How important is sleep? It may sound like a silly question but good quality sleep and recovery can do wonders for your health. Your fitness results will also improve if you are getting enough quality sleep. I have worked with quite a few clients, who when they come to see me are really run down and fatigued from lack of sleep. They are usually struggling to lose weight and energy levels are low. Also people that are not sleeping well tend to have increased health issues, such as regularly getting colds.
One of the common misconceptions around sleep is the length of time that a human should sleep for. We’ve all heard “make sure you get your 8 hours.” It’s not just the length of time that you sleep for but the quality of sleep. You’ve probably had a night where you’ve slept really well and woke up refreshed and energized the next day. Research has shown that adults generally need between 6-8 hours of sleep. This will usually allow an individual to get into the right sleep phases and achieve deep sleep. What I want to get at here is that you could sleep 8-10 hours of broken sleep and feel fatigued but sleep for 6 hours with quality sleep and feel great. The quality is important. However sleeping less than 6 hours a night is not recommended. When your body is stressed out you develop more cortisol, this can lead to an increase in body fat storage around your waist. We also go through 4 different phases of sleep in a normal sleep cycle and each one is important. Phases 1-3 are known as Non Rapid Eye Movement or NREM for short. Phase 4 is knows as Rapid Eye Movement or REM for short. Phase 1 is when you close your eyes and fall to sleep. Phase 2 is light sleep when eye movement stops, phase 3 is extremely important, this is your deep sleep phase, this is when the body grows and repairs. People are usually harder to rouse and wake up when in this phase. Phase 4 is the rapid eye movement phase, this is when we dream. Research into dreams have shown that the brain is more active when we dream and this can have many benefits including stress reduction, increased memory function and increased cognitive function. For an individual to go through the first 3 phases it usually take about 90 minutes. Then REM sleep occurs for 10 minutes on the first cycle. However on each cycle REM sleep will increase sometimes on the final cycle you can REM sleep for up to an hour.
So why is sleep so important?:
- It helps with brain and memory function
- It helps to repair the body
- Cell development occurs when we sleep
- It helps to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
- Helps to remove negative emotions
- Builds up immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems
As you can see from the list above sleep is vital to many functions within our bodies. One reason why many people don’t get the results they are after is down to lack of sleep. They don’t let their bodies recover to get the benefits of exercise. No matter whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or improve you fitness levels you need to get good quality sleep. On a regular and consistent basis.
How can you achieve a good quality night’s sleep and achieve deep sleep?
- Have a wind down routine – sometimes people don’t wind down properly and this affects their sleep patterns, try getting into a routine that you stick to.
- Avoid eating close to bed time unless it’s foods high in melatonin (sleep hormone)
- Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol before bed. Caffeine will make you more awake and sleeping after drinking alcohol has negative effects on your sleep cycle.
- Have a warm shower or bath before bed, this allows the muscles to relax.
- If you have a partner give each other a massage to relax, if you don’t some gentle self massage to feet and shoulders for example can help.
- Practice some meditation before sleeping or even use meditation to send you to sleep. This switches off the mind and allows you to be in a relaxed state.
- Have the right bedroom set up. A dark, quiet room is best for deep sleep. Turn off wifi, phones etc. Shut the curtains, kick out any pets. However some relaxing music helps some people achieve good quality sleep.
- Make sure you have a comfortable bed and the right pillow – the right bed and pillow combination will allow your body to relax and achieve better quality sleep.
- Wear pyjamas/comfortable clothing in bed. This helps maintain your core temperature which is aids deep sleep. Avoid getting too hot though as your body temperature can change throughout the night.
How can you get better sleep if you struggle to sleep?
Many people struggle to get into good sleeping patterns, they may have broken sleep or even lie for hours not being able to fall asleep. There are many different techniques, remedies and methods you can use to help, such as:
- Reducing stimulants
- Changing diet
- Drinking herbal teas such as chamomile
- Exercising more regularly
- Turning off wifi and blue lights
- Black out curtains/eye masks
- Reducing or cutting out alcohol
This list could go on. In simple terms, sleep is massively important and you need to make sure you get good quality sleep, especially if you are looking to improve your health and body.
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