This is probably the single most underestimated tool for health and recovery. How do you feel when you’re even a little sleep deprived? I am hungry, I lack concentration, my moods are more volatile, I’m sore because my body doesn’t recover as well, and I lack the motivation to give it my all in the next workout. Why…because I’M SOOOO TIRED! So why is sleep so important?
Sleep is essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems. Improved sleep time and quality will help you lean out, balance hormones, avoid depression, autoimmunity, heart disease, etc…and it will definitely help you become a better athlete. The impact on our immune system is highlighted by a recent study whereby people were voluntarily infected with a cold virus. Those who averaged less than seven hours of sleep each night were nearly three times more likely to get sick than those with eight hours or more. Your immune system does it’s best work during your sleep.
Do you want to stay up late cruising Facebook or watching TV or do you want a lean body? If your goal is to lean out, sleep is arguably as important as diet.
Most people have been going to bed late for so long that they think this is “just the way they are.” In fact, an evolutionary biologist would argue that you are meant to go to sleep soon after the sun sets and wake up when it rises. Late night TV and computer time is obviously new on the evolutionary scene and it plays a large role in fat accumulation and hormone regulation. Being exposed to light late into the night keeps cortisol levels higher and the body starts to send signals for food. Cortisol should be low at night and high in the morning, so you can get up and go. If you’re wired at 10 pm, they you’re circadian rhythm is likely out of whack.
Sleep & Hormones
Sleep allows your body to rebalance hormones. During the day, most people are dealing with daytime hormones that manage stress, blood sugar regulation, digestion, appetite, etc. (cortisol, insulin, leptin, to name a few). These hormones start to decline due to the decreasing light as evening approaches and melatonin starts to kick in. Immune function is also increased during sleep helping fight off infection and disease and heal injuries. At night, your body is focused on repair. It releases testosterone (important for repair and general health), Human Growth Hormone (essential to cellular regeneration), and other growth-promoting and antioxidant hormones. These all work together to put everything back in order.
There is truth to the proverb – an hour before midnight is worth two after. Research consistently confirms that you should be in bed by 10 pm. It’s not just the length of sleep the matters, but when it happens as well.
Tips for Better Sleep
Some people have trouble falling asleep and other have trouble staying asleep. Here are a few tips to help with both issues:
- Get into a routine so your hormones can get into a consistent rhythm.
- Turn down the lights early. You want to simulate darkness as early as possible so your body naturally releases the hormones that will make you tired.
- Get rid of nighttime lights in your bedroom (alarm clocks, fire alarms, light from outside, etc). Get blackout curtains or shades, cover any additional little lights with electric tape (like humidifiers and baby monitors) and throw out any nightlights. There are many studies on this…it really does matter.
- Don’t use a computer for 2 hours before going to bed. Checking email or Facebook before bed can really sabotage sleep for several reasons so resist the urge.
- If you’re not sleeping soundly throughout the night, avoid alcohol. It may make you feel sleepy, but it disrupts your natural sleep cycle by blocking several nighttime hormones and for most leads to an unrestful night of sleep. It also messes with nighttime blood sugar and thirst.
- Sleep in a cool room. Studies show around 65 degrees is optimal.
- If you’re waking up tired and feeling wired at night – avoid stimulants throughout the day like coffee, tea, soda and sugar which can perpetuate disrupted circadian rhythms.