Sleep, the Most Underrated Aspect of Our Health

One of the most underrated aspects of our health, is sleep!  I would probably argue that  out of our FOUR PILLARS, it is the most important to live a healthy, long life.

When we sleep we put our body into an anabolic (building or fixing) state.  This is the time when our body builds back up our immune, skeletal and muscular systems while “resetting” many of our hormones.  Sleep is going to lower your stress and increase your physical energy…without sleep, you will never have the body and life you want to have.  Lack of sleep can effect our decision making ability…sleep deprivation leads to reduced glucose reaching the brain, this means our cognitive function is lowered and is another reason why we are craving those carbs when we are tired.  Sleep also resets two hormones in our body, leptin and ghrelin.  Leptin helps to suppress our appetite and ghrelin is the hormone that increases our appetite.  Poor sleep causes leptin levels to lower and ghrelin levels to rise, making us feel more hungry than our body actually is.

Here are a few facts from Neuroscientist and Director of Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkley, Matthew Walker.

  • MEN who sleep 5-6 hours nightly have the testosterone levels of men ten years their senior.  That goes for 99.9% of men…sorry, I doubt you are the .01%…get to sleep!
  • All humans need a MINIMUM of 7 hours of sleep nightly, most require 8-9 hours
  • If you are dieting (calorie deficit) while exercising, up to 70% of your weight loss can be from muscle, if you are not getting enough sleep.

Sleeping, breathing and running…we all do these things, but most do them poorly.  Sleeping right takes practice, that sounds stupid if you say it out loud but you have to train your body if you want to get good at it.  At almost anytime of the day I can lay down and fall asleep in less than five minutes…no problem.  This wasn’t always the case though.  Up until I was in my late 20’s, I SUCKED at sleeping.  Watching TV late into the night with a couple nightcaps might have been the culprit, but I don’t like pointing fingers.  🙂  I don’t remember what exactly trigger it, but I made it my mission to get better at sleeping.  Below are a bunch of tips for better sleep…some obvious, others might be new to you.  I have utilized many of these things to make myself into a great sleeper…these don’t take into consideration my 6 and 7 year old that sometimes throw these out the window.  🙂

