Here I sit, once again, with a stubborn wakefulness at 5am.
No this is not going to be a poem. ‘Twill be rather more of a remembrance of a time when I conducted research and wrote about sleep as part of my post-grad position. Just after that time I wrote a guest post on a health blog about the importance of sleep, which is long gone off the internets now.
Anyway, I thought I’d share it again here. Mainly to remind myself of wisdoms of yonder, but maybe you might glean something from it too? Especially if you lack in sleep like me sometimes. Wishing you the best of sleep and health x
(N.B. Check out the exclamation mark quotient. Holy hell, I thought I was bad now, Past-Jane was atrociously enthusiastic)
Ok folks, all this talk of FOOD and EXERCISE is well and good, but if you really want to power up your daytime efforts, good sleep is absolutely essential!
But, before I wax lyrical about the wonders of sleep, I would like to mention that I am not an expert in the field of sleep. I have had the fortune of researching it at post-graduate level, and in doing so; I have managed to pick up just a few things about sleep.
To begin, I’ll do a whirlwind tutorial on a couple of the key features of sleep cycles & what happens when you sleep, so that we can understand why it is so important in your overall health & fitness goals.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT SLEEP STAGES & CYCLES?
Did you know that during your sleep, your brain goes through five different stages of alertness? Stage 1 is, of course, your lightest sleep. This is the stage of the warm & fuzzies, you know the ‘head hitting the pillow’ feeling. If someone spoke your name as you were drifting off into Stage 1 sleep, you would likely wake. This is closely followed by Stage 2 sleep, and then Stage 3 & 4 sleep, which are all successively deeper. The fifth stage is of course REM sleep, which is the dreaming stage of sleep.
Now you might think that sleep is one long arc, starting at stage 1, gradually descending into deeper stages during the middle of the night, and then slowly returning to light sleep, and REM just prior to waking. This is not the case! In fact, what really happens is that your sleep looks more like a rollercoaster, with descents from light sleep, down to deep sleep and back to light sleep again, all within roughly a 90 minute timeframe. These 90-minute timeframes are usually finished with a brief ‘intermission’ of REM sleep before starting on the rollercoaster again!
Now a typical adult will usually have around 7.5 hours of sleep (go on all you parents out there – I can hear you laughing!). That is around 5 of these 90 minute cycles. A good number of people though will actually function satisfactorily on less sleep than this. A handy tip is to try and sleep for a multiple of the 90 minute cycles, e.g. 6 hours. That way, you will not be waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Although, it is never advisable to attempt to restrict your sleep too much as it will affect your ability to function productively the following day!
SO WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T SLEEP AS MUCH AS I NEED?
Well, during the day, your body undergoes a process called the ‘homeostatic sleep process’. Essentially, what it means is that your body is like a bank, and sleep is like a deposit in this bank. Immediately after waking, your bank is full, and you are good to go! But as the day wares on, the savings drop, and your bank gradually empties out. This is known as building ‘sleep pressure’. If you build up too much sleep pressure by staying awake for too long, you build a SLEEP DEBT. At this point, metabolic processes in your body will begin to be compromised, as well as cognitive function – your ability to think and process the world around you. And if your sleep debt is big enough, your body will just begin to fall asleep throughout the day! So it is really important to stick with your body’s natural homeostatic rhythm, and sleep healthily. So essentially, what I’m trying to say here is that sleep is super important!
YEAH, BUT WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR WEIGHTLOSS?
Because it is! Let me explain: During the day your body is in a metabolic state which is energy producing, and results from the resources that your body has accumulated – a bit like the bank analogy above. During sleep, your metabolic process shifts into ‘biosynthesis’ mode, which repairs the body, builds muscle tissue, detoxifies and maintains your body. If a sleep debt begins to build, a different metabolic process begins to occur. This allows free radicals to accumulate much faster, repair work is halted, and even immune systems can be compromised.
SO, WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE HERE?
Make sleep a priority – I’m serious! Work hard during the day, eat well, train hard, and then flop into bed for a solid 7.5 hours of riding that wonderful rollercoaster of sleep!
TIPS FOR HEALTHY SLEEPING
- Have a bedtime routine that involves a component of relaxation before hopping into the bed. You might like to take a bath, meditate, or sit in your favourite chair and read a book for 20 minutes.
- It is also a really good idea during this quiet pre-bed time to keep the lights low. This will help stimulate the part of the brain that is responsible for the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone.
- If you can’t get to sleep, don’t stay in bed. Get up, walk around a little. Have a drink of water. And then try again in 20 minutes.
- Minimise electronic activity, and physical activity in the two hours before bedtime. It will really help with winding down, and letting that sleep pressure build without the mask of heightened brain activity that these activities create.
- Daytime naps are good – particularly if you are not quite meeting your quota of night-time sleep. Try and keep the nap to a maximum of 20 minutes though.
I hope you have learned just a wee bit about sleep in reading this. It is by no means an adequate cover of the topic of sleep, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions!