Let me ask you, how much sleep do you get? And what is the quality of your sleep like?
You may be someone who only get's 5-6 hours of sleep, wakes up throughout the night, struggles to fall asleep or wakes up feeling groggy.
This lack of sleep can impair decisions and logical reasoning during the day, which is why your food choices won't be as good, reaching out for those tasty snacks for a sugar high. Insufficient sleep can also impair energy levels, performance, memory, attention and cognitive competence.
There may be different reasons for your sleep being affected this way, whether you stay up too late on electronic devices, don't switch off and continue to work longer, watch TV, drink alcohol on the evening's or are stressed and have a lot on the mind (all of which I'm guilty of myself) so are unable to unwind and relax before going to bed and to get enough quality sleep.
The vast majority of us perform best after 7-9 hours of quality sleep. If you sleep for less than 6 hours a night for 5 nights in a row, your cognitive performance drops to that of a person who hasn't slept for 48 hours. Not good for when your trying to focus on your work, so if your sacrificing sleep to get more work done, then this eventually becomes a viscous cycle.
Lack of sleep has also been linked to depression, and your immune system doesn’t function optimally when you’re sleep deprived, as a result you become susceptible to colds, viruses and flues.
To understand your sleep, you need to know that you sleep in 90 minute cycle's, where your brain shifts through different stages of sleep.
The first few cycles of when you fall asleep, are characterised by deep sleep. This helps promote physical restoration. Here your body also produces **Growth Hormone (GH)**. This hormone plays a key role in the development of bones and building lean muscle, it also plays a key role in fat burning. Poor sleep patterns will lead to a decline in GH levels, and fat loss will become more difficult.
The latter half of your sleep involves a lot of **REM (Rapid Eye Movement)** sleep (associated with dreaming), this helps promote learning, memory and mental restoration. During REM, the body is able to restore organs, bones, and tissue; replenish immune cells; and circulate human Growth Hormone.
5 sleep cycles (7.5 hours) allows for more cognitive restoration than 4 cycles (6 hours), and promotes superior mental function. So less than 6 hours of sleep, and you really start to suffer.
Hormones in your body are also disrupted if you have poor sleep. As-well as GH, 3 other ones are Melatonin, Cortisol and Insulin...
**Melatonin** promotes healthy sleep cycles and is also involved in energy
metabolism. Your body needs complete darkness to produce this hormone.
Waking up in the middle of the night interrupts Melatonin production, especially if you turn on the light. So try and keep lights off.
**Cortisol** is known as the stress hormone and is part of our survival
mechanism. We are supposed to produce cortisol in the morning which helps
us wake up and the level should then lower gradually throughout the day. The
problem with so much of today’s society is that cortisol remains high right up
to bed time and is the main reason why you struggle to fall asleep and unable to wake up in the morning.
**Insulin** controls blood sugar levels and is known as the 'fat storage hormone'. Lack of sleep is one way to experience the powerful effects of imbalanced blood sugar levels. When your body doesn't get enough sleep, it senses an emergency and asks for an immediate supply of fuel. In many cases the fuel is unnecessary and your body quickly moves into a fat storage mode. This imbalance of hormones leaves your body stressed and unable to rest and recover. You will have very little energy to train and you will be unable to control your hunger levels. This can then lead to weight gain or stubborn fat loss.
But the good news from all this is you can restore your sleep patterns to control these hormones to the normal levels, regain your energy levels, cognitive performance and lead you towards getting lean.
Start by tracking your sleep so you can understand your sleep patterns. App's on your phone like Sleep Cycle or wearable devices like FitBit's and Apple Watches record your movement over the night and can show you a graph of your sleep duration and quality so you can aim to improve it.
Sleeping well is the result of creating the right environmental, physiological and mental conditions. Here are some tips to do this...
Get yourself into a routine by going to bed at the same time every night to ensure you getat least 7 – 8 hours sleep. To wake up feeling as alert as possible, you could try to wake up at the end of a 90 minute sleep cycle. E.G if you need to wake up at 7am, aim to fall asleep at 11.30 pm (5 cycles) or 10pm (6 cycles).
Take a warm bath half an hour before bed (try adding Epsom salts), this will help your body to relax and promote recovery.
Fit black out blinds in your room and remove/block any light sources (e.g. TV light), your bedroom should be dark to promote Melatonin production.
Reduce your exposure to light at night, so that your brain can be signalled to wind down. Either stop using electronic devices an hour before sleep, or if you need to, use software on laptop's such as F.lux or blue light filters on your phone like Twilight, that remove blue light. You could also buy and wear blue light blocking glasses instead.
Avoid coffee, stimulants and alcohol in the evening, as these will disrupt the quality of sleep.
Lower your cortisol levels by relaxing your body. Try practising meditation or mindfulness before going to bed, this will also quieten your mind. You could use the Mindfulness app to help with this.
Let your brain wind down at night. Stop working at least 2 hours before bed. Empty your mind by doing a brain dump to manage your over-activity. Do a gratitude diary at night if your feeling stressed/down.
Supplements that can help you (each with their own reasoning) include Magnesium Bisglycinate, Melatonin, Zinc Picolinate, 5HTP and Ashwagandha.
Hopefully this article has helped you to understand the importance of sleep, made you realise more about impacts to your performance, body health and mental health and ways you can improve it to regain all of this and be at your best.