I have about 17 minutes to draft this post before it is my sleepy time. I get up at 6 am every day during the week, and I would lie in bed at 10 pm sharp with my book open, yawning like a crocodile no matter what is going on in the outside world. Hitting the “zzzs” seven to eight hours before it’s time to wake up again is question of life and death for me. If I follow this simple rule, I wake up energized for the day full of activities. I am alert from the moment I open my eyes, in great mood and way more efficient. I just wonder, why I only figured it out about four months ago.
You can find articles about the importance of sleep everywhere from health and beauty magazines to your doctor’s waiting room. You can “see” the importance of sleep every morning on the way to work in a bus full of walking zombies. Our sleep deprived world is yelling at us the health benefits of sleep, yet most of us not only do not get enough sleep, but we feel and we may be even perceived by others as lazy people, whenever we sleep in and feel fresh in the morning. How many times have you heard or thought that you don’t have time to sleep? When we sleep enough, our energy level and efficiency throughout the day is so high, that we can afford devoting those extra two hours at night to sleeping rather than working or playing, because we have already managed our “work” and “play” during the day. Doesn’t it make sense? Let’s take a look at the most important arguments in favor of sleep.
1. Muscle recovery
Our diet may be perfect and our training well structured. We may feel great and strong and powerful. Almost like the Incredible Hulk. Sleeping 5 hours a day, managing work, gym, family, friends, we feel like machines with endless energy. And then it happens. All of a sudden, we can’t lift the same weight as usually, we feel slow, weak or both. Body is sorer than usually morning after training. Joints start hurting, bunch of small injuries happen. What is wrong? Lack of sleep!
Our bodies desperately need night time for recovery. Especially those who train hard have to be aware of how much sleep is important for muscle recovery. I was amazed by the increase of performance after I started sleeping 7-8 hours a night rather than 5-6. My “little” issues disappeared like they never existed – pain in knees when squatting or jumping, sudden weakness in wrists when carrying heavier weights, neck pain, cramps. Not to mention headaches! Sometimes I have to laugh at people who start taking tons of pre-workout energy boosters and post-workout growth pills, quick recovery supplements, protect their joints with different compression bandages, simply do everything to enhance their performance and protect their bodies, but end up boycotting the one and most important thing – sleep.
2. Fat loss booster
In my “sleepless” time it was hard for me to believe that by sleeping enough I can lose fat. If my diet was balanced and I had enough physical activities, I lifted and jumped and walked and played, it then I must be losing fat anyways, right? I was. Up until the last 5 kilos that I couldn’t knock down no matter what I was doing. I reviewed my diet, my training, my overall lifestyle and found nothing particularly wrong. And then when the next morning loud alarm dragged me from my cosy bed , headache on, another tired day ahead, I finally felt enlightened. I ran to turn on my laptop and check with Mark Sisson on Marks Daily Apple. It was right there, but “being a machine” and skipping sleep that I considered an activity for lazy people, I did not pay attention to all these articles and clearly not even to my sleep deprived body.
There is a lot of science behind sleep and fat loss, and it is worth several posts to exhaust the whole lot of arguments on sleep for fat lost. Your body functions are disturbed, when you don’t get enough sleep, which causes a chain of dysfunctions leading to chubby booty. I will not get into this in this post, but I will explain a very simple pattern that occurs, when boycotting sleep, for which you don’t need any scientific arguments. We can observe it very clearly anytime we fail to get in enough hours in bed.
When you wake up tired, your body will seek the lost energy elsewhere – in food. I don’t think I need to point out that it will not be fresh lettuce that you will crave. Carbs. Loads of them. As day goes and you are more and more tired, you will most probably end up with a big dinner and something sweet afterwards, maybe a glass or two (or three) to unwind in front of TV. Finally, you hit the bed and… due to too much sugar (and alcohol) in your blood and/or full stomach and exposure to blue light, the desired quality sleep your body is longing for will not fill the few hours you have left before the alarm goes off. Next morning you wake up tired again, carb cravings, insulin levels jumping up and down, cortisol (stress hormone) spiked artificially with coffee, you feel like you were being beaten by a stick all night long. Welcome on the roller-coaster. It certainly doesn’t sound like a fat loss plan.
