How many hours do you sleep each night?
Me? I’m currently averaging six, a vast improvement from two months ago.
I used to be a big believer in the “stay up late, get up early, get stuff done” philosophy. I woke up at 5:15 AM to train, worked my 9-5, taught a barre class or two, maybe met up with friends, then cracked open my laptop to work. I would climb into bed around midnight, and wake up to do it all over again a few hours later.
As I’ve traveled farther down this path as a personal trainer, I’ve learned how valuable sleep is to our health. According to recent research, our nation is “intoxicated” due to poor sleep habits. 50-70 million adults in the United States have sleep or wakefulness disorders, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers our poor sleeping habits a “public health problem.”
Y’all, we’re tired.
Us tired folks are more likely to experience a decrease in brain function (hey there, 3pm slump), hormonal imbalances, an increased risk of heart disease, decreased productivity (who else needs an afternoon caffeine dose? I know I’m not alone…) poor immune and insulin responses, poor performance, and can impair weight loss.
So, what happens when we sleep? Have you ever thought about it? Like, you’re just cozy in bed, having sweet dreams. Your body is at rest and that’s that, right?
While we sleep, the body is working hard. The sleep state is when our body recovers from the long day you just put behind you. It’s recovering from that tough workout, repairing bodily processes, and even burning calories. That’s right – you’re burning calories in your sleep. Cerebral spinal fluid flushes through the brain to clean out waste products from cells. Your breath and your heart rate slows, and your blood pressure decreases. Hormones get released to help in repairing tissues.
Basically, a lot of stuff is happening while we’re snoozing. When we’re not getting enough sleep, our bodies aren’t able to adequately repair themselves, produce and release hormones efficiently, or remove waste. Essentially, we need to sleep so the body can do it’s job.
Another fun fact. When we’re sleep deprived, our brains crave food because the hormones responsible for regulating hunger are unbalanced. Ghrelin (the hunger hormone often affectionately referred to as the “gremlin” hormone) increases and leptin (the hormone that signals you’re full) decreases. Calorie intake increases while the burning of calories decreases because we’re just too tired to get ourselves moving. This cycle eventually leads to weight gain.
Think about that for a moment, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or lean out, but aren’t sleeping at least 7 hours each night. Your body is hungry from lack of sleep. You’re also too tired, be it mentally or physically, to work out, which means those extra consumed calories aren’t being burned away. You could be putting in the work in the gym, but if you’re not sleeping enough, you could also be undoing a lot of that hard work.
Lack of sleep also results in higher blood sugar levels as a the body is unable to effectively respond to insulin. If poor sleep patterns are chronic, metabolic disorders are more likely. And of course, lack of sleep affects athletic performance. A well-rested body will perform at a higher level than a tired body.
I’m guilty of not getting enough sleep. I’m working on it, but confession? It’s 20 minutes to 11 at night as I put the finishing touches on this blog. I still have to pack lunch for tomorrow, put away laundry, wash my face, and read my Bible before bed. I’m a work in progress on the sleep front.
Now that we know why sleep is important, what steps can we take to improve our sleep patterns?
- Ditch the electronics at least a half hour before bedtime. The circadian rhythm – the sleep wake cycle – is sensitive to the blue light emitted from devices like phones and iPads, leading to disrupted sleep.
- Use blackout curtains if outside light such as street lamps make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Evaluate the noise level. Remove noise sources if possible, or use a white noise machine. I personally use the Sleep Sounds app, or have Alexa play sleep sounds.
- Develop a nighttime routine that signals to the body it’s time to wind down. Read a book or listen to calming music. I have a friend who meditates right before bed and swears by it.
- Reduce caffeine intake. I love a cup of coffee at night, not because of the caffeine, but because I enjoy the act of drinking coffee. I’ve transitioned to peppermint tea most evenings now – same act of drinking a hot beverage, but without the caffeine.
- Try to avoid late workouts. Physical activity hypes up the body. Sometimes late night is the only time a workout can happen, but try to have a few hours to let the body come down from its adrenaline high post workout.
What do your sleep habits look like? How can you improve them? Talk to me in the comments!