Don’t Sleep On Sleep

Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr. Olympia, is famous for stating “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

I’d second that and add my own flair to it by stating: “everyone wants to feel great and stave off disease, without getting adequate sleep.”

But really! We truly underestimate the power of sleep. To help assess the quality of your sleep answer the following questions below:

  • Do I rise with the sun and sleep with the moon? (see circadian rhythm image below)
  • Am I consistently getting more than 7 hours of sleep per night?
  • Is my sleep uninterrupted?

The answers to these questions lie at the heart of why sleep is important, and it also allows you to see how we can combat it and improve it.

Circadian Rhythm

To begin the interesting questions to ask first would be: Why do we sleep at all? Do we truly need it? If so, how much sleep?

To help us answer this question we refer to Matthew Walker PhD and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams.

Walker first toys with the common purported idea that “sleep is the state we must enter in order to fix that which has been upset by wake.” This is a stereotypical answer as to why we sleep, and we are bombarded with it ad infinitum to think of sleep simply as a mechanism that allows us to do what we did yesterday.

This notion is true, to a degree, but as you will learn sleep does a lot more.

Walker goes on in favor of a new perspective by considering that perhaps, “sleep was the first state of life on this planet and it was from sleep that wakefulness emerged.”

Also an interesting notion which would then put the ‘wakefulness state’ as that which is secondary to sustaining life, meaning sleep is our primary function and to be awake is somehow unnatural and not as essential.

As to the question regarding ‘why we sleep’ it’s still up for debate. In fact, the animal kingdom is rife with insects, flies, bees, tigers, elephant, squirrels, whales that all have dramatically different sleep patterns and guess what, we don’t know why they sleep either. Squirrels sleep 15.9 hours and degu sleep 7.7 hours even though they are both part of the rodent family group. Elephants need 4 hours of sleep compared to tigers and lions which need 15 hours of sleep.

Again, the jury is still out on this one. There are suggestions regarding neural circuitry, evolutionary biases (predator/prey etc…), central nervous system, metabolic rate demands that could account for the differences in sleeping patterns but what we do know is the results of sleep and lack thereof.

When we sleep lots of things occur which we most often take for granted

Sleep itself is the simplest, most surefire way to a more happy and healthier you. While we sleep we go trough two different stages called NREM and REM. These are both termed Non Rapid Eye Movement and Rapid Eye Movement. During the stages of NREM our bodies (when functioning properly) creates the deepest and most restorative sleep with blood pressure dropping, breathing becoming slower, muscles relaxing. Our bodies will allow blood supply to our muscles, allow tissue growth and repair to occur, restore energy, and increase growth hormone, essential for growth and development. Melatonin is secreted during your sleep and continues to rise only to then lower for the wakefulness state to return upon sunrise.

When we are chronically sleep deprived lots of things occur as well

In a small study, losing just one night of sleep led to an increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain associated with impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease. The results suggest that sleep deprivation may increase the risk for beta-amyloid build-up.

Know of any shift-workers or people that work the overnight shifts? In July 2014, a meta-analysis published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested that shift workers face an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. In particular, people working rotating shifts face an increased risk of 42%. More recently, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that female nurses working rotating night shifts for 5 or more years could be at an increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Interested to hear more about what it does to our weight?

People who are on a low-calorie diet will lose the same amount of weight whether they sleep an average of 8.5 hours or 5.5 hours each night. However, those on 8.5 hours will lose much more fat, while those on 5.5 hours lose mainly muscle, instead of fat, according to an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers, from the University of Chicago stress that adequate sleep is a key contributor to managing body weight.

Remember, sleep helps us thrive by contributing to a healthy immune system, and also balances our appetites by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness. So when we’re sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more, which can lead to weight gain.

The one-third of our lives that we spend sleeping, far from being “unproductive,” plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two-thirds of our lives can be.

So, you made it this far, here are some steps to improve your sleep

  • Rise with the sun and sleep with the moon. Aim to get 2 hours of sleep in before midnight each night.
  • Limit Caffeinated drinks and coffee in the early afternoon and evening.
  • Be sure to sleep in a cold room. The ideal temperature is 60 and 67 degrees. If your body is hot, you will not have quality sleep.
  • Black out your room. Any light will trick your body into believing it is bright out and begin to secrete cortisol (the opposite of melatonin).
  • Leave phones somewhere else. If it’s in your room you will be more likely to play with it into the evening.
  • Try to limit naps throughout the day if you are having trouble sleeping. Taking a nap will limit production of adenosine. Adenosine induces sleep and you begin to notice it when you are dozing off while watching a Netflix series on the couch. Go right to bed after.
  • Take 15 deep breathes in and out through your nose while lying in bed at night. This will stir on your parasympathetic nervous system to allow you to relax and to hopefully sleep more peacefully.

Sleep should be considered first if longevity is important to you.

At OPEX Mount Sinai these are some of the early questions we ask during our initial consultation to find out how and what your body is currently able to sustain for recovery and how it may have shifted due to work, family, stress etc… throughout your life.

Our revolution of personal training encompasses a lot more than just giving you exercises with varying sets and reps to be completed. In addition to having the most experienced movement assessment screens and diagnostic tools at our disposal we are also focused on the habits outside of the gym that will contribute to you living most optimally for a long time.

With that said a discussion regarding sleep is almost inevitable and so is the writing of this blog post. As professional coaches in an industry where sleep is not talked about, we are the ones who are broaching this tough subject and asking the deeper questions so our clients can win inside the gym, the conference room and at home with their families and loved ones.

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