Sleep is something that we can all easily set aside for more “important” things. The famous saying, “I can sleep when I’m dead” is a good example of how little we value sleep. Whether you’re a mom of littles or a successful entrepreneur, we stay busy! We run on fumes and caffeine to get things done. It’s almost a badge of honor to push through, stay busy, and work more than sleep. However, we are sacrificing sleep to the detriment of our health and wellness. Let’s learn about the importance of sleep in this blog.
It’s easy to set aside because it seems small in the moment, but our chronic lack of sleep is a health hazard. 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough quality sleep to protect their health. That’s about 84 million people!
If you’re specifically working on fat loss or muscle gain goals, sleep is a critical component. Let’s look at the importance of sleep for your health goals as well as tips on how to get better sleep.
The Benefits of Sleep
Nutrition is important for getting vital nutrients into the body for energy and proper bodily functions. Exercise is key in reducing stress, keeping up cardiovascular health, as well as maintaining muscle health. The need for sleep is not replaced by either of those two. Sleep recharges both physical and physiological batteries.
While you rest your immune system actually works just as hard as it does during your waking hours. During this time, Human Growth Hormones (HGH) are most efficiently released. Because of this, the amount of sleep you get also contributes to how often you get sick. The less you sleep, the less time you give your immune system to work at its optimum level, and the greater your risk of contracting an illness. Higher rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s are all issues associated with sleep deprivation.
As you’ll read below, the importance of sleep can be tied to not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Sleep deprivation not only affects our bodies physically- but our will power is down in all areas. It is much harder to resist the urge to eat junk food when we’re tired because the body is looking for ways to recover. Cravings for unhealthy foods are stronger when we’re tired. It’s also much harder for the brain to process emotions and stress when we are sleep deprived. Motivation is down, so you’re less likely to go to the gym or be productive. Sleep is very important for a healthy, productive life.
Physical Benefits of Sleep
- Sleep is the time that HGH is most efficiently released throughout the body.
HGH keeps us young. It’s literally a “youth” hormone. The more your body can release it, the younger you look, and the better your body can recover. You’ll notice major differences in fat loss and muscle gain when HGH is efficient throughout your body.
- Our bodies’ learn “muscle memory” during sleep.
This is important for athletes or for anyone with a performance-based career. When you’re learning a new skill, your brain will “practice” that skill over and over during one of the sleep cycles. But if you’re not getting quality sleep, you will never enter that sleep cycle, therefore making it harder to learn and perform that skill.
- People that get quality sleep recover better and faster from workouts.
If your muscle doesn’t have time to rest and recover, it will never get stronger or leaner. For people that are constantly trying to get leaner or stronger, sleep is an easily controlled variable that needs to be prioritized.
Mental Benefits of Sleep
- Sleep is when our memories are physically made.
Sleep allows our bodies to store memories. According to Harvard sleep professors, slow wave sleep (SWS) is a deep, restorative sleep cycle that collects information from the day and consolidates this info into memories, and stores it in the brain.
- Higher GPAs are also associated with better sleep quality.
This comes from the sleep cycle where we learn “muscle memory.” If you’re getting quality sleep and entering REM, your brain can take the information you learn and commit it to memory.
- Your REM sleep helps with emotional regulation so it can help with being resilient to extreme life events.
Quality of sleep has been tied to reducing depression and increasing quality of life. People that have reported a high level of quality sleep have shown to be much happier in all areas of life.
How to Get Better Sleep.
Now that you know the importance of sleep, here are three tips to help you get longer and better quality sleep.
- Establish a routine and stick with it.
Consistency is key with this one – as it is with most things. Set a bedtime (and keep it!) Treat your bedtime like it’s your job. Establishing a routine will help reset your circadian rhythms so that you start getting tired as the sun goes down and can wake up naturally as the sun comes up. Screen time is a huge contributor to sleep problems because the light from the phone or tv tells your body it’s time to wake up. It throws your circadian rhythm off. When you do try and fall asleep, it’s very hard for the body to start moving into the proper sleep cycles. Stop looking at screens (phone included) 20 minutes before bed. Find something that helps you “chill” and mentally slow down, like reading a book or practicing relaxation techniques. Stressful things like doing work, discussing emotional issues, and looking at screens cause the body to release cortisol (the stress hormone!) which increases awakeness because the body thinks it needs to be alert for the risky situation.
- Make sure you’re in a good sleep environment.
A good sleep environment can make the body feel safe, therefore allowing it to get into those really deep sleep cycles. Light is a powerful tool that tells the body it’s time to wake up, so use those black-out curtains. Keep the room as dark as possible. A cool room also helps with quality sleep. If the room is too warm, you’ll toss and turn all night.
- Avoid chemicals that interfere with sleep.
People that are sensitive to caffeine know they have a cut-off time, or they won’t sleep at all. However, for the people that are “used” to caffeine, or think that it doesn’t bother their sleep- that’s not actually true. You may be able to fall asleep, but high amounts of caffeine can interfere with the quality of your sleep. The same goes for alcohol. Most of the time alcohol can make you sleepy, but it still interferes with sleep. It often acts as a stimulant after a few hours causing you to wake up several times. You won’t enter those deep cycles that are so important for proper recovery.
The next time you’re tempted to skip sleep to get something done- don’t! Your long-term health is relying on you getting good quality sleep regularly. Acknowledge the importance of sleep today and do the right things to get enough and quality sleep.
If you want more guidance on nutrition and what you need to do to manage your health, email Jalpa to set up a consultation!
Jalpa is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Health & Nutrition from Brooklyn College, CUNY in New York. She also holds a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management through the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, CDR.