Getting enough sleep is a rare and sought after commodity in our society today. Nearly half (around 40 percent) of adults in the United States are sleep deprived, getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep a night. Sleep research has shown that fewer than 6 hours of sleep can cause cognitive impairment. If sleep is that important for your brain function, what about your body? If you are trying to lose weight, get more fit, or become a better athlete then sleep is absolutely vital to your efforts.
Is Getting Enough Sleep Really That Important?
Stages of Sleep
There are several stages of sleep that take you from a light sleep to a deep, restorative sleep. These stages cycle several times through the night. A person begins sleep by dozing off which is called the threshold sleep stage. This stage does not provide adequate rest for your body to recover from exercise.
As you enter the first real sleep stage your body processes begin to slow. Your heart rate and temperature drop a little too. This is not a deep sleep yet and is still not adequate rest for your body or brain.
The second stage is a deeper sleep and the processes in your body slow more until you enter the deepest stage of sleep: rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. From the time you first doze until you reach REM is about 90 minutes. This is where your body gets the proper rest for recovery.
You will go through these sleep stages several times during the night and it is important that you go through enough cycles to give your body proper rest. Eight hours is considered the standard for a good night’s rest, but some people need more while others do well with seven. Whatever the case, everyone needs consistent, restful, adequate sleep. Just because you seem to function okay without it doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need it.
Better Athletic Performance
When you sleep your body goes to work replenishing nutrients and repairing muscle tissue. Not getting enough sleep can lead to lack of energy as well. Studies show that when a person scrimps on sleep their body produces less carbohydrates and glycogen, the body’s natural fuel. This can lead to fatigue and slower recovery post workout. A good night’s sleep allows your body time to recharge and get stronger while replenishing your energy supply. You will have more energy and stamina for your sport or workout.
Easier to Stick to a Diet
The fatigue factor that comes from not getting enough sleep doesn’t just impact athletes. It also impacts those who are trying to lose weight. Exercise is vital to weight loss, but when you are too tired to do it motivation usually wanes. Sleep deprivation is also linked to inability to focus and to cravings, especially sugar and simple carbs which provide a quick, albeit unhealthy, pick-me-up. Adequate sleep helps curb those cravings because your body isn’t looking for an alternative fuel source.
Improved Weight Loss
Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. When the body is under stress cortisol levels increase. This hormone breaks down body tissues, including muscle. It also slows your metabolism, holding on to the fat in your body in case you need it to escape the stressful situation that it perceives you to be encountering.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Avoid caffeine at least five or six hours (more if you are sensitive) prior to going to bed.
Turn off computers, TVs, and other back lit devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The light in these devices tricks the brain into believing that it is still daylight, thus disrupting your natural sleep cycle.
Make your sleep space comfortable, quiet, and dark.
If you have racing thoughts, force yourself to focus on just one thing, a calming memory or story. If you are more visual, picture a shape in blue or black. In your mind, make that shape bigger and bigger until it has blotted out all of the other thoughts.
What are your sleep secrets? What works best when you are trying to fall asleep? Share in the comments below!