Sleep your way to health

We tend to focus on eating well and exercise as being the pinnacle of what needs to be done in order to get fit and healthy, but there are a few other things that provide the necessary environment needed to achieve our goals, one of these is sleep.

What happens when we sleep?

When we sleep we are in a lovely anabolic state of repair.  Catabolic means breaking down, this is what we do when we are stressed, busy or training hard.  At night we secrete lots of lovely anabolic hormones like Melatonin and Growth Hormone.  These help us  (along with all the other nighttime processes) to build up and repair what the day has depleted.  This also includes our mental state.

  • Between 10pm - 2am we are primarily undergoing physical repair
  • Between 2am - 6am we are experiencing psychological repair
  • We burn fat while we sleep, Growth Hormone is a powerful fat burning hormone, and when our nervous system is in a rest and digest state (Parasympathetic dominant), it will prefer fat as a fuel source instead of glucose (which can be stolen from your lean tissue!!)

We talk about food providing nutrients and exercise helping our body get stronger.  But there are some very important processes going on when we sleep, so if we're not sleeping well, or using chemicals to help us sleep then we are altering the effectiveness of these health giving functions.

  What happens when we don't get enough sleep or quality sleep?

  • Tiredness. This tiredness can lead to food cravings, reaching for too much coffee which then sets the sleeplessness cycle again. We also feel less motivated to exercise when we're tired.
  • We struggle to focus at work, our work days become a chore and we might end up getting emotionally affected and start taking it out on our colleagues or getting upset with ourselves. This can make "life" in general a bit of a grind.
  • We can struggle to lose body fat, gain lean mass and improve our fitness
  • We can become mentally unwell and experience symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • In a nutshell, we simply just don't allow our body the chance to repair itself. It's like leaving your blender on all day at full speed. At some point, it will just stop working.

 How to encourage a more restful sleep

  • Try to stop looking at electronic devices at least an hour before bed. Reading e-books aren’t giving your pineal gland the right signals to start secreting sleep hormones. I recommend real, paper books in the evening.
  • Switch off all electronic devices in the bedroom (even standby)
  • Make sure your room is pitch black. Use black out curtains to limit outside glare, and ensure your alarm clock is covered. Even turning it around still omits a light glare into the room that sends the wrong sleep signals to the brain. If you open your eyes in the middle of the night, ideally you should see absolutely nothing in the room
  • If you regularly get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, drink your water/tea etc a little earlier so you don’t wake in the night. Pay attention to what time you wake, this can hold clues as to what your body and mind is struggling with.
  • Avoid caffeine after midday if possible. Especially avoid it late afternoon and evening.  Even if you can sleep after drinking coffee, this still isn’t a good thing.
  • Try not to exercise too close to bed time if it creates a negative sleep response.  The stress hormone cortisol is raised after exercise, which has a half life of around 4-6 hours. At bedtime our cortisol levels should be low to aid in the nightly secretions of melatonin and testosterone.
  • Get regular exercise that is right for your physiological load and eat a good balanced diet that supports you.
  • Try to avoid other stimulating foods at bedtime such sugar. Pay attention to what type of foods help you rest easier, are you better on proteins/fats or do carbs provide a more restful sleep for you?
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bed, you don’t need your digestive system on overload when trying to sleep.
  • Get that to do list out of your head. You are not going to solve it lying there.  Write your reminders down well before you go to bed, the reminders will still be there tomorrow for you without you plotting them when its time to sleep
  • Practice daily diaphragmatic breathing to help you access your Parasympathetic Nervous System, the easier we can access this side of ourselves, the easier it is to go to sleep.
  • If your pets are disruptive, deal with it. Don't let your beloved furry friends control your quality of sleep. They will still love you the same tomorrow morning even if you kick them out of the bedroom.