At the risk of cutting this article short before it even gets started, one of the worst things you can do is over think sleep. You’ve no doubt had those nights where you’re still awake at 1am after trying to get some early shut eye. The more you think about going to sleep, the more active your brain seems to become. Thoughts whirring, tossing and turning - it’s a nightmare scenario.
During the yuppification of the planet in the 80s, 90s and noughties, sleep became the enemy. In order to be successful it was important that you could operate on less than five hours sleep. Sleep when you’re dead was the mantra, because the rest of the time you should be getting busy making MONEYYYYY!!!
This has led to chronic sleep deprivation in a large but unquantifiable sum of the population. What's worse, culturally we don't see sleep deprivation as a problem. And when we say sleep deprivation we don’t just mean when you’ve stayed up all night. We simply mean not getting the sleep your body requires for optimal function.
In his recent TED talk, Navy Seal Dr Kirk Parsley blows the lid on the real damage caused by sleep deprivation. He gives the example of a surgeon drinking a shot of whiskey every two hours whilst performing life saving surgeries. Studies have consistently shown that being awake for 18 hours results in a performance on par with a blood alcohol level of 0.5.
A study that induced a prolonged period of fours days reduced sleep in athletes resulted in insulin and blood glucose levels associated with diabetes and obesity. Tests conducted on Navy Seals, peak performance soldiers, revealed the blood chemistry of fat, broken, old men. Dr Parsley even confesses that during a period of sleep deprivation in grad school, he became a fat, depressed, anxious, ADHD ridden specimen. It took him a while to suspect a lack of sleep as the culprit.
More recently the importance of sleep is making a come back and rightly so. Sleep is the period when we heal, repair and recover both physiologically and psychologically. The hormonal balancing that takes place during sleep is vital to our health. Most importantly dear reader, if your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat, then sleep should be alongside nutrition and training at the top of your to do list.
At the 2013 rugby league world cup, the Australian strength and conditioning coach, Alex Corvo, was asked what is the most important factor for the players during recovery? His simple response… sleep.
In deep sleep 100,000 billion cells restore themselves as part of a seven year cycle. Our organs - lungs, kidneys, intestines etc all begin to clean and detoxify, our skeleton deacidifies, growth hormone is released. The clean up involved is immense and ensures that the fleshbot you occupy is ready to function optimally for another day. Far from being unproductive during sleep, our body is working to make us more energetic and successful during our waking hours.
During REM sleep when we dream, studies have suggested that many neurological functions to do with memory and emotional balance take place. As well as the physiological damage, sleep deprivation can also result in psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and has even been closely linked with suicide.
As we always like to stress at Monkey Nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach. Individual biochemistry can vary greatly so there’s no point in us preaching about eight hours a night. Some people will function well on less than this, whilst some will find they need more than the standard government guidelines.
As a test, if you feel great sleeping in during time off work, you should question whether you get enough sleep during work time. It’s worth observing though that during times of high external stress, either physical or mental, more sleep is generally required to bring the body back into balance.
Another idea is to sleep in every weekend for a month, without any kind of wake up call. This should bring you back into the black with your sleep account. From the following weekends doing the same thing, you should be able to get an estimation of how much sleep your body is asking for each night.
Simple tips for a deeper more refreshing sleep
No TV, no wifi, no phone, no twitter, no electrics for at least an hour before bed, preferably two. Blue light (phones, laptops etc) electromagnetic waves and wifi signals all interfere with the body’s hormonal responses and circadian rhythm. Instead, read, meditate or - and this might be a little far out - engage in conversation with your life partner, family member or a friend. No chat roulette though, remember the blue light thing.
Take care of your environment
The room in which you sleep should be cool, dark and free from external noise as much as possible. Do you have a comfortable mattress and pillows? This might sound obvious but many people are falling down on at least one of these points. High levels of ambient light in the bedroom will again impact on the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone essential for a good night’s sleep.
Eat responsibly before bed
Poor diet is a common cause of poor sleep quality, sorting out your diet is an essential precursor to a good night’s sleep, but we don't want to digress into diet here, for more general information on diet, check out our e-book.
It’s a bad idea to eat processed food at any time, but before bed you really are playing chemical roulette. It’s also best to avoid any ‘heavy’ meals two hours before your planned night night. There are, however, certain nutrient rich foods and herbs that are definitely Mr Sandman’s friend, such as:
Green leafy veg, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, bananas, most edible mushrooms, liver and ashwagandha.
As if we even need to say this, but unfortunately we do, avoid caffeine, sugar and theobromine (found in chocolate) after 4pm.
Deepen your sleep with Moodulator
Moodulator has proven to be a massive hit on the sleep front, even with basket cases that haven’t slept well for years. The blend of ingredients not only induces a deep refreshing and restorative sleep, but helps to create a positive hormone balance which has the lovely side effect of improved body composition and a reduction in abdominal fat. Using herbal adaptogens such as ashwagandha, combined with GABA, B vitamins and magnesium, Moodulator covers all bases. If you’re a fan of ZMA then Moodulator will blow your socks off… in a gentle really sleepy way.
It's important to prioritise your sleep over menial tasks. Whatever can be done at night can also be done in the morning with more energy and vigour. The ideal period of sleep is somewhere between 9pm and 7am. Irregular sleeping hours, such as 2am to 12pm, can also be detrimental to the body’s circadian rhythm. And that’s the key thing here, we’ve moved with the rising and setting of the sun for centuries. From hunter gatherer days through to modern agriculture, the sun has dictated our waking and sleeping hours. Circadian rhythm is a biological imprint and only in recent times have our plugged in lifestyles started to interfere with the natural ebb and flow of our biology.
If you really want to reset yourself, then two weeks camping should do the trick!