Weak immune system and tendency to sickness is another result of lack of sleep. When we deprive our bodies of sleep, yet require maintaining the same (high) level of physical and mental activity, one day the energy levels hit the reserves and body rejects to cooperate. We simply shut down and recovery from a simple cold that would normally take couple of days can last way longer and develop into something even nastier. Similarly to muscle recovery, this is about the overall recovery of all our body functions and protective agents. Allow yourself a daily holidays in dreamland and you will never miss a day due to sweating in bed with flu or dying in the office finishing a super important assignment with fever. You will also become way more resistant to weather changes, to environmental and food changes (distant cultures traveler, anyone?) and to stressors in general.
4. Beauty sleep
Not much explanation is needed here. We are certainly more pretty or handsome after a night of long sweet sleep. No black circles around the eyes, no grayish skin, bright eyes. While we rest, our bodies are working, cleansing, recovering, resetting. Have you ever thought of a reason for the existence of night creams? At night our skin excludes all the “dirt” that was collected during the day through exposure to the outside environment, oxidants in your meals and other bad guys. Do not use antiperspirants before sleep. There is lots of stuff that needs to get out of your body at night. Let it sweat out. Your skin opens at night and soaks up more nutrients than during the day. Hence the use of night creams that are thicker and richer than day creams. The simple fact of no activity, no grimaces, smog and dry office air for several hours is healing enough for our skin.
Is it just about squeezing the 7-8 hours in?
The hour count is the most important step to start with; however, we can enhance the quality of sleep by a few simple tricks that will send us the sweetest dreams.
- Sleep in a dark room. Pitch dark room with no lights is the best what you can get. Your body is very sensitive to light at night. Light activates the “day-time” agents and does not allow for restful sleep. Particularly blue light coming from computer screens, chargers and phones is quite evil. Get thick curtains, cover all the little diodes shining in your room, or ideally avoid having electronics in your room (a dream for us living in studios with all in one little matchbox-size room). If for some reason you cannot cover the windows well, or you are spending lots of time in hotel rooms, get yourself sleeping mask. It’s better than nothing.
- Silence. Self explanatory, isn’t it? My obsession are electronic devices that make high pitch tone that we don’t perceive during the day. It’s not always possible to avoid, but if you have the chance, go for it. Noise sucks out more energy out of us than we can imagine.
- Blue light exposure. Try not to expose yourself to blue light before sleep. Find a “pre-sleep” activity such as reading a novel, resting in a bubbly bath, listening to calming music or relaxing yoga/stretching session. Dim the lights and use only yellow light rather than blue and white. Your body will get the sign and start preparing to sleep.
- Bed is for sleeping. And for reading books and having sex. Not for working, eating, watching TV or arguing. Make sure that your bed is sanctuary of sleep and relaxation. Avoiding stress related activities and activities that are supposed to happen elsewhere will help you subconsciously feel calmer in bed, fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Having a fairly serious sleeping issues in the past, I also learned a few other tricks that can help you especially in the initial period of resetting your body from a nocturnal creature to an “early-in bed, early-morning” person. Herbal teas and magnesium supplements are the secret. Herbal infusions for better sleep are sold everywhere, just test a few and pick your favorite combination. As for magnesium, I started using magnesium supplements to avoid night cramps in my calves. It has a relaxing effect on muscles and some people may feel drowsy after taking it, it is also relaxing the nervous system. I usually take my supplements in the morning, but this one is my “good night friend”. No cramps, relaxed sleep. Perfection.
When to chase your eight hours?
I want to emphasize the good old rule my mom used to teach me – the time you sleep before midnight counts twice. Go to bed early. It’s more than worth it.
If you for any reason can’t manage to sleep enough during the night, there is still napping. I find power naps amazing and super refreshing. If you have enough quality sleep at night, you probably won’t need them. They might not be even feasible for most of who have to be alert in the office and meetings morning to evening. Yet, whenever I have a chance and feel like taking a short nap of 20-30 minutes, I am delighted to do so.
During my university studies, when preparing for exams and literally lying in papers, books and assignments from early morning to late night, I would take 20 minute breaks to either nap, have a quick interval workout or run a few laps in the park behind my dorm. It worked magic. Most of us have problems to get up after just 20 minutes. I feel you people. I find this little trick quite useful – take a nap lying straight on your back. After about 20 minutes you become uncomfortable in this position and will want to turn. That wakes you up and reminds you it’s time… (It’s still good to set your alarm, in case you become too comfy on your back). It is also the most basic yoga pose, so there must be something about it, right?
I hope you will have the sweetest dreams tonight and wake up in the new day fully charged to live it loud!