I take my sleep seriously. And food. Sufficient, peaceful sleep and good food keep me healthily and happily ticking over. It also makes life a bit more pleasant for those in my company on the next day 😀 We’re talking sleep today, though.
Sleep is arguably one of the most overlooked pieces of health and fitness. Yet of all the pieces, it may have the greatest influence on just about every bodily function. Our bodies are incredibly active during sleep as they undergo an array and growth and restorative processes necessary to keep the mind and body healthy.
Sleep is essential for learning. A full night’s sleep keeps your memory sharp and improves your problem-solving the next day. It also keeps you attentive and creative, fosters prompt decision making and improves your overall mood and energy. Much of this research has associated these changes in mental health to altered activity in parts of the brain.
During waking hours all body systems are exposed to all kinds of stressors. The environment, exercise, sensory stimulation, and unfortunately for some, trauma. Sleep is when the body replenishes expended mineral and energy stores, rebuilds damaged tissue (including nerve tissue which probably undergoes the most daily restoration), and grows.
Sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, some of which is the result of overeating and obesity caused by an imbalance in the hormones that manage hunger and satiety. Research has also established a strong correlation between sleep quality and quantity and body composition. The mechanisms thereof are complex, but it results in excess weight gain and an inability to gain and maintain muscle.
A good night’s sleep will improve athletic performance, including speed, accuracy and overall energy. And sleep is especially important for kids and teens, and those who exercise because it induces the release of human growth hormone, an important hormone in cellular regeneration.
Getting sick a lot of late? Your immune system is most active during sleep – partly why when you are sick all you want to do is sleep! A consistent dose of daily sleep reduces your risk of getting the common cold and other illnesses and makes you more resilient to those daily stressors.
Sleep deficiency also affects your endocrine system, thereby affecting the production and sensitivity to important hormones such and insulin and cortisol.
So just like exercise and nutrition, there’s a big picture perspective to sleep. It’s essential to long-term health.
How much is enough?
How much sleep we need varies between individuals, but most of our differences in sleep requirements vary with age. Babies need the most while adults (regardless of age) need the least. Adults need seven to eight hours a day, but I’m of the opinion that for optimal health and fitness you need eight to ten hours a day.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Just as how much sleep we all need varies, so does what leads us to sleep. Our circadian rhythm is the body’s sleep system. It sets in motion the temperature and hormonal changes required for sleep and waking. If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you’ll know what it’s like to have that system thrown out.
To help lead you to a good sleep, get as much natural blue light during the day as possible. Natural blue light is the sky! Start winding down 30-60 minutes before you plan on hitting the hay. Dim or switch of all artificial blue light such as ceiling lights, TVs and handheld devices. Have blackout curtains in your bedroom and for the light sleeper, wear ear plugs – as long as you can still hear your alarm in the morning!