We live in an age and culture where sleeping is viewed as wasting time. Why sleep, when you could be working, partying or even training. Whilst you’re lying in bed with your eyes closed, the rest of the world is getting ahead in business, having fun, or getting fitter respectively.
Except, the latter may not be true, and the first two options only true at a cost to one’s health.
If you think about it, the current “normal” routine many have is going to bed at 12am or 1am and getting up at 7 for work most days, with the occasional late night of work or partying making that a 3am-7am or 3am-11am. This isn’t how our body clocks were designed to work.
We’re built to sleep through 3 parts of a cycle that lasts about 1.2-1.6hrs, varying individually. In each cycle we go through Light or Non-REM sleep, REM sleep & Deep Sleep. Ideally we get 5 cycles a night, except we’re the only species in the world that rises with the sun (or, for many, a bit after it) and then intentionally uses artificial light to keep ourselves awake when it gets dark. Research behind what goes on in our brains when we’re asleep has recently shown quite how important it is.
Remember Joompa’s article on Insulin? When we used the allegory of insulin knocking on the doors of cells to deliver digested glucose, reduced sleep appears to both reduce the deployment of these blood-sugar-officers & make the cells less responsive to them. Glucose remains in the blood stream, leaving one in a pre-diabetic state of elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia).
Melatonin is a hormone released by your body at night. It blocks insulin release so that you don’t start storing the small amount of blood sugar in your system overnight and end up hypoglycaemic which would wake you up. Dr Dan Pardi, sleep specialist and CEO of humanOS.me theorises that, with your body clock all confused, melatonin release is not just at night when you are meant to sleep. This prevents insulin from doing its job during the day. There are a few other theories explaining elevated glucose levels in those who are tired, but the main thing we need to be concerned by is that it happens.
Additionally, we are much worse at making responsible dietary decisions when we’re sleep deprived. Inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin. Combine this with the decreased motivation of being tired, and you have a key ingredient for weight gain – eating too much.
If you’re training hard in the gym, then acquiring enough deep sleep is the priority. For a start, the time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%. Research by Harpeet Rai, CEO of sleep-tech company Oura Ring, has also shown that following tough training sessions athletes have a higher ratio of deep sleep to REM than usual, leading to the conclusion that this is when muscular recovery and repair takes place in a cycle. Plus, during Deep Sleep is when their tests show heightened Testosterone release as well as Growth Hormone, two natural catalysts our bodies make to recover and grow. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the physical progress made doesn’t happen whilst you’re training, but rather whilst you’re recovering from the stressful stimulus of training to return stronger the next time these attributes are required of you. Not enough people appropriately prioritise the recovery part of the process, and sleep as the main component.
That same repair process that takes place in your muscles also takes place in your brain whilst you’re asleep. Research by Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “Why We Sleep”, shows that during deep sleep the brain goes through a cleaning process, ridding it of amyloid proteins; neurotoxic “plaque” deposits that have built up as a by-product of processing over the course of the day. It’s this cleanse and reboot process that scientists have theorised is the key to prevention of dementia. With modern medicine constantly extending life expectancies, our brain health becomes more vital in the critical path of what will fail irreparably first. Sleep suddenly becomes the most important aspect of your new, longer life.
When the brains of rats were monitored during REM sleep, they found that they were repeating a pattern of sounds they were shown whilst awake, just 3 times faster. This is harder to monitor in the more complex human brain but correlating results have been found. It appears that in order to hardwire memories in our brains, they repeat things that we’ve learnt that day. Studying for an important exam? You’re better off getting a full night’s worth of sleep cycles than staying up late reading repetitively in order to properly retain your day’s learnings.
After just one night of less than five hours’ sleep, your natural cancer killer cells are reduced by 70%. Their job is to attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day, so it’s not ideal for them to be operating at 30% efficiency. It’s no surprise then, that scientists have linked a lack of sleep to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, none of which holds appeal.
Better skin and hair? Increased brain plasticity? Reduced blood pressure? Regulation of the immune system? The list is long, and there’s nothing on it that isn’t desirable. We could go on, but we think you’re probably already convinced of sleep’s importance. In the next article, We’ll teach you how to be better at something that, until now, you thought was just a matter of lying down.