I love to sleep y’all! And the older I get the more I realize how much a good night’s sleep can cure. But sleep and I haven’t always been the best of friends. For years I struggled with bouts of insomnia. There would be months on end where I would only be able to get a few hours of sleep a night. First it was I couldn’t fall asleep. Then I would fall asleep but wake up like a gazillion times during the night. Ugh, there are very few things more frustrating than laying in bed and staring at the ceiling for hours and hours just wishing you could fall asleep. But these days my insomnia is a thing of the past (**knocking on wood**). Like just about everything else in my life, my sleep has improved dramatically since I started taking better care of myself. I generally fall asleep very quickly now, I rarely wake up in the middle of the night anymore and I usually get the solid 7ish or so hours a night that I need to not feel like a walking zombie the following day. Sleep is sometimes a part of your health and fitness journey that gets overlooked or not given a high enough priority, so I wanted to talk a little bit about it today because it really is so, so important to your over all well-being! Let’s start with the basics:
How much sleep exactly do we need?
Well like most things’ health and fitness related, the exact number varies from person to person. Some people can function with less, some need more but generally adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Adults in this case are healthy individuals between the ages of 18-64. See below for a full breakdown of sleep needs by age:
Why is it so important for good health?
So, so many reasons you guys! I mean we all know how much better we feel, how much more alert and energetic we are after a good night sleep but that is only the tip of the iceberg when talking about how beneficial good quality sleep is for us. Below are some of the major impacts sleep has on our bodies:
- Cardiovascular Health: Lack of good quality sleep has been shown to raise blood pressure which puts you at risk for things like heart attacks, heart disease and strokes. Even otherwise healthy people who do not smoke and aren’t overweight are more at risk for cardiovascular issues if they aren’t getting enough sleep. The more sleep you get the more rest you give your heart muscles and blood vessels, both of whom work hard for you day in and day out!
- Reduces Inflammation: This is a big one for me because I suffer from Ulcerative Colitis so getting enough sleep to make sure my UC stays in remission is key. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in both inflammation and cell damage which can cause, exacerbate and/or prolong a lot of really undesirable diseases such as IBS, Crohns, UC , diabetes and even some cancers.
- Reduces Stress & Anxiety: Getting a good night’s sleep is a great mood booster don’t ya think! Getting the proper amount each night has been shown to ward off things like depression and anxiety disorders. An interesting way this happens is while you sleep your brain is actually processing your emotions which in turn trains you to react the right way when you are awake. This training helps ward off the blues and just makes us easier, happier, more well-adjusted humans to be around. 😊
- Improves Concentration, Attention Span and in turn Productivity: We all know how tough it is to get through even the most routine of tasks when we haven’t slept well or enough but there is actual science as to why. The more sleep we get the more able we are to not only intake but store new information, aka. learn new things! Just as our brains are processing our emotions while we sleep, so too are they processing all the things we learned during the day. The more sleep, the more knowledge is processed, stored and in turn available for use long-term, practical use.
- Helps promote healthy weight and muscle building: While we are sleeping our bodies are hard at work repairing themselves. Sleep gives us the chance to basically reap the rewards of all the hard work we are putting in during the day with our fitness routines by giving our muscles a chance to repair and rebuild themselves bigger and stronger than they previously were. Sleep also fights away the hormone cortisol which is largely responsible for how much water we retain as well as our fat burning ability. I feel like I also have to throw in here that the more rested we are the better quality our workouts are gonna be in the first place which obviously leads to more calories burned and better overall results!
Tips for Better Sleep:
So now that we know how important sleep is to so many difference aspects of our health, how can we help ourselves get the sleep we so desperately need? Well here are a few tips I have come across which have really helped me!
- Unplug! – Studies have shown that staring at your phone or computer screen right before bed can actually trick your brain into being more alert due to being triggered by the bright lights coming off the screen. It in essence wakes up your brain instead of allowing it to wind down in preparation for sleep mode. You want to cut out screen time at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. One thing I have started to do is read for about 30-60 minute before bedtime. It’s a double win for me because one of my goals was to read more/watch less this year and reading tends to make me tired anyway so I end up falling asleep quicker!
- Along with putting electronic devices down, don’t watch TV in your bed – You want to condition your brain to think of the bed and bedroom as a place for sleep and that’s it. Your bed shouldn’t be a place for entertainment (I mean, at least not like movie watching/Netflix binging entertainment if you get my drift). It should be a place your brain associates with sleep and that’s it.
- Limit caffeine to morning/early afternoon – One of the big things I did about a year ago to help with my sleeping issues was I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages after about noon. I was religiously having a second and even third coffee of the day way past 2pm and I think it was contributing to me not being able to fall asleep come nighttime. You also want to limit nicotine usages before bed and even alcohol intake as well. While alcohol is a depressant it has actually been shown to contribute to restless and poor-quality sleep later in the night. You might pass out quickly after one, two or five drinks but trust me you are not getting good, solid sleep!
- Stick to a regular schedule as much as possible – That is go to bed at the same time every night and get up in the morning at the same when at all possible. The more regular your sleep cycle is the more conditioned your brain and body will become to falling asleep at a regular time and getting up hopefully 7-9 hours later hopefully fully recharged. For me, I even make it a point to wake up generally at the same time on the weekends as I do during the week so that I can maintain a consistent sleep schedule. It makes getting up on Monday that much easier (well as easy as it can be to get up on a Monday!).
- Take a hot shower/bath right before bed– This is another tip I started implementing on a regular basis that has really helped me fall asleep much quicker. When you take a hot shower/bath right before bed you are raising your body temperature. With your temperature being raised, your brain thinks you are getting ready to slow down and basically hibernate for the night. Plus it saves me time in the morning as well so I can sleep just a little bit later!
The moral of this story (post) is that sleep is an integral part of achieving and maintaining good health. So often I think people don’t prioritize it enough when it comes to losing weight and getting fit. A huge recommendation of mine is if you are doing all the other things right, watching what you are eating, working out consistently, but still not losing weight, is to examine you sleep patterns. With so many benefits far beyond just feeling refreshed and well-rested, sleep is not something to skimp on. Everything from your heart health, to preforming better at work, to fighting off the common cold, to battling life-threatening diseases can be made better if you are consistently getting those 7-9 hours of sleep a night. So put down your phones, make your bedrooms a sleep sanctuary and get in your zzzz’s each and every night! Your body and mind will both thank you!!
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