When I was a kid one of the things I hated most was having a set bedtime.
I didn’t understand the importance of sleep and I really just wanted to cram as much playtime or fun as I could into one day. So naturally, I didn’t like my parents telling me when it was my bedtime.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like this as a kid. But, when we get older we realize our parents knew that sleep was important for our health. And, I’m sure those of you who now have kids of your own make sure they get enough sleep.
However, now that we are all grown-ups here, we no longer have mom and dad putting us to bed on time.
So what are we doing now?
Many of us are staying up to get more work done, going through emails, spending way too much time on the internet, or watching 3 more episodes of that show on Netflix than we planned to. Basically, we’re sacrificing sleep to cram as much work and/or entertainment as we can into one day.
What’s the result?
Well, 50 years ago less than 3% of working adults averaged less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Today, that number has ballooned to 30%. Overall, the total sleep time in the US has decreased 20% in the last 50 years. Meaning the average person is essentially losing about 1 night of sleep per week.
Many have conditioned themselves to get less sleep by pounding coffee or any number of other stimulants. I’m sure they think, for the most part, they are making it by alright. However, the truth is that most of us have lost touch with what it feels like to be truly rested, and the current lifestyle many of us are living is plaguing us with many short and long-term effects.
So, the next step we are going to take in propelling your toward your health and fitness goals is to work on is getting you the appropriate quantity of sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Seems like an appropriate place to start, right?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for anyone 18 years or older.
Now, if you’re an athlete in intense training this number can be greater, but the take home point is that the research shows ALL adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
Why 7-9 hours?
Let’s answer the obvious question…
Why do you want to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night?
- You will retain more information
While we are asleep, our bodies cycle through multiple phases or stages of sleep, during which various processes take place to restore our bodies and minds after the activities of the previous day. In one night’s rest, our bodies will cycle through these sleep stages multiple times. Each cycle takes roughly 90-120 minutes. Research performed by sleep experts Dr. Robert Stickgold and Dr. Erin Wamsley, has shown that during all of these stages our brains work to process information learned the day before and store them as long-term memories.
Now, while this process of converting fleeting memories into lasting knowledge occurs over all of the sleep stages, according to Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, the stages of deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are especially important in the process. While memories and information are processed during the earlier stages of sleep, these memories are solidified as knowledge in the latter stages of the sleep cycle, i.e., deep sleep and REM sleep. REM sleep, in particular, has been shown to stimulate the regions of the brain involved in learning.
So, I’ve spit all this information out, but why does this make getting 7-9 hours of sleep important?
With each cycle you go through in a period of sleep, the time spent in REM sleep increases. The first cycles of sleep contain very short durations of REM sleep, while the later cycles contain considerably greater periods of REM sleep. Studies at the National Center for Neurological Disorders and Stroke concluded that most REM sleep occurs between the 6th and 8th hour of sleep. This means many Americans are missing out on this valuable sleep that is vital to solidifying memories and retaining information.
- You want your brain to function properly
When you are sleep deprived, whether from several nights of insufficient sleep or one all-nighter, there is a decrease in activity of the brain’s prefrontal cortex and an increase of activity in the amygdala.
In other words, your rational, discerning brain shuts down and your emotional brain runs wild.
Sleep experts, such as, Dr. Czeisler of Harvard, have likened the brain impairment resulting from sleep deprivation to that of being legally drunk. In fact, 24 hours without sleep or a week of 4-5 hours of sleep per night has shown to induce brain impairment equal to that of a BAC (blood-alcohol content) of .1%.
Now, let’s be honest…
If you’re trying to perform at a high-level at work, ace a big exam in school, or train hard in the gym, showing up legally drunk likely isn’t going to get things done.
- You fellas don’t want plummeting testosterone levels
The release of several important hormones is among the many vital processes that occur in our bodies during sleep. Testosterone, quite an important hormone for all you fellas out there, is one of these hormones released during sleep. In fact, the Journal of American Medical Association maintains that a vast majority of testosterone release occurs during sleep.
A study performed at the University of Chicago, showed just how important sleep quantity is to testosterone levels. The study showed a 10-15% percent drop in testosterone of adult males who slept 5 hours or less each day for a week. Leaving their testosterone levels equivalent to that of a pre-pubescent, 11 year-old boy.
Ok fellas, save yourself a trip to the Low-T Center and get yourself 7-9 hours of sleep.
- You want to train better, recover faster, and maximize your performance
Well-balanced hormone levels, proper brain function, better retention of information, and simply being well-rested are going to go a long to help improve your training, quicken your recovery, and help you maximize your performance in all walks of life.
If you want some more awesome details on this point, check out my article, 3 Reasons Sleep is Stealing Your Results.
To give you the very abridged version, sleep is the cornerstone of recovery, and how well you recover is going to heavily dictate how much progress you make.
Take Action: Make Sleep a Higher Priority
We’ve covered numerous reasons why getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is of the utmost important to your health. Some of you may still be wondering how in the world you’re going to fit this into your busy schedule. Some of you probably have every intent to make it happen.
Well, now it’s the time to come up with a plan of action, to overcome the obstacle of your busy schedule and to turn intent into action.
To achieve this I want you to start doing two things.
In order to plan ahead, we are going to work backwards.
First, determine what time you need to wake up the next morning. Then, since I want you shooting for 8 hours of sleep, we are going to move the clock back 8 hours.
If I’m setting my alarm for 6am, I’m going to be in bed no later than 10pm.
Cut out the excess
If you’re still having trouble its time to examine how you’re spending your time in the evening. Yes, you may be busy, but to be honest you are probably wasting a good chunk of time in there some where.
So, here are a couple strategies to use to free up some time and get more sleep.
- Cap your computer time.
Give yourself a time limit of 30 minutes to get in all your e-mails, facebooking, tweeting, etc. If you have a bit of work you need to get done it may take a little bit longer, but by giving yourself a limit you are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand instead of wasting time doing something else.
- Use your DVR
There’s this awesome new technology called DVR. It allows you to record your favorite shows and watch them later. You can even fast-forward through the commercials!
That may have been a little overly sarcastic.
Seriously though, take advantage of technology. Just because you record a show that’s on at 8pm doesn’t mean you have to watch it later that night at 9:30. You may be afraid of getting spoilers of the latest episode of Game of Thrones at work, but remember what’s most important.
Record your favorites shows during the week, and then wait to watch them until the weekend or your day off.
And remember, you can always cut back on the number of shows you watch as well…
Sleep is not only going to play a huge role in you achieving your health and fitness or performance goals, but also on your long-term health.
Turn intent into action, feel better tomorrow, and start getting the proper amount of sleep today.