Sleep is not an exciting health subject, and most people prefer to discuss more engaging topics like dieting, effective training practices and superfoods.
But, regardless of how we feel about it, sleep is essential for our health, wellbeing, energy levels, and fitness outcomes.
To that end, we’ve put together this guide, outlining the benefits of sleep, how much you should rest each night, and actionable tactics for sleeping better.
Let’s dive in.
What Is Sleep And What Benefits Does It Offer?
Sleep is a normal physiological process to which the body repairs itself. There are numerous reasons for sleeping, but three of the primary ones are:
- Metabolic function
- Brain health
- General restoration
First, getting enough sleep is essential for our metabolic health. Research finds that sleep deprivation increases the risk of muscle loss and makes us more likely to gain fat. Second, adequate sleep is vital for brain health, cognition, and mental wellbeing. Deprivation leads to:
- Brain fog
- Lack of motivation
- Inability to focus
- Mood swings
Third, and perhaps most important, is sleep’s importance for general restoration. For example, brain cells shrink by up to 60% as we sleep, allowing for quicker and more effective flushing of toxins. Getting enough sleep prevents the accumulation of metabolic waste linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Okay, we understand that sleep is important, but how much of it do we need to stay healthy and feel great? Well, it depends.
According to general guidelines, adults should sleep for six to nine hours per night, but there is more to it. Factors like stress levels and physical exertion can influence your body’s need for rest during the night. While a carefree person might do great with only seven hours of sleep, a stressed-out individual could need up to two more hours to recover fully.
A good way to determine your sleep needs is to track your average sleep duration per night while on holiday (when you’re not using an alarm clock). You might sleep more initially––say, nine hours per night to pay off your sleep debt. But, the duration might drop to just below eight hours per night by the second week.
The Problem With Sleep Deprivation
The first huge issue with sleep deprivation is that it is cumulative. One night of poor sleep might not affect you much. In fact, you might even feel energised, possibly thanks to a higher production of catecholamines––hormones that elevate your mood, energy levels, cognition, and more. But, the longer you deprive yourself of sleep, the worse you feel. Over time, you accumulate what researchers refer to as sleep debt.
The second significant problem with not sleeping enough is that you might not realise what adverse effects you’re experiencing. You might be sluggish, less motivated, and less productive. But there is a good chance that you won’t even realise it.
How to Sleep Better: Four Actionable Tactics
1. Limit Your Caffeine Intake
We can all agree that caffeine is great. The substance lifts our mood, improves our cognition, helps us focus, and can boost our athletic performance. Plus, what better way is there to start the day than with a cup of strong coffee?
While beneficial in some areas, caffeine can also be harmful and disrupt our sleep. According to research, caffeine’s half-life is around five hours, and it takes up to ten hours for it to leave our system. If you ingest 200mg of caffeine at 2pm, you might still have 100mg coursing through your veins at 7pm.
Given that caffeine is a nervous system stimulant, having it in your system when trying to fall asleep can be harmful. First, it can increase the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. Second, it can worsen rest quality and rob you of much-needed deep sleep.
2. Be Careful With The ‘Nightcap’
The occasional alcoholic drink – the nightcap – might seem great, but research begs to differ. Yes, drinking alcohol can make you relaxed and drowsy, allowing you to fall asleep more quickly. But, ethanol can lead to frequent waking up at night and prevent you from getting enough deep and restorative sleep.
In other words, you might fall asleep more quickly, but you would be at a higher risk of not recovering well. So, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol before going to bed. If anything, have a drink at least two to three hours before bed. That way, you’ll give your body enough time to break down the ethanol, preventing it from impacting your sleep.
3. Establish a Relaxing Pre-Bed Routine
Too many people fall for harmful routines that include scrolling through social media, watching TV, and working on the computer before bed. The problem with such an approach is that you’re keeping your mind engaged and stimulated until you decide to hit the sack. As a result, it might be challenging for you to fall asleep.
An excellent way to counter this problem is to dedicate the last hour before bed to a simple pre-bed routine. The program could include various activities in numerous combinations, depending on what you want. Good options include:
- Taking a bath/shower
- Reading a book
- Stretching your muscles
- Writing in a journal
4. Optimise Your Sleep Environment
Improving your environment is another effective tactic to improve your sleep quality and quantity. There are three primary things to work on:
- Temperature – your room should be between 65 and 70 degrees F (18 to 21 C).
- Darkness – the darker your room is, the more effectively your body secretes melatonin for better sleep.
- Sound – your room should be as quiet as possible for deep and restful sleep. Earplugs are also an option if you sleep with an open window during the warmer months.
Aside from the above, investing in a quality mattress and pillows can make a huge difference in your sleep quality.
Sleep is essential for our health, wellbeing, and fitness outcomes. Getting adequate rest at night also positively impacts our cognition, productivity, and mood. The good news is that we can all use specific tactics to improve our sleep quantity and quality, resulting in more energy and better health.
If you’re interested in learning more about exciting fitness and health topics, why not consider a career in personal training? Our UKST courses can give you the perfect start.