  • SHUT OFF THE TV!!!  Actually, try to avoid all screens starting 90 minutes before bed…30 minutes for sure.  The different colors emitted by our tv’s and phone’s trick the brain into not feeling tired.
  • Okay, I shut off my tv now what the heck do you want me to do?  Well, WAY back in time of the horse and buggy, there were things called….books!  Pick up one of these bad boys and start to nourish your brain.  20-30 minutes of reading will help to relax that big brain of yours and you will be ready for bed.  Try not to read anything that is going to get your mind racing…politics, economy, work related, boy band biography’s, etc…
  • Routine – Sorry, “catching up” on sleep is false, though naps are awesome!  Your body works the best when it is on a routine…work, fitness, nutrition…SLEEP!  Try to keep your bedtime and wake times within 30 minutes of each other EVERYDAY!  I know, we aren’t 80 years old in a nursing home…we are super popular and the world can’t function if we don’t stay out until bar time on the weekends!  I understand there are always things going on, but try to prioritize sleep into your plans as best you can.
    • To add to routine, our bodies have adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to wake and fall asleep with the sunrise and sunset(circadian rhythm).  I’m not telling you to go to bed at 8pm every night, but staying up until midnight or later routinely, will hurt you down the road.
  • Breathe!  Here is what I do every night when laying down…I also do this during the day if my body is tensing up from stress.  I take as big a breath in through my nose as I can…until my lungs start to “hurt”.  Hold it for a few seconds, then let the air all out…don’t force the air out, just a nice controlled exhale.  Do this a few times and I guarantee you will feel your body relax!
  • White Noise – turn on a fan or white noise making device.  These constant hums have been known to help people relax their mind and drift off to sleep.  I have a fan running 365 nights a year!
  • No TV in the bedroom – This is an offshoot to one of the points above, but I want to expand on it.  The bedroom is meant for two things and you need to train your brain to know this.  The bedroom is meant for sleeping and….NOT WATCHING TV!  Yes, I’m talking about that stress relieving “hokey pokey” and if you want more if it (I’m talking about sex if you didn’t catch it)…then eat right, workout, show some affection during the day(I’m speaking to the men here), get that stupid TV out of your bedroom and your sex life will thank you…and so will your sleep!
  • Re-frame your outlook on sleep – Stop seeing sleep as an obstacle in your life and start looking at it as a mini vacation that will help you kick some ass the next day!
  • Sun light – UV rays help sync our circadian rhythm…try to take in some sun during the day, especially in the morning.  Try get a quick walk in before work or when it’s too cold, read the paper (do people still do this?) in a sunny window.
  • Relax
    • Bath – Try taking a bath 1-2 hours before bedtime.
    • Stretch – Perfect for after a bath when your body is loosened up but also a great way to unwind before bed.
    • Foam roll or massage – loosen that body up!
  • Stimulants – Cut the caffeine after 2pm.  Also, remember that caffeine is not natural to your body and raises your cortisol levels.  Make sure to cycle off of caffeine from time to time. Try starting with one day a week where your body is caffeine free.  If you have been hitting it hard for weeks, months or years…you may want to consider a longer caffeine detox to get your adrenal system back in order.  At minimum, periodically switch to something a little softer like green/black tea, etc…
  • Chill out – Your body naturally cools down for sleep so turn your thermostat down.  68 degrees is a great spot for sleeping…too warm and your body has a hard time shutting down to rest.  You can also get a mattress pad that helps regulate your body temp…never heard of this…check out this LINK for more info.
  • Feed the bugs – Almost everything with your health starts in the gut!  Why would sleep be any different?  Approximately 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut and serotonin is the building block of melatonin…aka…the sleepy hormone.  Get rid of the carbs and sugar and take a probiotic!
  • Blackout – Make the room BLACK!  Our bodies can sense the smallest most faint lights, get black out shades and shut off the lights!  If you are out of town…don’t worry about the moonlight, our bodies don’t react negatively to that.
  • Freshen the air – most of the year we can’t have our windows open…it’s either too hot or too much humidity.  Get a plant or two in the house to help with your air quality.
  • Workout – duh!
  • Alarm – Get an old school alarm clock and get the phone out of the room!  The lights, vibrations, alerts…that phone will never let your brain rest.  Are you really that important that you need your phone next to you?  How about across the room or just outside the door where you could still hear it ring if you needed.
  • Alcohol – Dammit…I thought he would forget this!  Alcohol may make you sleepy off the bat but processing those poisons doesn’t allow the body to fully hit its REM sleep.  If you have a couple drinks, make sure they are a few hours before bed.  I like to have my drinks right away in the morning to start the day out right!  😉
  • Thoughts – This is probably one of the hardest things off the bat.  Stop thinking about what to do tomorrow, reports coming up, kids, Will “Fixer Upper” come back for another season?!, etc… Put your mind in a happy place…think of the beach or the lake and let your thoughts just phase out.
  • Supplements –  Many people are deficient in magnesium and this could help with your sleeping…otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend “sleep aids”.
  • WAKE UP – Not a morning person?  Sorry, that is a shitty excuse you have given yourself. Our bodies are programmed to get up with the sun, not sleep until lunch.  You don’t need to come to the 5am class, but get your ass to bed and wake up at a decent time…it won’t take long and you will look forward to the mornings.

Those were a few tips on sleeping, hopefully you picked something up and you can improve your sleep game. Didn’t think there was much to sleeping?  Well, they write whole books on it!  If you want to dig deeper into the realm of sleeping, I suggest a couple different books; SLEEP SMARTER by Shawn Stevenson or WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.  Have a great day and sleep tight tonight!




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