Sleep is a topic that often gets overlooked in the health and fitness world.
We admire people who get up early to get in their morning cardio, go for a run or train late in the evening after work.
Fitting in exercise and being motivated to put in the hours to achieve your desired fitness or physique goal is admirable, it shows dedication.
But what if it is causing more detriment than you realise?
Some of you reading this will be well educated on how to train properly in the gym, and how to fuel your body correctly with good nutrition.
What you might not realise is that you could be undoing some of your hard work by sacrificing your hours of shut-eye.
Most people know the ideal amount of sleep is 8 hours.
But did you know that sleeping less than this could have more serious effects on your long-term health than just being a bit groggy the next morning when you wake?
I have spent the last month researching the science behind sleep, inspired largely by a book I’ve read called ‘Why We Sleep’ by Sleep Neuroscientist, Dr Matthew Walker.
There are 2 stages of sleep: R.E.M. sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep), the lighter stage where we dream, and deeper, Non-REM Sleep.
Both are equally important and sacrificing time from either of these stages by going to bed late or waking early can have detrimental effects.
A large study conducted on 133,000 people suggests that people who slept for less than the recommended 8 hours per night were more likely to suffer adverse health effects such as increased blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
This, unfortunately, means a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Another study focused on a group of healthy adults, who had normal blood sugar levels and showed no evidence of diabetes.
They sleep deprived them for just 6 nights, letting them only sleep for 4 hours each night. They then tested their blood glucose level after the 6th night and showed they were 40% less effective at absorbing a standard dose of glucose, compared to when they were fully rested.
If they had gone to a doctor at this time, the GP would have diagnosed them as being pre-diabetic!
Not only does sleep help us regulate our blood pressure and blood glucose, but it also gives us time for our muscle to repair.
There is a direct correlation between reduced number of hours asleep and risk of injury in sports: as the amount of sleep drops below 8 hours, the risk of developing a sports-related injury increases exponentially.
So, if you’re getting up early to exercise, this might be something for you to remember when you’re debating watching that next episode on Netflix when you should be sleeping!
Sleep also has a role in our interactions with other people, by influencing the way we recognise facial expressions, problem solve and store memories.
Sleeping your full 8 hours might help you get along better with that problematic colleague at work after all!
My top tips for a good nights sleep:
- Prioritise 8 hours of sleep at the expense of other things! If you’re training/eating/keeping well, you might just be undoing some of this hard work by sleeping too little.
- Realise that time in bed doesn’t equal time asleep.Most people sleep around 90% of the time they are in bed, so if you’re aiming for 8 hours of sleep, you need to be in bed around 45 minutes before!
- Remove distractions out of your bedroom, including phones, TVs, distracting artwork on the walls
- Be consistent and get 8 hours every night, including weekends. Rather than trying to play catch up.