If I told you I had something that would make you fitter, smarter, have more energy and look more attractive, you would be asking me where to sign! Well, there is something that will do this and it’s free. It’s called sleep.
We all know sleep is kind of important – but how many times have we not prioritised sleep and done something else that seemed more important instead?There’s more and more scientific evidence emerging on just how important sleep really is, and why we need it in order to function properly. Have you heard of Matthew Walker’s book on ‘Why We Sleep’? If you haven’t, make time to read this book as soon as you can. It could change your life!
It turns out that the average Brit is sleeping only 6.8 hours a night. That’s just over an hour less than the recommended amount of sleep we should be getting each night. That doesn’t actually seem too bad, looking at just one hour less per night… but consider the hours lost over the space of a week. Losing that hour every night is like losing one whole night’s sleep per week!
So what does a lack of sleep mean to our bodies and what does this have to do with our fitness/wellness goals?
Well, a lack of sleep contributes to:
- Making life generally harder. When we are lacking in sleep everyday tasks or decisions we have to face are that much more difficult. There’s plenty of evidence out there to prove this.
- Your judgement is impaired. The scary thing, is that you may be feeling perfectly fine, but you won’t realise just how much your judgement is being affected.
- Increased hunger. Not only are you going to be a lot hungrier but you are more likely to make unhealthy choices.
Now here is a really scary statistic…sleeping only 6 hours per night for 10 days will cause the same decrease in performance (400% decrease!) as one night that has no sleep at all.
So, if you’re trying to get up an hour earlier every day in order to squeeze in a workout, but consequently not getting enough sleep, your performance will not just decrease, it will dramatically decrease. Therefore, we need to ensure that we’re on good form for our workouts.
If we are striving to live the best lives we can, and feel the best we can, we cannot achieve this without making sure we have sufficient sleep. It is one of the first things I try and address with clients, before we start adding in lots of workouts. We won’t get the results we want, if we aren’t getting the recovery we so desperately need.
If you have trouble sleeping, here are some helpful tips from Matthew’s book to help you get a better night’s sleep:
- No screens before bed! Try and turn your phone off or avoid looking at it at least an hour, if not more, before you plan to go to sleep. Our phones, TVs and iPads emit blue light which inhibits our melatonin production. This will make it harder for us to go to sleep.
- Don’t exercise right before bed. Try and have finished your workout at least 3 hours before heading to bed. Don’t let this put you off exercising. Exercising will help you sleep better, but if you are struggling to fall asleep, think about when you are doing it.
- Go to sleep in a cold room. It’s all about your core temperature which needs to drop when you sleep. Therefore, if you are in a cold room, that will help you.
- Dim the lights before you go to bed. This will help the melatonin production, so you are ready to fall asleep faster.
- Keep your bedroom dark. It may be worth while investing in some blackout curtains or blinds.
- Have a hot bath or shower before bed. Not only will this help relax you, but it will help the blood rise closer to the surface of the skin. Although you initially feel warm, once you are out it makes it easier to realise the heat and therefore lower the body temperature.
- Avoid sleeping pills! They don’t actually help the sleeping process. They just make you unconscious. You won’t be getting the deep NREM and REM sleep that your body wants.
- Avoid alcohol (sorry). Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster but it actually inhibits deep NREM sleep and REM sleep so your slumber won’t be as well rested.
- Avoid caffeine after 12pm. Caffeine has a longer affect than we originally thought. That coffee after lunch may actually still be in our system when we are trying to sleep.
- Keep a consistent schedule. It is very tempting to lack sleep during the week and then try and compensate for it at the weekend. However your body wants a routine. If you wake up the same time every day, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep and to wake up. That is a hard one, I know! But it’s Matthew Walker’s most important tip, so it’s worth trying what you can to make this the case!
If you have tried all of these things and are still not having any luck with getting sufficient sleep, it’s worth having a talk with your GP about it. Especially if you have any long-term problems such as insomnia. The sooner you can get help, the sooner you will start feeling better.
Personally, I aim to be in bed for 9 hours (I like to read for 15-30mins before falling asleep) and try get 8.5 hours of actual asleep time per night.