Sleep is one of those things that we all know we're supposed to be getting "enough" of. It's one of "those things" that we have always heard. Where this advice officially comes from is usually unknown to us, it's something we just KNOW. Something that is not as commonly known is how much sleep--which about 63% of Americans say they are not getting enough of--can negatively effect workouts, cardiovascular and heart health; and increase diabetes risk factors, memory and learning, depression, automobile and workplace accidents, and overall mortality (www.chriskresser.com).
Sleeping is your body's time to renew, repair and recover from your day and prepare you for the next day. It's like plugging your cell phone in overnight so that you can use it the next day fresh and full of battery--you're the cell phone...minus the cord and with more personality. So, if you are not getting a full night of restful sleep consistently, your body might be more susceptible to injury in a workout--among many other things--if it is not fully recovered.
During the night, we go through a number of cycles that last between 90 to 120 minutes each. In each one of those cycles, there are 4 stages:
*Stage 1. This is the interim between being sleepy and actually sleeping.
*Stage 2. After about 5 to 15 minutes, you move into the second stage where your heart rate slows and your brain releases a chemical to block your senses, making it less likely for you to wake up. This is a much more stable stage of sleep.
*Stage 3. Also known as the Delta stage, stage 3 is deep sleep and this is the time that your body releases growth hormone, helping the body recover and repair. Most stage 3 sleep occurs within the first third of your night.
*Stage 4. Deep sleep. Body temperature and blood pressure decreases.
*R.E.M. cycle. Occurs about 90 minutes after first feeling sleepy and is considered stage 5 in which there is an increase in eye movement, breathing, heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. This is also where more intense dreaming occurs.
Once that R.E.M. cycle is finished, a new one begins again!
How To Get Better Sleep
I do know many people who have a hard time with getting to sleep and staying asleep. Same with you as well? Here are some things you might be doing that is messing up your sleep at night and how to fix it:
1. Stay on a regular sleep schedule. If you get up at 6:30 for work everyday, don't wake up at 9 on the weekends. This messes up your body's regular sleep habits and makes it a heck of a lot harder to wake up on Monday again.
2. Exercise in some way every day. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't be taking rest days, because you should. This means that doing light movement such as yoga poses or walking can give your body just enough movement to be able to wind down for the evening. Just make sure that you don't exercise within 2 to 3 hours before bed, as the boost in heart rate, body temperature and metabolism will keep you awake.
3. Skip the late night snacking. One, you don't need to do it, regardless of what your tastebuds and stomach tells you. Two, your body raises heart rate, body temperature and metabolism to digest food, which keeps you up as well as increasing the instance of waking up in the night.
4. Avoid alcohol. While a nightcap to calm and relax you is a tempting prospect, it will keep you from reaching the deep stages of your sleep cycle, which is when the body is in growth mode. Alcohol also dehydrates the body, making you feel crappy and often hungover the next day. You are also more likely to have muscle cramps during your workout too. Not only is this really uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous if you are in the middle of weightlifting.
5. Avoid stimulants which keep you awake by raising adrenaline and sleep-blocking chemicals in your brain. Not only is it tough to get to sleep when you're buzzing on caffeine but if you do get to sleep, good luck staying there!
6. Have a calming bedtime routine that doesn't include the T.V. For me, this is drinking a cup of camomile tea or my magnesium supplement (awesome!), taking a warm shower, stretching or reading a book. Not only does this allow for "you time," which is hugely important, but the T.V. stimulates the brain too much when you're trying to quiet the mind and body (See #8 below). Besides, reading a book always makes you feel sleepy AND is good for your mind.
7. Stay cool Bro. Keeping a steady temperature at night that is just cool enough to be comfortable and not freezing--about 65 to 72 degrees--helps you drift to sleep and stay asleep. Lower body temperature is one of the main ways your brain knows that it's ok to start sleeping.
8. Don't go into the light! This last one is HUGE and so common for almost EVERYONE. Electronic devices, such as your phone, Kindle and, yes, your T.V., emit blue light. This blue light is the biggest suppressant of melatonin production, which is what makes you sleep. Chronic suppressed melatonin not only makes for a bad night of sleep, but has shown to increase risks of cancer, chronic disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (weight gain is part of this). Yikes! Stop answering emails, texts and perusing Facebook at least an hour before bed, get the T.V. out of the bedroom, and read a book that has a spine. If you absolutely must be on your phone close to bedtime, amber lensed glasses help filter blue light.