Stages 1-3 – stages 1 and 2 are light, you tend to be still and your blood pressure drops. Stage 3 is deep.
REM – dream sleep, shorter burst in the first half of the night and dreamier in the 2nd half of the night – as I said all stages are restorative but this stage is when a lot of the brain activity restores so if we are not getting it leads to mood imbalances.
What does sleep do?
Recovery – it helps your brain, muscles and your whole-body recover. Have you ever had a terrible night sleep and felt forgetful the next day?
Can help prevent Alzheimer's – when you go into deep sleep your body wastes away a toxic protein called beta amyloid which have strong links to the disease. So more deep sleep reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Immune function – if you have a bad night sleep you will get a 70% drop in killer cells that are stopping you from getting sick. Explains that run down feeling.
Improves blood pressure – deep sleep is the best medicine for blood pressure
Mental health – a good kip is a natural mood booster, gives you a clearer mind and more motivation.
Manages hunger hormones – ever crave carb foods when you are tired? That’s because if you don’t get enough sleep your satiety hormones (leptin) goes down and your hungry hormone (Ghrelin) goes up. We will eat more when we are sleep deprived.
How much sleep do you need?
Its recommended we get between 7-9 hours. We all know someone who only gets 5 hours a night and they seem perfectly functional. There are exceptions to every rule. We are all very different. This is down to our different lifestyles and also genetics play a role. Genetics are heavily involved if you are a night owl (stay up late and get up late) or an early morning lark (early to bed and up early). The general rule is that less than 7 hours sleep is sleep deprived and can be when all the factors above are affected.
Factors that effect sleep and how we can increase the quality of our sleep.
Routine – go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time. Our body likes routine. Don’t have big lie ins at the weekend, it will mess with your body clock and potential make you feel jet lagged.
Caffeine – caffeine has a 6-hour life and a 12-hour ¼ life. That means if you have a coffee at 12pm, 12 hours later you still have caffeine in your system at 12am. Be mindful that caffeine is in tea, energy drinks, green tea, chocolate and pre-workout. Caffeine can reduce your deep sleep up to 20%.
Naps – only have them if you don’t need them. You would think it is the other way around. If you are super tired you need get back into a routine of sleep and a nap will just mess with that.
Alcohol – classed as a sedative drug. It may help you fall asleep but it will block your REM sleep. That’s why we are so tired and emotional the day after a boozy night!
Stress and anxiety – meditation before bed is the best recommendation, apps like calm and headspace have been shown to be very helpful. Writing a list of what’s on your mind before bed can help. If its really effecting your sleep ongoing them CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) has had great results.
Room temperature – its better to be cold that hot. Our body temp needs to drop by 1 degree so having a room around 18 degree is optimal.
Exercise – regular exercise can help with the deeper stages of sleep. A good sleep will also motivate you to exercise and dramatically reduces the risk of injury. The best time to exercise for performance is 1-2 hours after waking up due to our body temperate rising.
Don’t sacrifice sleep for exercise – its counterproductive. If you are getting up at 5am but not going to bed until 11pm then it better for your health to skip that workout. Either find a new time to work out or go to bed earlier.
Sleep trackers – there is a new condition called ortho-somnia. People who get stressed about there quality of sleep so much that they are affecting their quality of sleep. Know this – trackers are not very good at monitoring the quality and stages of sleep but they are a good guide to see how much sleep you are getting.
Technology – there are a few reasons why they are affecting your sleep. The first is the blue light, try putting the phone away an hour before bed. Another is the stress it causing, especially social media or work emails. Don’t take your phone to bed with you, stop checking it in the night.
In summary sleep is one of the things I believe we need to try and get right. If we do get enough quality sleep, we will only see an increase in our motivation, exercise performance, hunger levels for weight management and mental health.
Read the list above and think about your own sleep pattern. Do you have a coffee at 4pm and could that be the reason you are not feeling rested after a night sleep? Are you checking your phone in the night, therefore never switching off? Try leaving your phone in another room and buying yourself an alarm clock.
These small changes make big differences.