If there’s one investment in your health that gives you the biggest bang for buck, it’s improving your sleep.
It’s always our approach with clients to snatch the low-hanging fruit first.
Get the simple, high impact basics right first, before you start fussing over macro breakdowns and what muscle groups to train on what days.
Changing your sleep if you’re not getting enough one of the most effective shifts you can make.
Get your sleep right, and you improve everything. Just changing this one pillar of your health has a huge flow-on effect for just about everything, from stress management, to productivity and even body composition.
Sleep is recovery.
Recovery is essential to muddle through the mental and physical exhaustion that we accrue during our extended workday. Sleep plays a vital role in our development and recovery.
So how much is enough sleep, and how do you get more of it?
The National sleep foundation recommends 7-9 hours sleep for adults up to 65 years old and 7-8 hours if you’re over 65.
Your overall night of sleep is made up of several sleep cycles consisting of four sleep stages. You may go through four to six sleep cycles on a typical night, with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes. Sleep cycles can vary each night for everyone.
Each stage is important for better physical health, physiological and cognitive function. By sorting and filtering memories, the sleep stages prepare the brain for learning new information the next day and cope with different experiences in the future.
Here’s a summary of what happens in each stage of sleep (and they’re ALL important)
This is the ‘dozing off’ stage, as the changes in your brain prepare you to fall asleep. You only spend 1-5 minutes in this stage.
Muscles relax and your body temperature drops, while brain activity, heart rate and breathing slow down in this stage. As the night unfolds, each sleep cycle has a longer stage 2. Almost half of the total sleep time is spent in stage 2.
Your body relaxes even more and you’re in deep sleep. During this phase, restoration and recovery occurs. Deep sleep is associated with creativity, insightful thinking and memory consolidation. Typically, deep sleep lasts for 20-40 minutes in a cycle and gets shorter in each cycle during the night.
Brain activity picks up almost as if you are awake. REM sleep is crucial for important cognitive functions such as memory building, creativity and learning. Vivid dreams are common during this phase. REM sleep makes up 25% of your total sleep time.
Good sleep helps you recover and re-energise
During the deep sleep phase is integral to repair, human growth hormone is released, and this is essential to adaptation and recovery at a cellular level. A good night’s sleep can also reduce your perception of exertion and fatigue the following day, so that you feel more energetic and productive.
Sleep makes you smarter and happier
A good, deep sleep also helps you consolidate any new skills and knowledge you acquire during the day. This helps your learning process and assists your brain to develop new pathways.
Quality sleep can help improve mental awareness and alertness, cognitive function, and mood. Every parent knows that a poor night’s sleep makes for a cranky kid the next day. Adults are no different! Good sleep is the ultimate mood booster and helps you cope emotionally with the ups and downs of daily life.
Sleep helps you train harder
An important benefit of the interactions between the physiological mechanisms that only happen while you sleep is enhanced training performance that helps you achieve goals like lift more, run faster and build endurance.
Sleep is protective against disease
Quality shut eye also promotes cardiovascular health via the breathing and heart rate changes observed as you progress through the stages of sleep. Additionally, the specialised immune markers called cytokines released while you sleep play an important role in fighting off infections and keeping you healthy.
On the flipside, lack of sleep and tossing and turning increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and other medical concerns. Poor sleep also has negative repercussions on cognition such as an impaired ability to focus and make safe decisions in your own best interest the following day.
Having a hard time falling asleep?
The body regulates sleep by two vital systems:the sleep-wake drive and circadian alerting system.
The sleep-wake drive is the balance between awake time and sleep time. In simple terms, the longer you’re awake, the more you feel the need to sleep.
Circadian rhythm is your body’s biological clock and is regulated by exposure to sunlight.
These complex processes are intricately managed by several parts of your brain including the hypothalamus, thalamus, pineal gland, amygdala, brain stem and cerebral cortex.
Your sleep can be influenced by a wide range of external factors such as light, noise, and temperature.
Try these sleep hygiene tips to help you sleep better
Make sleep your priority
Aim for a set bedtime and ensure you’re ready for bed around that time every night, including weekends. This means no more bedtime procrastination. Avoid time-sucking culprits like Netflix binges or instagram scrolling!
Build a routine and keep it consistent
Budget 20-30 minutes to wind-down. For example, you might brush your teeth, put on your PJs, pick up a book, listen to pre-bedtime music, and do some light stretching or meditation – anything that helps you calm down.
Put away the electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime to cut out blue light exposure. Blue light alters your circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin, a hormone that signals the brain to sleep.
Create a sleep environment
The ideal room temperature for sleep is cool yet comfortable. Dim the lights and close the curtains to block out street light. Make your bed a sanctuary by choosing a supportive and comfortable mattress and pillows, and indulge in quality bedding you love.
Get sunlight exposure
Spend some time outdoors. Sunlight exposure during the day, particularly before 10am, helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm that helps with sleep. Be sun-safe and pick a time when UV rays aren’t at their peak by avoiding exposure in the middle of the day.
Physical activity and nutrition
Regular exercise ensures good sleep. Reduce alcohol consumption and avoid large meals closer to bedtime. We also recommend you limit your coffees to before midday because an afternoon caffeine hit can also keep you up at night.
Aim for small changes as you incorporate these daily routines and habits to help you optimise your sleep quality.