Everyone knows they should get enough sleep, yet it’s always the one thing that gets pushed to the side in favour of catching up on emails or watching another episode of Homeland on Netflix. Getting optimal sleep has a ton of amazing benefits, including:
• Achieving optimal body composition (way more muscle, way less fat)
• Accelerating recovery from hard training
• Optimal hormone production & function
• Reducing inflammation throughout the body
• Managing stress levels
• Improving happiness
Is Getting Less than 7 Hours of Sleep Really That Big of a Deal?
In a word, YES. Here are a few of the major problems associated with not getting enough sleep:
Inability to sustain attention & maintain brain performance.
If you consistently average less than seven hours of sleep per night, you start to build a sleep deficit. This makes it harder to perform complex and even simple tasks. It also slows down reaction time and the ability to make decisions, which has obvious negative impacts for athletes and working professionals alike.
Increased risk of obesity.
Lack of sleep can impair your ability to metabolize glucose and increase cravings for carbohydrates and sugar, which if eaten excessively can cause weight gain. Furthermore, the unwanted weight gain now greatly increases your risk of cardiovascular related diseases.
Increased risk of sleep apnea.
Chronic sleep deprivation can trigger a cascade of negative events; from sugar cravings to weight gain, which can even lead to disorders like sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition where you have pauses in breathing while you sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, and can occur multiple times throughout a sleep cycle. A person who suffers from sleep apnea is essentially starving the heart of oxygen multiple times throughout the night, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Does Lack of Sleep = Being Legally Drunk?
Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School is one of the world’s leading authorities on human sleep cycles and the biology of sleep. In his research, he has observed people that average four hours of sleep or less per night for several days develop the same level of cognitive dysfunction as if they had been awake for 24 hours, which is the equivalent of being legally drunk. Extend the sleep deprivation to 10 days and you have the equivalent of being awake for 48 hours straight! Needless to say, at this point, your performance is dramatically decreased and doing even the simplest tasks becomes an issue.
Ok I Get It. How Can I Get More Sleep?
Now that the point has been made, here are a few simple strategies you can use to ensure you get more sleep, more quality sleep, and fall asleep faster every night:
Create a simple pre-bed routine.
As humans, we thrive best on routine. Babies are a great example of the importance of routine. For an infant or toddler, having consistent activities pre-bed (i.e. bath time, story time, a bottle of milk, etc.) generally leads to a more peaceful sleeping experience that night. If this routine is disrupted too often, problems arise. As adults, we can learn from this. For you it may be a shower followed by 15-20 minutes of non-work related reading (preferably with a book or magazine, not a tablet). Consistently following this routine can help to improve the quality of your sleep over time.
Spend a few minutes writing in a journal.
This actually works. Taking a few minutes to reflect on the events of the day and writing down things you’re grateful for is a proven way to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and set you up for higher quality sleep. A fantastic product called the Five Minute Journal actually makes it really easy to get started, even if you don’t like writing.
Ensure the room is as dark as possible.
Exposure to light during sleep (from a window or from electronics like your TV, tablet or phone) can really disrupt sleep. Try to make sure your room is as dark as possible by investing in a sleep mask or black out curtains. And keep your electronic devices in another room to eliminate the impact of blue light on your sleep.
Supplement with magnesium in the evening.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals we need for optimum health and performance. It’s especially beneficial for managing stress and promoting relaxation. Constant exposure to stress can deplete magnesium stores in the body, leading to feelings of anxiety. Supplementing with magnesium will help to calm your nervous system and relax your muscles, making it easier to fall asleep and improving the quality of sleep. This is one of the most common supplements we recommend to our athletes.
Take home message:
Get more sleep! This is non-negotiable and there’s no getting around it. Consistently getting more sleep each night will make you smarter, leaner, stronger, healthier and happier.
Make it a priority, starting tonight!
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