You exercise regularly and you try hard to eat right. But there may be something you’re missing when it comes to your health.
What if I told you there is one simple thing that affects your health more than everything else combined? What if I told you this one thing is an almost effortless action, but it can help you lose weight and avoid heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a whole other myriad of diseases and health issues?
Just what is this miracle drug? Well for starters, it isn’t a drug or a diet or a workout plan. It’s as simple as making sure you’re not suffering from sleep deprivation.
Avoiding sleep deprivation is an essential part of maintaining your health. Some even go as far as to equate sleep with nutrition and exercise. In an article published in the “CrossFit Journal” in May, Bill Starr said, “There are three sides to the strength pyramid: training, nutrition and rest.”
He goes on to emphasize the importance of rest and recovery and warns that consistent progress is next to impossible without it.
Why is Sleep Important?
Scientists have examined sleeping from many different aspects, but still have yet to arrive at a particular conclusion for why we sleep. However, some theories include the inactivity theory — sleeping was a part of the natural evolution of animals to protect them from predators at night; the energy conservation theory — animals sleep as a way to conserve and effectively use the energy they gain from consuming food; the restorative theory — the body uses sleep time to restore and repair itself from damage done while awake; and the brain plasticity theory which has to do with the way the brain organizes and arranges itself.
What Happens if I am Sleep Deprived?
Scientist may not know why we sleep, but they know what happens if we don’t. Side effects of a lack of sleep can range anywhere from irritability and an inability to focus to full on delusions and hallucinations. In fact, in Starr’s article, he says that research has shown that humans can go longer without eating than they can without sleeping.
All of this makes a strong case for making sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. Although the action of getting more sleep is pretty simple, the changes in your body while you’re asleep are anything but.
Stages of Sleep
Sleep is a complicated process. There are four stages to one sleep cycle and many cycles occur throughout the night while you’re asleep. An average sleep cycle lasts for about an hour and a half. The first stage is short and sweet — it usually only lasts about twenty minutes. Many people refer to this stage as “dozing”. Your heartbeat will slow significantly and your body temperature begins to cool off as your body prepares to enter into a deeper sleep. That transition is made during stage two of the sleep cycle.
Once your body has completed the transition, you begin stage three of the sleep cycle, which is where your deep sleep and slow-wave sleep occurs. Some studies have suggested that this stage is where muscle repair takes place. The fourth stage of sleep is when rapid eye movement or REM sleep occurs. Dreams occur during this stage, although you may not always remember them. In this stage, your eyes are the only thing that move as your legs and arms are paralyzed. Throughout the night, your body cycles through these stages with each cycle allocating more time to REM sleep. As the morning nears, your heart rate will increase again as well as your body temperature.
Although you may think the consequences are negated by grabbing an extra large coffee the next morning, the truth is that the effects are far more reaching. Just one night of not getting enough sleep begins to have detrimental effects on your immune system. Sleep is also essential to functions such as memory, learning, and healing.
If that’s not enough to inspire you to get some rest, check out these statistics, published originally in the “CrossFit Journal” in June 2012 in an article by Martin Rawls-Meehan.
-Researchers conducted a study of over 30 years of National Football League game data and demonstrated that teams that traveled three time zones to play night games experienced disrupted sleep and exercise schedules and were 67 percent more likely to lose even when the point spread was factored in
-Studies have shown that athletes who strive for ten hours or sleep a night show improvements in strength, speed, agility and reaction time while also displaying better muscle memory for movements learned the day before.
-Researchers have shown that just a few days of little to no sleep impact the body’s insulin sensitivity by more than 25 percent in normal, healthy people. This essentially brings them to a pre-diabetic state—the equivalent of gaining 18 to 30 lb.
-Military research shows that sleep-deprived soldiers demonstrate decreased ability in marksmanship, judgment and overall performance in mental and physical tasks
Statistics like those make a powerful case for getting more rest. So how much rest should you be getting?
Normal healthy adults should be trying to achieve at least eight hours of sleep per night, although heavy training or physical activity may require more. You should go to bed each night around the same time and wake up each morning around the same time.
Some easy tips for better sleep are to avoid caffeine and alcohol as well as heavy meals in the three hours before bedtime. Avoid using your cell phone or watching television or staring at a computer screen in the hours before bedtime as this sends signals to your brain to stay up longer. Some natural sleep aids include dietary supplements such as melatonin or herbal extracts like valerian. A cup of chamomile tea is also a popular and age-old trick to fall asleep easier.
All in all, sleep may be the most important aspect of your health. Although nutrition and exercise are important, sleep is instinctual and serves so many important functions that our bodies do it automatically. So next time you miss a lift or find yourself feeling sluggish at the gym, try getting a good night’s sleep and see the difference it can make.
1. “Natural Sleep Aids and Remedies.” Women’s Health. WebMD. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
2. Rawls-Meehan, Martin. “Sleeping for Performance.” CrossFit Journal (2012). CrossFit Journal. CrossFit. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
3. Starr, Bill. “No Rest for the Foolish.” CrossFit Journal (2015). CrossFit Journal. CrossFit. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
4. “Why Do We Sleep Anyway?” Healthy Sleep. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 18 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
5. “Why Is Sleep Important?” National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.