Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sleep ... Sweet Sweet Sleep

We could learn a thing or two about sleeping from our dog Angus!

With work being  a bit crazy, and doing some longer gym sessions for my NROLFW workouts, I feel like sleep is becoming a scarce commodity.  I thought I'd have a bit of a look into sleep and why it's important.  And of course, share it with you!

Why sleep is important ...


We all know that sleep is pretty critical to having energy to take on your day.  A good night's sleep can make sure you have some bounce in your step, but what else about your body and life is affected by the amount of sleep you get?

  • You repair and consolidate memory in your sleep - which is especially important if you are studying
  • Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan, although it’s not clear if it’s a cause or effect.
  • Research indicates that people who get less sleep (six or fewer hours a night) have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more. Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature ageing. 
  • It has been found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat (56% of their weight loss) than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. 
  • Sleep helps to control your appetite.  Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain, and when you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite.
  • Sleep can reduce levels of stress, and with that people can also have better control of their blood pressure.
  • Sleeplessness affects reaction time and decision making - which is why fatigue is such a big factor in car accidents
  • A lack of sleep can also contribute to depression and anxiety

... Especially for athletes!

Research shows that as little as 20 hours of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on sports performance, particularly for power and skill sports.

Some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Sleep deprivation has also been seen to decrease production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. In short, less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy, and poor focus at game time. It may also slow recovery post-game.

Researchers speculate that deep sleep helps improve athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes recover. Studies show that sleep deprivation slows the release of growth hormone. Sleep is also necessary for learning a new skill, so this phase of sleep may be critical for some athletes.

For example, a Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.

How much sleep should you get?

Although everyone has a sleep sweet spot, in general sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of daily sleep for adults, and nine to ten hours for adolescents and teens.

You can estimate your own needs by experimenting over a few weeks. If you fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake up without an alarm, you are probably getting the right amount of sleep. If you fall asleep immediately upon hitting the pillow and always need an alarm to wake up, you are probably sleep deprived.

It also doesn't really work if you are depriving yourself of sleep during the week, and try to 'catch up' over the weekend.  If you sleep more on the weekends, you simply aren’t sleeping enough in the week. It’s all about finding a balance.

Nine hints and tricks to sleep better

So what can you do to help have a better sleep each night?

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
  2. Avoid drinks with stimulants from the afternoon through the evening
  3. Think about the type of food you eat, especially later in the day.  A light whole-wheat-pasta dish with fresh vegetables, a little diced chicken breast, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of Parmesan for dinner contains a snooze-friendly combination of protein and tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in the body. 
  4. If you want to drink alcohol in the evening, try to have it with dinner rather than later in the night.  Alcohol decreases deep sleep and increases arousals from sleep.
  5. Doing anything that raises your body temperature too close to bedtime may actually hinder you from falling asleep, because your body needs to cool to a certain temperature in order to reach a sound slumber.  So a hot bath before bed isn't always a good idea.
  6. Getting in a little gentle, restorative yoga before you hit the sack can help put your mind at ease, steady your breath, and reduce muscle tension without revving up your heart.
  7. Make your bedroom a tech-free zone.  Turn your smartphone off, and put any gadgets on an out-of-reach dresser or in another room to resist the urge to check Facebook or your email.
  8. Your body is programmed to sleep when it's dark, so you can encourage that rhythm by easing into night time.  Dim the lights while you get ready for bed, or turn off bright overhead lamps and switch to a soft, bedside lamp.  
  9. Light inhibits the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that naturally promotes sleep, so the less light in your room at night (think tv power lights, alarm clocks etc), the better.

Just because I wanted to add another Angus picture

How much sleep do you get?  How much sleep do you want to get?  What is your best hint or trick to a better night's sleep?

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