Sleep just like oxygen is essential to our existence as human beings.
However “modern life” is extracting more and more of our precious sleeping hours with all the unsustainable schedules people are trying (and commonly failing) to stick to!
“If only there were 25 hours in a day!”
It’s amusing how often I hear that cliché phrase. The pressures of the rat race and modern society have us feeling as though we’re expected to be able to do everything as efficient as anything.
The result being; people start searching for ways to be able to schedule even more into their day. More times than not, at the expense of sleep.
“Where can I find an extra hour or two?”
“Perhaps I could start sleeping 4 hours instead of 6! Ah, problem solved!” – not so simple folks.
That is only the tip of the iceburg, 4 hours is nowhere near enough sleep to function optimally from an energy and hormonal standpoint. But those who claim they’re sleeping “6 hours per night” are nearly always referring to 6 hours as – the total time spent in bed and not actually sleeping.
So in reality it’s cutting 5 hours into 3, maybe?
Either way just will not cut it!
This graph provides a good overview of a basic human sleep cycle. As is evident; sleep occurs in stages. Your body drifts in and out of lighter sleeping phases and deeper sleeping phases. Also, our typical 4 hour ‘sleeper’ will be spending minimal time in the deepest stages of sleep.
If we were to keep our 4 hour ‘sleeper’ asleep for an extra 2 hours, you can see they would spend a considerably greater period of time in a deeper stage of sleep. Add another 2 hours to that, and the time spent in a deeper phase of sleep almost triples in opposition to the originally insufficient 4 hours!
Human growth hormone (HGH) is only released in DEEP sleep – sleep that consists of 6 hours minimum
This is especially important for us regular gym attendees, because in order to maximise every possible benefit of your exercise program, you must get adequate amounts of sleep.
Human growth hormone plays a critical role in recovery and muscle repair, if you aren’t producing enough growth hormone, your muscles will not repair sufficiently and efficiently. Hence it’s so common to hear guys/girls complaining they aren’t “gaining muscle” or “losing fat” as they would like! They may be eating correctly and training smarter than nearly everyone, but if they aren’t keeping their eyes shut and head glued to the pillow for an absolute minimum of 6 hours, results will always be way under par.
You will never experience complete recovery from your training sessions if sleep is compromised!
Not to mention the hormonal effects of sleep deprivation, the stress hormone Cortisol will always be elevated in the presence of insufficient sleep. When cortisol is elevated, free radicals in the body are also elevated and testosterone will be depressed/suppressed.
Sleeping better naturally
Obviously in these financially strained times, our budgets are rather inflexible. There are some truly amazing and effective sleep aiding/enhancing supplements in existence, some are rather expensive and very much an unrealistic option for the financially restricted.
Besides, as I always advocate; start small and PROGRESS. This principle law applies to sleep also. Why start using super powerful sleep aids when you haven’t even managed to master natural sleep remedies? Remedies that will spare precious cash!
5 natural steps to a better nights sleep:
- Develop a schedule – Humans respond best to a regular and consistent schedule with regards to sleep. If you’re constantly attempting to sleep at random times, your body has no idea when to prepare for the transition towards sleep. Determine a sleep/bedtime that suits your lifestyle best and stick to it! Over time this newly allocated bedtime will be second nature to you and your body. This is optimising your natural circadian rhythm.
- Ensure maximal darkness – Our eyes and central nervous system are incredibly perceptive and responsive to light! Be it natural or artificial, exposure to light with the intention of sleep is a definite way to harm it’s quality. Make sure all lights are off and have been off for at least 30 minutes prior to your intended sleep time. Also, cell phones, Wi-Fi and all other media devices should be strictly OFF. Also, replacing thin and transparent curtains with darker, non-transparent alternatives will encourage superior sleep significantly! To take it a step further, consider investing in an eye mask. These are brilliant and not uncomfortable at all. They will also keep light to an absolute minimum for the duration you spend asleep.
- Reduce fluid intake as you near bedtime – This one is a HUGE factor in sleep quality and one I have learned the hard way with experience. Going to bed with a full bladder makes it practically impossible to remain in constant sleep for 6 hours or more. Your body may well want to sleep for the optimal amount, but your nervous system will detect a full bladder and thus wake you up to urinate. I have overcome this obstacle personally by simply eradicating all fluids within 3 hours of my intended bedtime. If you drink the CORRECT amount of water per day, dehydration will not be an issue! (Even more reason to stay hydrated throughout the day)
- No eating within a given time frame of your bedtime – If you’re aiming for a 11 pm bedtime, you should ensure you have finished all eating for the day by 9 pm – latest! Eating too close to bedtime will mean you are trying to sleep whilst insulin levels are elevated (In response to eating) – When Insulin is elevated, growth hormone is suppressed. We want the opposite of this scenario here. Insulin – down, Growth hormone – rising.
- Bringing down your body temperature – Just like the air temperature decreases as day becomes night, your body temperature is designed to decrease in sync with the day/night cycle. Reduce the air temperature in your home, more importantly ensure your room of sleep is cool, don’t have the heating too high and avoid thick, dense items of clothing. A personal favourite of mine is to take a cold shower. I know this isn’t for the faint-hearted, but I can claim with certainty: IT WORKS! Hot baths before bed (contrary to popular belief) aren’t a sleep enhancer, they can do the opposite!
Static stretching, meditation and reading can also help!
These are very non-stimulating activities. They are the opposites of activities involving media, electronics and light.
Less television, less Facebook, less mobile/cell phones = more sleep
More sleep = increased mood, increased health and ultimately: INCREASED LONGEVITY!
Next on the blog, I will share 5 amazing supplements that never fail to provide vastly improved sleep.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.