The other day during a workout, one of my clients said she wanted to start working out more often, but she was afraid she couldn’t recover so fast. She asked me what she could do in order to feel energetic and start working out 4 times a week. The first thing on my mind was better nutrition. She told me what she is eating now, and it looks clean, healthy and enough! What else could she do? The answer is simple! Sleep more!
I know that nowadays it is hard to go to sleep with the sundown and wake up with the sunrise. Modern life has changed our habits so much, that going to bed so early might even look ridiculous! Nothing wrong with being a modern person, but the bad news is that, no matter our lifestyle and daily routine is changing, our body isn’t adapted to live like that. Everything that happens to our health is ruled by our genes, hormones and other biochemical processes that happen in our bodies.
Let’s first start out by understanding why sleep is so important! Sleep is an anabolic, building process, which main purpose is to restore the body’s energy supplies which have been depleted during our daily activities. We couldn’t maximize our mental or physical capacity if we don’t let this restoring process to happen.
Everything comes down to Circadian cycle or in other words the 24 hour cycle of sleep and wake time. We are programmed to get up and go to bed with the sun. Besides that in our body there are two hormones that also follow the Circadian cycle- growth hormone and cortisol. While we are asleep the growth hormone is released in our body and what it does is let the restoring process happen. On the other hand, cortisol is released after light stimulation. Its levels are high in the morning and slowly decrease during the day.( in order to understand it, look at the picture)
Nowadays it is impossible to wake up and fall asleep with the sun, but we could try to do the optimal, in order to get the amount of sleep needed- about 8 hours. Instead what we do is try to ruin our health by consuming lots of energy drinks and coffee, which rises the levels of cortisol, keeps us awake longer and thus we do not sleep enough. This interferes with body’s restoring process and we get to the point of exhaustion, which reflects bad on our physical and mental health, lowers our physical capacity and our productivity.
As Robb Wolf says “Sleep deprivation mimics many elements of the aging process. One could make the argument that how you feel when you are sleep deprived is likely how you will feel if you are both diabetic and old (sleep deprivation dramatically impacts insulin sensitivity). Improved sleep time and quality will help you: Lean out, avoid depression, autoimmunity, heart disease…it might even help you be a better athlete.”
For millions of years we’ve evolved “using” daylight o be a measure of action and safety and night to be a measure of rest and danger. Long before clocks were invented sunrise and sunset were our orientation. Orientation when was time to wake up and work, and when was the time to slow down and rest. That is a pattern that we’ve followed for million of years and that is how our bodies, genes, hormones and Circadian cycle are used to function.
When we mess with our nature, the problems start. All the artificial lights that we are exposed to, really mess up our hormones and the way our body functions, thus exposing us to risk of depression and other physical and mental diseases.
Light and mainly blue light regulates our secretion of melatonin( the sleep hormone). At night when we are exposed to the blue light, coming out of our computer screen, TV screen and other modern techniques, we limit the production of melatonin. The decreased production of melatonin is a sign that we should stay alert and awake.
So no matter it is night and our body was “shutting down” in order to get prepared for sleep, sitting on the computer and watching TV, mess up with that process and we somehow don’t feel sleepy enough to go to bed. That turns in a vicious cycle, where we stay up late at night and mess up with our hormones and our Circadian rhythm. As you know in your body everything is connected, and when one process messes up, everything breaks down. So here you are with your hormones messed up, sleep deprived and not able to recover from your daily activities.
Over time all this add ups and it becomes a serious problem. Go out on the street and see how many people look tired and sleep deprived. Most of them feel exhausted, irritated and depressed. Their quality of life suffers from their bad mood and everything is going down.
I used to have bad sleeping habits, and I went to bed late at night. I woke up early and I felt constantly tired. Then I started practicing swimming and because I had to wake up around 5a.m. to go for my training sessions, I began going to bed at 9 p.m. Yes, I said it- 9p.m. At the beginning it was weird and everybody made fun of me, but soon I started feeling really good and I began understanding how I deprived my body previous to that.
Nowadays I go to bed around 10:30p.m. and I wake up around 6:30a.m. I feel really energetic, it helps my mind stay clear and focused. My body feels good and I feel good being active all day long. I don’t feel energy crashes during the day and I love going to bed early, even if others call me a baby! 🙂
So, this is some food for thought. Ask yourself:
“Do I sleep at least 8 hours?”;
”Am I sleep deprived because I stay up late, getting myself busy with useless tasks(surfing on internet, watching movies, chatting etc..)?
“ Do I feel better on days I sleep longer?”
Understand that you are never too busy to get your 8 hours of sleep. On occasion you might sleep less, but you shouldn’t turn it in your daily routine! I am sure that during the day you waste some time, doing some useless stuff that are eating your time, and thus you end up at night, with tons of work you have to get done. My advice is, to organize your day, so you will make sure that you will get done the important stuff first, and then waste time for other things. Thus when it is time to go to bed, you won’t feel the obligation to stay up late and work! It will help you get more rest, feel more focused and do more work in shorter time. It will influence the quality of your day and your work. And after all it all comes down to productivity. The more rested you feel, the more productive you will be.
In case you are interested in reading more on the topic, check out this article. I’ve linked to it before but there is nothing wrong if you read it AGAIN! 🙂
Besides that make sure to read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival