It’s no secret that we all feel better after a good night of sleep. We think more clearly, are more likely to greet the day with a smile (for which your family and co-workers will Thank you!), and are less likely to indulge in caffeine as a substitute for the real energy we’re missing. (Insert swift ninja kick to 5-hour Energy drink here!)
What I find most interesting, however, is that our culture is vastly under-educated about almost all things sleep-related. Aside from hearing over and over that you should get 8 hours of sleep (and drink 8, 8 oz glasses of water…what is it with the “8’s” anyway?), I’d venture to say the majority of people don’t truly appreciate Why it’s so important to get this precious sleep, let alone How to go about actually setting yourself up for sleepy success!
It has been my observation that sleep is viewed as one of The Expendables (visualize “Syndrome” the evil villain against The Incredibles!). “Syndrome” is exactly what you’ll end up with too, a whole list of ’em, if you allow sleep to be an Expendable in your life over the long haul.
Sleep is where our bodies heal and recover. Yes, this could be recovery from a hard workout, but more than that it’s recovery from day-to-day life. The longer we are awake the more toxins build up in each and every cell. This is why we feel “run-down”, “groggy” “fuzzy headed”…we are literally becoming a toxic soup inside and when you feel this way, it is your body sending signals that Rest is needed, STAT!
Just like most people don’t realize we burn a lot of calories simply carrying out basic daily functions involved in being alive (this is your basal metabolic rate), all of these functions produce waste by-products that need to be cleared out, which only effectively happens when we get sleep in both the quantity and quality the body requires. This necessary amount will vary between individuals, but notice I said the amount which “the BODY requires”. This tends to be vastly different from the amount we “think we can get by on”. If you’re truly OK with “just getting by” then I doubt you’re still following my blog! My passion lies is Optimizing how we feel and function so that we can truly enjoy our time in this life! Most people have no idea how much better they can feel because they’ve just “gotten by” for So Long.
As a Fitness Professional for the past 8 years, I’ve always worked the “early shift”, which means I start work anywhere from 5-6 am. I’ve always strived to “walk the talk”; partly because I value my own health and well-being, but also because I don’t know why anyone would trust me over the long haul if I didn’t take my own advice. I’d better have set a good example by caring enough about my clients and those I’m interacting with, to show up well-rested and ready to be attentive to their needs, not to mention caring enough about how I feel to enjoy my day and be productive, knowing I brought my best self!
So what does my sleep reality look like? My alarm (2 in fact!) will go off @3:00 AM. YES, you read that correctly. (If I had a dime for every time I was asked what takes me 2 hours to get ready in the morning…let’s just say this is the amount of time I need to show up at work for an entire day ready to go! Good breakfast eaten, meals for the rest of the day with me, along with plenty of water, and any other supplies I need for the day, as I don’t live close enough to run back home, and looking and feeling Alert!) I used to think getting in to bed 8 hours before the time the alarm was set for, meant I would get 8 hours of sleep. I have learned this is absolutely NOT the case!
I began wearing a device last fall called an Exerspy by DotFit (www.dotfit.com). Along with hourly tracking of calories expended, activity intensity, and steps, it also tracks sleep efficiency. You get to see this nifty graph showing what time you actually fell asleep, how much time you really slept, when you were just lying there, etc. I learned that even though I’m a pretty efficient sleeper most nights (90+%) that still puts me at getting 30-60 min. less sleep than the amount of time I spent in bed. This was SO eye-opening for me! (no pun intended ;)) No wonder I had trouble staying awake and often had a headache! I truly thought I was getting “enough” sleep, but my body was telling me otherwise; I just didn’t quite know how to listen.
Armed with this info., I finally had the motivation I needed to get serious about rearranging my day to get into bed an hour earlier! I’d wanted to do this for a long time, but it always felt Impossible. I was already struggling with so much “to-do” (and this did Not include down time or watching TV, but being busy right up until “bed time”) that I barely made it to bed by 7 pm most nights. I did not know How I was going to make 6 pm a reality, but I knew it wasn’t OK to keep falling asleep during the day (and especially not while driving!!) and generally feeling run down. I was learning that my body needed more sleep than it was getting, plain and simple.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. As the saying goes, I did make it happen and I’ve remained committed to this for approx. 9 months now. I am better able to recognize when I don’t get enough sleep and what it feels like when I do. I am finding my life-long struggle with sleepiness while driving is improving (this is one of my major motivators! Talk about dangerous…) I also understand that every day is a new day and sometimes I need more sleep than other days. I’ve been fascinated with optimizing sleep for a long time. I read an interesting book I read a few months ago called “Lights Out”. It’s a bit of an intense book, but I’ll sum up some valuable take away points:
- We need complete darkness for quality sleep. This means covering up or removing all light sources; alarm clocks, TV, computer, etc. A few years back we made the very smart purchase of a black out shade from Home Depot. Going to bed when the sun is still up means there is a lot of light that needs blocked out! I now also cover my alarm clock and do not have a TV or computer in the bedroom.
- We produce important, fat-burning (and muscle preserving) hormones when we sleep. If you’ve dialed in your nutrition, exercise and attitude, but are still struggling to see the physique results, you are likely Not getting enough quality and/or quantity of sleep.
- When we are under-rested, our body needs energy. What’s the quickest source of energy? Carbohydrates. And it isn’t likely you’ll be craving broccoli either. You’re body will send out the APB for quick energy, usually in the form of candy, bread, pastries, insert unhealthy choice here. You may beat yourself up for lack of “will-power” when in reality you are battling nature. Increase your sleep and you increase your ability to pass up the foods you know have no business being in a healthy body.
- All sorts of other serious health issues can be linked to chronic lack of sleep. Remember, sleep = repair. If your body continually is deprived of repair, it will eventually break down.
Now that you can no longer claim to be uneducated about the critical importance of sleep, it’s time to schedule sleep just like you would any other important activity or appointment. Develop your own personal sleep plan and adjust as needed! Use your journal (https://af4u.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/the-holy-grail-of-fat-loss/) and keep notes to learn more about how you feel and function as your sleep varies. Engage in daily prevention by sleeping with intention!
To Your Best Health!