Article written by Blocker Walsh - 17/7/14
It seems obvious that sleep is important, but often we wear our lack of sleep with a badge of honour. I want to emphasise that there is nothing with greater health benefits than sleep.
From now on you are going to prioritise your sleep quality. Aim for 7-8 hours per night, you will become more productive, more effective, more engaging and overall just happier.
Don’t just believe me, check out all these famous people that sleep.
Famous people who sleep
Sleep helps us to recover from training, consolidate memory and reduces the other negative health effects that come about in its absence. We now need to evaluate how we can support the on set mechanisms for quality sleep.
Sleep occurs in 5 stages. Non-rapid eye movement from stage 1-4 and rapid eye movement in stage 5. Most of our time is spent in stages 1-4, where we move from a light sleep (stages 1-2) where most memory consolidation occurs, into a deep sleep (stages 3-4) where physical recovery occurs through elevated hormone release.
Stage 5 REM sleep is where dreaming occurs and is characterised by paralysis, rapid eye movement and brain activity similar to be being awake. Have you ever had a dream where you cannot get away? That is actually the case, paralysis is a protection mechanism to prevent self harm.
Achieving less than a “desirable sleep” will result in an acute onset of insulin resistance, which is the mechanism for fat storage. Your body will also burn less energy, elevate cortisol and release more oxidative compounds which is the mechanism for ageing through DNA damage.
Stored body fat increases leptin levels causing leptin resistance, this has the ironic effect of increased hunger.
There are many circadian cycles, driven by light and darkness (lack of light) in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the anterior hypothalamus. Two important cycles for us are the sleep - awake cycle and the cortisol cycle.
The feeling of being sleepy, is different to physical tiredness. The sleepy feeling is cause by the sleep hormone melatonin, which is released by the SNC in the absence of light.
Cortisol is the stress hormone, giving us our ‘fight or flight’ response. Cortisol peaks at around 9am, in preparation for fighting, running etc. it then drops away during the afternoon and evening where it falls to it’s lowest point at around 2am.
Cortisol has the effect of preventing recovery of the body, instead it wants to mobilise all our energy for quick release to flee or to kill.
Consider the scenario when you are sitting down at work and your boss comes over; increased heart rate, breathing, sharpening of senses. This is cortisol working, which is a good thing.
Stress, sleep deprivation and exercise all increase cortisol, when we are unable to reduce/clear cortisol over the day we develop what is often referred to as chronic stress.
Supporting optimum sleep
Quality, to a point is more important than quantity. If you have a tight schedule, it is intuitive that you would do the little things well, to ensure you get the most benefit from your day. With a few minor adjustments, you can hack your way to perfect sleep and a happier, more productive day.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone, without it you may find yourself lying in bed, feeling tired but not falling to sleep. We need to do everything we can to support melatonin synthesis, in order to fall asleep at an appropriate time.
Magnesium - get your magnesium from 4-5 handfuls of dark green vegetables during the day
Vitamin D - Get out in the sun with as little clothing as possible and without sunglasses 30 minutes each day or supplement with Vitamin D3 4000-6000 IU.
Darkness - Completely darken your room, no blinking lights, no alarm clock lights. Avoid television, computer, laptop or phone screen at least 1 hour before going to bed.
Cortisol is meant to peak and fade away during the day, cortisol is driven by stress, so chill out. There are many ways to relax, find what calms you down and do it everyday.
Caffeine - No caffeine after 12pm
Chill out - Start deliberately winding down at 6pm, move slower, talk slower
Do NOT check your emails - Such a bad idea, don’t do it!!!!
Smile - It’s been proven to lower stress, worst case stick a pen in your mouth sideways
Nooo sleep drugs - It turns out pharmaceuticals do not support the sleep cycle and only put you into a state of unconsciousness, no benefits are obtained. See for yourself on the sleep cycle app.
Other proven methods of stress relief
Track your sleep
Wake up feeling more refreshed.
Get the hard data, find out if you’re actually sleeping.
Discover what helps and what hinders your sleep.
Coming next week...
Part 2 - Hack your sleep
Blocker 'Brendon' Walsh
Co-owner & Director at CrossFit Creature and CrossFit Scorch