The Importance of Sleep

Posted on: 10/08/2020

Your probably thinking, is this for real.  Reading a blog about the importance of sleep sounds like the kind of content that will help put you to sleep.  Well, I have tried to keep this to the point as much as possible to avoid you closing down on me.

Many of us have had to adapt our lives through the recent pandemic which resulted in national lockdown in the UK.  This provided many of us the opportunity to reset our bodies mentally and physically due to being kicked off that hamster wheel of life.  For the majority this meant no alarm calls first thing, no commute to our place of work and an opportunity for us not to be driven by our fast-moving lives.  It simply gave us time that would normally be spent elsewhere.  One area which this time would have benefited for so many of us was the amount of time we could dedicate to sleep.

Do we respect sleep, and do we know how important it is to our health?  I am not sure we really do, and only more recently have I given sleep the respect it needs.  I read a book called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker in the Summer of 2018 and it really highlighted to me that despite how healthy I lived my life, I never considered how much sleep I actually need to ensure I maximise my approach to healthy living.  My mindset was, if I am eating healthy and training most days then I can get away with minimal sleep.

It is proven that there is an increased risk to our health for people if they are getting insufficient sleep.

Health Consequences of Poor Sleep

Science already tells us that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. When the body is well rested, the body performs optimally. On the flip side, when the body is poorly rested, performance plummets. Individuals who suffer from chronic lack or poor quality of sleep are likely to experience decreased brain function, hormonal imbalances, increased risk of heart disease, abnormal growth and development (seen in children and teens), decreased productivity and performance, fertility issues, poor immune and insulin responses, and an increased risk of being involved in a car accident.

In summary, sleep plays a crucial role in the repair and maintenance of the human body. Unfortunately, a significant number of people do not get the amount of sleep necessary to support a healthy body and mind.

What Happens During Sleep

A state of sleep may seem, on the surface, to be a quiet and tranquil experience. But your body is working hard to repair, recover, build, strengthen, grow and defend. It is during the time spent sleeping that the “real” work of progress begins and ends. Sleep is a productive process even if you are not moving or interacting.

While you rest, the body begins its work. Like a factory, several processes occur all at once and involve multiple systems. For example:

  • The brain “cleanses down.” Cerebral spinal fluid flushes through the brain, cleaning out waste products from cells.
  • Breathing and heart rates slow and blood pressure decreases.
  • Hormones are released that aid in repairing tissues

It makes sense that if the body is chronically under-rested, these valuable and necessary processes are disrupted. The body then cannot adequately repair tissues and blood vessels, produce and release hormones efficiently, or remove waste. If sleep suffers, there are systemic effects.

Downward Spiral to Poor Health

When the body is sleep deprived, the brain craves food (and usually not the healthiest varieties). The hormones responsible for regulating hunger and satiety become unbalanced. Consequently, calorie intake increases, and calorie expenditure decreases due to lack of motivation from mental and physical fatigue. This eventually leads to weight gain.

Further, poor sleep results in higher-than-normal blood-sugar levels because a tired body is unable to effectively respond to insulin. If poor sleep is chronic, the development of metabolic disorders is inevitable.

How to Improve Sleep Fitness

I am certainly no expert in sleep and how to overcome the challenges but the below can surely only help:

  • Remove (or turn off) all electronics and cover the alarm clock an hour before bed. Make the room as dark as possible
  • Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature
  • Evaluate the noise level

There are also several behavioural tricks you can employ to improve sleep:

  • Develop a routine: If you do not have a bedtime routine, establish one for you and your family (routine is crucial for me as we have 4 children). Incorporate relaxing activities (meditate, read a book, listen to calming music)
  • Reduce caffeine intake as the day grows long
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant that has sedative-like effects; however, it also causes an individual to wake frequently during the night. Limit your intake of alcoholic intake before bed or late in the evening.

Check out my lockdown podcast with Ed Draper where we spoke about the importance of sleep and how the recent national lockdown provided us an opportunity to reset our bodies. You can access this via the home page on my website.