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  • Writer's pictureDana


Lack of good sleep is only bad if you have to think, move, talk or drive....

If your eating and exercise habits are on point, yet you still don’t feel or look the way you want, you get less and less excited about training, you find yourself standing less, forgetting things, getting out of breath more easily, being hungry all the time you notice your libido has dropped and you just feel like your battery is getting empty: poor sleep may be to blame.

Those who carry higher amounts of body fat often sleep less than those with normal body fat. People who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night can gain almost twice as much weight over a 6-year period as people who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. Too much sleep isn’t the solution either: sleeping more than 9 hours a night can cause similar body composition outcomes to those who sleep less than 6 hours.

According to a sleep scientists, repeatedly hitting the snooze button has little to nothing to do with motivation. In reality, snoozers probably need more sleep.

This is a problem for a number of reasons, (here are just a few,) that are directly related to your fitness and health goals;

  • During sleep your body restores and rebuilds-think about it this way: during sleep you harvest the results of the work you put in during the day. If you skip it, you kind of wasted the effort

  • Sleep lowers a host of inflammatory biomarkers-inflammation is linked to weight gain and fat storage

  • Sleep boosts recovery hormones-which is essential for seeing training and diet results

  • Sleep is also the time when your brain consolidates information learned during the day and stores it in long-term memory-this is true both for our social and emotional experiences and for “muscle memory.”

In reality, there are probably tons of more biological and psychological benefits to a good night’s sleep that are yet to be discovered but ultimately, the biological process of sleep is down to three factors that influence your sleep quality, sleep quantity and how good you actually feel waking up.

These factors are:

  • sleep drive

  • circadian rhythm

  • fight or flight response

Sleep drive is a biological need sort of like hunger for sleep, which accumulates while you’re awake. There is an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine [uh-DEN-uh-seen], which is a fancy word for a cellular metabolism byproduct. It lowers your brain activity and makes you feel sleepy. During the time you are awake adenosine levels increase at a way faster pace than your brain could clear them. The more the adenosine, the higher your sleep drive, however as we sleep adenosine is cleared from our brains. It's a full reset, or at least it should be. If we sleep long enough, we wake up feeling well-rested and alert. This also means, if you aren't awake for long enough, you would have trouble falling asleep.

Most of us need to be awake for 16 hours before feeling sleepy again.

Your Circadian Rhythm is a 24-hour biological clock and it controls your alertness by sending out alerting signals. These signals can either override your sleep drive (keeping you awake regardless of the approaching sleep time) or help you quiet down and causing you to feel sleepy, getting ready to rest.

Feeling sleepy after lunch (given your eating well for your body's needs and preferences) is often referred to as ''food coma'' yet typically has nothing to do with food. About eight to nine hours after waking up (assuming a rather regular schedule) our circadian alerting signal quiets down a bit. This can allow sleep drive to temporarily take over and have you feeling sleepy. This is unrelated to last night's sleep and just shows how humans would naturally sleep more than once a day but for shorter increments. Some cultures wisely use this opportunity for ''siesta''. This is great if the whole country operates this way, or if you are working from home and have a rather flexible schedule. It is kind of problematic if you are the only one in the office taking a mid day nap over your laptop. This is probably why many people opt for a post lunch coffee instead.

The second wave of the drowsiness comes closer to your regular bedtime, but here's where it gets interesting. Once you’ve been up for 14 or 15 hours, your internal clock also kicks in, to keep you awake. Now not only that your sleep drive is high but your circadian alerting signal is at its highest too.

Yes, that’s pretty counter intuitive. As for much of the things humans do naturally without us exactly knowing all the whys there’s probably an evolutionary background and benefit to this. Our brain ensures we have enough energy to prepare a safe place to sleep by boosting our energy a bit once we are home in the evening. The good thing is though, if you acknowledge that this is temporary and allow your mind and body to quiet down and give in to sleep time, it will eventually. Probably within the next 2 hours.

And we have the Fight or Flight Response, which some experts refer to as Process Wake, or Process W.

If your brain thinks you’re in danger, it won’t let you fall asleep. It doesn't really matter whether you consider the situation physically dangerous or stressful if your brain does. While back in the old old days, bears and other wild animals were probably our biggest concern at night time, in the modern days we know different stressors. From work deadlines, kids having trouble in school, credit card debt, or ill parents who are ill things that worry your mind will have a similar effect. The stress response is exactly the same, and it keeps our brains awake and messes with your sleep.

Night time activities that can keep you awake too long or negatively effect your sleep in other ways:

  • playing video games

  • watching violent TV shows

  • watching the news

  • reading study or work material

  • drinking caffeine within 10 hours of bedtime

Night time activities that keep you awake but do not ruin your sleep by overstimulating you :

  • watching something (non-violent) with dimmed lights

  • pleasure reading (not studying)

  • preparing for the next day, organizing

  • listen to music that allows you to relax

The most important factor when it comes to getting your best sleep and feeling refreshed, recovered is (as always) consistency over time. If you can stick to your plan six nights a week, it’s okay to make exceptions for a late night out, a sunrise hike, or lounging in bed on Sunday mornings. But if you find yourself struggling to follow your plan even three or four nights each week, you’ll need to adjust.

Lastly, here's my absolute favorite trick for getting up feeling my best even with fewer than usual hours of sleep; a free sleep time calculator. It can tell you the optimal times to sleep if you have a fix wake up time or you can select from a list of optimal wake up times as you are going to bed. Although getting enough sleep is super important over time, this tool helps me feel my best and make the most out of the day even on 3 to 4 hours of sleep if necessary (for an early flight for example).




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