Sleep has been an increasingly hot topic when discussing health and wellness. In a way, it is very intuitive, we all feel better when we get a good night’s sleep. But what the latest research about sleep shows us is that it is much more than just a ‘feeling.’ In fact, sleep may be more important than diet or exercise when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. This is a bold statement, to say the least, but it is one worth considering.
The argument in favor of this position is founded in the fact that it is when we sleep that the foundation is laid, both hormonally and physiologically, for how our bodies will respond to the exercise we do and the food we eat. More specifically, for example, insufficient sleep can contribute to decreased insulin sensitivity. The more insulin resistant you are, the more efficient your body becomes at storing fat instead of metabolizing it.
Insufficient sleep also contributes to increased cortisol levels (stress hormone) and decreased the production of human growth factor – the hormone necessary to translate the hard work you do while exercising into strength and muscle bulk.
Of course, a balanced mental state and your immune system also require healthy sleep and the list goes on and on.
So what is adequate sleep and how much do we need? The overwhelming number of us (over 90 percent) require at least between 6-8 hours of sleep a night which equates to about 4-5 sleep cycles. Each cycle transitioning from light sleep to deep sleep and stages of REM.
This does vary from one person to another, but not as much as some of us might like to think. Most of the variability is between age cohorts, meaning children and teenagers require much more sleep than older folks, but we could all probably use more than we get. As such, here are a few tips on maximizing your sleep experience:
- Decrease your exposure to artificial light. Artificial light such as blue light from alarm clocks, computers, and cell phones stimulate the brain and can impact our ability to sleep. Do not use these devices within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t go to be too hungry or too full. Some people sleep better after a light dinner and others need a snack before bedtime.
- “An hour before midnight is worth 2 after”~ Sleep Proverb. The sooner we go to bed the sooner we will enter into our progressively deeper cycles of sleep when the body is rejuvenating itself. These cycles occur in the earlier part of the night (11 p.m. to 3 a.m.). After 3 a.m. the deep sleep cycles begin to shorten. So the earlier we go to bed the more opportunity for deep sleep.
- Manage stress throughout the day and before bedtime with a dedicated nighttime routine. Spending a few minutes reflectin on the day and thinking about what needs to happen tomorrow, even taking some notes, may help you let go of those nagging ‘to do’s’ that keep your mind spinning even as you try to fall asleep.
A good night’s sleep is critical to optimizing our health, movement, and wellbeing.