How important is sleep... really?

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You exercise 2-3 times a week, your diet is impeccable, you even meditate, but for some reason the pounds aren't moving and your alarm clock is the devil.  What is going on here?

It's no secret that sleep is important but what I want you to know is that quality of sleep is just as, if not more important than quantity.  We've all heard that you must get 8 hours of sleep a night, but is this really true?  What about the high achievers who seem to never sleep, run successful businesses, have a busy family life and still get by working late into the night?  I for one am not one of those, but I have a few tips as to how these types of people might get by.

If you were to ask me, what I thought the best way to sleep would be, I would tell you that it would be amazing to sleep under the stars, preceded by a light meal a couple of hours before laying down, followed by a bit of time spent around the fire, falling asleep soon after the sun has set and waking bright and early with the birds.  Lucky for me, I live in a house powered by electricity, complete with fancy light fixtures, little lights on my chargers, wifi, TV and the main road is just there, so if I want to jump on the 405, it'll only take me 10 minutes or so.  It is because I, and most people I know, are so lucky to have these things that we must also take them into consideration when looking at the quality of sleep that we are getting on a nightly basis.  Why? Because all of these seemingly small luxuries can actually be the difference between jumping out of bed frothing for the day ahead or smashing your iPhone against the wall trying to make the Radar (default) tone stop dead.

Quality of sleep is huge.  It can help you lose weight, improve your mood, make you recover faster, improve cognitive ability, decrease your perception of stress, help you focus and even give you more energy!  So what's going wrong?  Do we all need more sleep or do we just need to improve the quality of sleep?  I've looked into this a little bit and found some pretty interesting ideas, for example Nick Littlehales, an elite sports sleep coach for the Machester United Football club, the British cycling team, as well as many other sports and business professionals describes in his book "Sleep" that 8 hours a night is a myth and we need to be looking at getting thirty five 90-minute sleep cycles per week.  Personally, I really like this idea because it allows for a lot more flexibility through what he terms "controlled recovery periods", a fancy name for naps, which is super helpful if you like having a social life.  Paul Chek, in his book "How To Eat Move and Be Healthy" talks about aligning our sleep patterns with the rise and fall of the sun and the moon.  This also makes a lot of sense to me and you can see what I mean by this and how our hormones are in tune with this same cycle in the graph above, with the black line representing our bodies normal production of cortisol (stress hormone) and the white line representing melatonin (sleepy hormone).  However you put it, getting enough sleep is important... but so is the quality.

So what are some common disruptors of sleep quality and what can you do about them?

  • Artificial light/ blue light: Computers, iPhones, light bulbs, T.Vs all emit a form of artificial light which can disrupt the bodies natural production of melatonin by tricking the brain into thinking it's still daylight.  Even the tiniest little light coming from a smoke alarm is registered by light receptors on the skin, which studies have shown can reduce your quality of sleep.  So clear your bedroom of all of these, don't even bring them into the room.  Download flux onto your computer, which will automatically adjust the light on your screen as the sun sets, turn your iPhone onto nightshift mode and maybe even switch out the lights in your chilling environment to something a little warmer.  Use black out curtains in your room and cover up any little lights with tape.  Your room should be as black as you can get it.
  • Caffeine and stimulants: No more after 3pm!
  • Give yourself time to digest: Two hours is a good goal of when your last meal should be.  In fact, 3 is even better because who wants to spend their sleep digesting a big meal when you could be dreaming instead?
  • Set the scene: Get yourself a little bed time ritual going.  Try some kind of deep breathing exercise to stimulate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system.  Maybe chuck on your favorite Pj's so that your body knows that work time is over and bedtime is near.
  • Temperature and airflow is also important.  Make sure that the air in your room doesn't become stale and maybe even lower the temperature a little bit.

These are just some of the ways that changing your home environment can lead to better sleep and a better quality of life.  Even changing just one of these things will make a difference, so give it a go!

Nick VoroshineComment