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Getting quality sleep

Getting quality sleep
Getting the correct amount of quality sleep is very important to your health and well being. For those that workout, it’s also a much needed process to help you recover from those workouts.

On average you should be looking to get 8 hours of uninterrupted quality sleep each night. 7 hours may be acceptable, but 8 hours is better. Those that get less than 6 hours a night run the risk of suffering from various health issues.

When we go to sleep, our brain gradually starts to block information from getting through to it. This process can last up to an hour, after which we start to fall into a deeper sleep. This is also a gradual process, that starts with a short period when we can quickly awaken, followed by a light sleep period before getting to a deeper sleep.

During the night when we are asleep we go in and out of REM (rapid eye movement). When this happens we tend to dream more, move about more and can even have a faster pulse rate and breath faster. The REM period also gets longer as we sleep for longer periods. Unfortunately as we get older, our lighter sleep gets longer and deeper sleep get shorter. REM sleep has been shown to be a period that can help improve your mood, memory, your brain and even your body.

In this article I’ll cover some of the issues and reasons why you may not be getting that much needed rest and recovery that your body needs.

Benefits of getting quality sleep

Brain function – With a good night’s sleep your brain can become much more alert, be more susceptible to learning and improve your memory, improve your mood, be more motivated. These all help to reduce us making errors in judgement, keeping us safer in our daily activities.

Body repairs – When you sleep it is the period that allows your body to repair itself. Your body produces hormones that will help it heal itself, fight infections, reduce inflammation, grow muscles and replace dead cells.

Fat lose – Yes actually getting uninterrupted quality sleep can help with fat loss. With a good night’s sleep your body will produce more leptin and less ghrelin and helps also to metabolise and regulate glucose and insulin. See the article on hormones.

Improved physical performance – With less fatigue and a body repaired and recovered from previous physical activities, you can be certain to have improved physical abilities for your next workout.

General health –  Getting good quality sleep helps the body reduce stress, lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol levels,  guard against diabetes and fight heart disease.

Issues that can arise from a lack of quality sleep

Brain function – With a lack of quality sleep, you can become irritable, tired, stressed and moody, all of which can lead to being in a depressed state, which creates more of the same. You can also become less focused, have impaired memory, lack concentration, make bad decisions and be easily distracted.

Weight gain – This can happen as the body produces more ghrelin (hunger inducing hormone) and less leptin (fat burning hormone) due to a lack of sleep. It also disrupts the metabolism of glucose and insulin. Your body suffers from stress and your appetite increases.

Diabetes – There can be an increased chance of suffering from diabetes. This can occur due to the body not being able to regulate the glucose it has. With a lack of sleep the body may process the glucose too slowly.

Heart – A lack of sleep can increase your resting heart rate and also increase your blood pressure.

Reduced physical performance – With your body not able to fully repair or recover or refresh itself, you can suffer from loss of coordination, increased heart rate and have reduced aerobic and anaerobic performance.

Things that can stop you getting quality sleep and what you can do to avoid them.

Active mind – This is a common issue for many of us and a cause for some nights of insomnia. You go to bed and your mind starts to think of all kinds of stuff. The problem is now you are not actively occupying your mind, it now has the time to think about the things that have been either worrying you or on your mind. Plus the worry can create the stress hormone cortisol and keep you alert. Relax –  try to relax before bedtime. Avoid conflict and stress before bedtime (or anytime for that matter). Avoid emotional or thought provoking thinking/talking before bedtime and stop browsing the internet/watching TV or using electronic devices. Listen to calm music or read a book instead. Try meditation or a warm bath.

Sleep Apnea – This is where your airways can become blocked, your breath pauses or becomes shallow. This will disrupt your deep sleep cycle and reduce quality sleep. This mostly affects those that are overweight, but almost anyone can suffer this. Seek medical advice if you know or suspect this is happening to you.

Snoring – This is usually caused by the airways becoming relaxed and then narrowing. The tongue, throat or nose airways then vibrate, disrupting your sleep. If you smoke, are overweight or drink alcohol, you increase your chances of snoring. Try not sleeping on your back, look at nasal strips and if necessary seek medical advice if it becomes very disruptive to your sleeping and health.

Evening meal – Eating too much before going to bed can give you indigestion, making it difficult to sleep.

Alcohol – Despite the fact that some people fall asleep after drinking alcohol, it can quickly go from relaxing you to stimulating you, causing a disrupted sleep pattern.

Coffee – Simply, it is a stimulant and should be avoided for up to 6 hours before going to bed.

Sugar – Foods and drinks high in sugar can play havoc with your blood sugar levels, eliminate those that can stimulate your brain and those that give you an energy boost at least 3-5 hours before going to bed.

Drinking too much – Being hydrated is great, but don’t overdo it before bedtime, as it will have you waking up in the middle of the night, having you go to the toilet.

Smoking – Not only just plain bad for you anyway, smoking is a stimulant and therefore should be avoided a number of hours before going to bed.

Noise – Sleeping with anything other than a quiet environment can keep you awake. Try to eliminate all noise at bed time or find comfortable ear plugs.

Light – Same as noise, ensure you are sleeping in the dark, as your body recognises evening darkness as the time to sleep and recover. Try to get as much natural light in your life during the day and in the evening if you have bright street lights outside your house, get better curtains or blinds/shades or wear an eye mask.

Body temperature – Going to bed too hot or two cold can keep you awake. More so with being too hot, as the body needs to reduce the bodies core when asleep. Get the temperature right with the correct bed wear/linen. Open a window if necessary, the fresh air is good for you anyway.

Your bed – An uncomfortable bed can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Buy a bed that is supportive, but comfortable.

Naps – Some people who take long regular naps during the day can find it difficult to fall asleep at night. If you do need to take a nap, the earlier the better.

No routine – Your body gets use to a routine with its body clock. It recognises the time to be awake and when to sleep. It produces the right hormones for us. Getting into a routine will set you up for better quality sleep. Have a routine – your body has a body clock and it likes to try to keep a regular schedule. Therefore if you have a routine, it can prepare itself for your daily activities, which includes going to bed at around the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day. I wake up and go to bed at around the same time 7 days a week, yes even on a Sunday!

Exercise – Exercising too late can stop you going to sleep, as the body can produce the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you alert. However exercise can help you get good quality sleep, provided that you exercise in the late morning/early afternoon.

Waking up – If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, get up and do a relaxing activity for 20 minutes or so. I suggest listening to calm music. Keep the lights down low also.

Sleeping position – Being physically comfortable in bed can be beyond your own control, as your body likes to often move around and leave you in an awkward sleeping position. However if you can get into a good sleeping position from the start you may increase your chances of a good night’s sleep. The best position for you to sleep in will often be dictated by your weight and/or what you find most physically comfortable. There is however no one way is best. I’ll look to cover this in a separate article in the future.

Other – Of course there are many more things that can keep you awake. Many are beyond our immediate control and require either medication or time to remedy, such as an injury, coughs, colds, sore throats and numerous health issues that I can’t cover here. All these will require you to be patient and/or seek proper medical advice where necessary.

Bottom line

Getting quality sleep is much more important than most will realise. The health issues that can arise from not getting this sleep and the benefits that come from quality sleep can make huge changes to your life. In some cases it is more important than your diet and workout program, don’t underestimate the effects of making changes to your sleep routine.

If you still can’t get proper quality sleep – make an appointment with your doctor.

I’ll be expanding on some of the above in later articles, so stay tuned for more to come on helping you get better quality sleep.