In this day and age where we are juggling, home/family life, careers, personal goals, trying to improve our diets and exercising more, sleep is often the forgotten component of health and wellbeing. Sleep is important for overall health; it allows the body and brain to slow down and recover. To little sleep can have a detrimental effect on weight loss, exercise results, immune, metabolic, cardiovascular and mental health, it can affect our overall productivity throughout the day.
Prioritised sleep is bidirectional with exercise and diet, good food and exercise helps us sleep while good sleep supports exercise gains and good dietary choices. If you are leaving sleep out of the equation you may not be getting the full benefit of the positive changes you have made with your exercise and diet. With exercise lack of sleep can be demotivating for you to train, you become less effective and less efficient, have an increased risk of injury or poor performance. If you are trying to change body composition it’s has been found that lack of sleep reduces muscle mass rather than fat loss. You could over eat due to hunger and satiety hormones becoming dysregulated through lack of sleep.
How long should you sleep for?
7 – 9 hours of sleep is ideal. How that looks for people that differs. In western culture it’s common that we sleep in a consolidated block, while in other cultures and afternoon ‘siesta’ of 30 – 60 minutes is built into their daily routine. Historians have found reference in diaries, medical text, literature and prayer books going back many centuries where people would instead break up their sleep over the night. Many articles relating to elite athletes shows a commitment to dedicated sleep routine of the same bed time and taking naps as a vital component to recovery, performance and reducing the risk of injury.
Whether you have seven, eight- or nine-hours’ sleep, it’s purely individual, but the objective is to wake feeling well rested. Remember you’re not always going to have the perfect night’s sleep.
Stages of sleep
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) are the two main types of sleep, cycling throughout the night. NREM is broken down into 3 stages, N1, N2 & N3. You transition to a deep sleep, your breathing and heart rate will slow down. While REM sleep is associated with memory consolidation, brain development and emotional processing. Our brain activity is similar to when we are awake, our heart rate speeds up, breathing becomes irregular, our eyes have rapid movements while we experience temporarily loss of muscle tone. The first NREM-REM sleep cycle lasts between 70-100 minutes while the second and later sleep cycles last 90-120 minutes.
Beware of the inhibitors of sleep
Caffeine: This acts as a stimulant; you might be surprised how long caffeine sticks around in your system and it could be having some effect up to 12 hours later.
If you have caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, green tea, soft drinks or energy drinks) and are having trouble sleeping try to: -
- Have no caffeine after midday
- Sub out caffeine for decaffeinated alternatives
- Have caffeine free days or breaks
Alcohol: Research has found that the consumption of alcohol fragments sleep and the restorative effects of sleep are hindered. Alcohol is not a sleep aid instead it reduces the quality of sleep, blocks REM and causes regular awakening (you may not even realise this) giving you the feeling of not feeling refreshed on waking. If you are wanting to improve your sleep, consider reducing alcohol and if you have a special occasion, accept that you are going to have less restorative sleep.
Exercise: If you exercise to close to bed time, this can inhibit sleep due to the increased metabolic rate and increased body temperature. Exercising late in the evening maybe our only option so instead of forgoing you workout think about finishing a session with meditation, having a hot shower or bath before bed or maybe a cool shower will work for ladies experiencing hot flashes or nigh sweats.
Creating good sleep habits
Create routines around sleep
- Have the same bedtime and wake up time
- Have 30-60 min ‘wind down’ time before this set bedtime.
- Turn off all devices, if you use a device to read turn on the eye comfort shield one hour before bedtime
- Turn down or turn off lighting
- Have a cup of herbal tea, have your coffee earlier in the day
- Have a warm bath/shower
- Stretch/gentle yoga
- Do some breathing exercises
- Play music
- Write down worries or thoughts
- Avoid social jet lag where you stay up late, sleep in late over the weekend and can’t get back into your daily sleep routine on Sunday night.
Make your bedroom a place of sleep
- Keep the bedroom as a place for sleep and rest, not for storage, an office, place to watch tv, kids play room or eat food.
- Have blackout curtains or blinds, this is especially important if you work shifts and need to sleep during the day.
- Keep the temperature cool at approximately 18 – 19oC
Waking during the night
Some people wake during the night and go straight back to sleep while others it might take a bit longer. If you are wake longer than 20 mins or more get up and go to a different room avoid turning on all the lights, food and devices. Instead read, listen to a podcast/music or do some gentle stretches when feeling sleepy return to bed.
When to seek help
If you suffer from insomnia, heavy snoring and/or sleep apnoea speak to your GP in the first instance.
Articles of interest
Arlet V. Nedeltcheva, MD, Jennifer M. Kilkus, MS, Jacqueline Imperial, RN, Dale A. Schoeller, PhD, and Plamen D. Penev, MD, PhD. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine October 5, 2010 vol. 153 no. 7 435-441
Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications. 2013: 4: 2259-2263