The Festive and New Year celebrations are over and corporate Zombie-ism is reborn. For many of us, ambitious goals have been set; but how much are you already holding yourself back from achieving your revolutionary goals for the year ahead? 233,892 hours, or 9746 days, or 320 months, or 27 years, that’s the amount of time you should be sleeping to manage expectations of living a healthy lifestyle of 80 years long. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
From circadian rhythms to growth hormones, REM sleep to melatonin, it can all be a bit confusing and maybe even a little bit dreamy; if anything it seems most people think it is easier to get less of sleep rather than earn more from it. But truly, sleep and adequate amounts of it have serious positive implications on your life and how you will wake up feeling about it. Sleep has an impact on mental well-being, libido, cognitive function/ability, ageing, obesity, energy stores, catabolic/anabolic bodily states (muscle tissue break down and building) and physiological function and recovery. Other impacts of sleep deprivation include increased cortisol levels (stress hormone), higher blood pressure, and higher risk of heart disease, just to name a few.
So what is going on in our bodies when we sleep? Well, daily cycles of wakefulness and sleep run on what’s called a circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle), which is regulated by our biological clock, which in turn is affected by environmental time cues such as light, temperature and social cues. The circadian rhythm typically exhibits a 24-hour cycle, but as discovered by the cave explorer Michel Siffre, this can be up to 48 hours in extreme cases.
Sleep can be broken down into two categories NREM and REM, and consists of 4 stages, each lasting 90 minutes. Stage 1 & 2 are your NREM sleep stages and can be described as a relaxed state, a time when your heart rate slows and temperature drops. Stages 3 & 4 refer to your slow-wave-sleep (SWS) this is when your metabolic rate is at its slowest and the growth hormone is produced. During each 90-minute cycle you progress through all 4 stages of the sleep cycle, peaking at REM. REM sleep (aka rapid-eye-movement) is paradoxical sleep and is when the brain and eyes are active but the body is paralyzed. This stage of sleep is most commonly thought of as the dream stage, although that is not strictly true.
So what can we actually do to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation and reap the benefits?
Get more sleep! Typically it is advised 7-9 hours sleep a night depending on the individual. Getting a full night of sleep ensures your body enjoys the complete cycles of sleep including REM sleep for brain growth and repair, and SWS for bodily growth and repair. The growth hormone secreted during SWS is not only important for growing kids; adults use much of this hormone and it is found to be closely linked to testosterone levels in men. The more adequate SWS the bigger those gains from Tribal!
Avoid technology and bright lights before bedtime. Thomas Edison did us all a favor, or did he? Melatonin is produced from the pineal gland (which is light sensitive), so when dim light or a lack of light occurs, melatonin is produced which induces sleep by inhibiting brain mechanisms that promote wakefulness.
Drink less alcohol. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, which is why you wake up feeling tired. REM deprivation.
Eat on time. Regular eating times are a social cue that impacts our internal clock. It can also be important to look at the glycemic index (GI) of the foods you eat before you sleep. High GI foods before bed can lead to a sharp spike in blood pressure – enough to have a restless night sleep!
If I was to give one more reason to get a good nights sleep, the Institute of Medicine estimates that 20% of car accidents in the USA result from drowsy driving, that’s roughly 1 million crashes a year! Find your true health today, and start making a good night's sleep a top priority!