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Sleep while you're alive! Lack of it negatively affects our bodies and there's one simple solution

Personal trainer Dean Merton shares his advice.

SLEEP. HAVE YOU ever noticed that everyone seems to love sleep? I honestly don’t know a single person who has ever uttered the sentence ‘God, I really hate a good night’s sleep.’

Aside from the obvious reasons — awesome dreams, comfy beds — have you ever stopped to think why seemingly every human being is hardwired to adore sleep? It should be fairly obvious — a good night’s sleep leaves us feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to face whatever challenges lay ahead of us in that day.

So why is it that so many of us get nowhere near enough of it?

And what does that mean for our bodies?

shutterstock_554478352 Source: Shutterstock/Leszek Glasner

Stress = Stress = Stress

One thing I want you all to remember, if you take nothing else from this article, is that stress is stress no matter how it is placed on the body.

  • Training
  • Starvation
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Heavy Workload
  • Social Problems
  • Physical Pain

All of the above are stressors on the body. What happens when the body is in a state of stress? It starts to function improperly, leading to poor health.

Luckily for us, evolution has equipped us with the tools to de-stress & reset the body on a nightly basis, a simple eight to nine hour sleep.

Especially for those of you reading this who are avid trainers in a gym or with a sports team, keep in mind that sleep is our bodies’ main way to recover from strenuous exercise.

Coach Steve Maxwell once said that it doesn’t matter how much exercise your body can do, it’s how much your body can recover from that matters.

Any bodybuilder will tell you that their body doesn’t change when they train, but when they allow it to recover & grow.

It’s a simple formula — apply stimulus, allow adaptation, assess response, repeat.

112

I want you all to remember that number.

It’s the number of hours left in a week to do whatever you want after you’ve had 8 hours per night of sleep. If you want to sleep for 9 hours, which I would advise, that figure becomes 105.

If you were to spend six hours per week looking after your body by incorporating a training/active recovery schedule those figures become 106 and 99 respectively.

Now, please don’t tell me that ‘you don’t have the time’ for 8 hours of sleep per night. Unless you have a newborn baby in your house, we both know that’s just a lie.

clock Source: Shutterstock/fasphotographic

Paying Your Debts

‘But, I function just fine on 6 hours of sleep per night?’

There’s a huge difference between conditioning your body to survive in a sub-optimal state & thriving, believe me.

Let me ask you a couple of questions, if you think you’re doing ok on 6 hours a night.

  • Do you feel terrible when you wake up?
  • Do you find it hard to get out of bed?
  • Do you nap in the afternoon?
  • Do you want to nap in the afternoon?
  • Do you find it hard to shift the fat around your midsection?
  • On the weekends (or days off) do you sleep an abnormal amount?
  • Do you get colds, flus, & all sorts of other illnesses on a regular basis?

If you answered yes to more than one of those questions, then I’m sorry to say you’re probably accumulating a serious amount of sleep debt on a weekly basis.

Sleep debt is exactly what it sounds like. For every hour’s sleep below the amount that your body requires to recover from your daily activity, a debt is recorded.

In the short term, this debt leads to feelings of listlessness, lack of cognitive function, and impaired decision making.

In the long term, chronic sleep debt can lead to a piss-poor immune system, obesity, insulin resistance, and coronary heart disease.

The best part? Sleep debt is a cumulative stressor, it doesn’t dissipate until after it has been repaid in full, i.e. you cannot sleep for six hours a night Monday to Friday then pay off ten hours worth of sleep debt by having a three hour lay-in Saturday morning.

Stress = Stress =Stress (again)

Remember what I said about stress = stress = stress?

The stress hormone cortisol wreaks havoc with all of the functions of the human body, and when in a state of chronic sleep debt, it runs rampant leading to all of the above health issues.

So the answer is fairly simple, the first thing you need to address if you want to live a healthy life, and by far the easiest to do properly — Get a good night’s sleep.

It’s not very easy to train at your absolute peak consistently, it’s inevitable that some things will always get in the way.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to stick to a healthy diet. We all hit roadblocks from time to time.

Sometimes you just can’t keep the stress down, be it due to social/family problems, anxiety, work-related stress, etc.

However getting a good nights sleep is fairly simple 99.9%of the time.

What is a good nights sleep though?

I would define a good nights sleep as being at least eight hours in duration, with no interruptions, allowing your body to reach a REM state (deep sleep, don’t worry about the technical lingo, it’s just there if you want to google it).

Also you should ideally try to get to sleep before midnight. There’s an old saying that an hour’s sleep before midnight is worth the same as two hours after midnight.

After a good night’s sleep you should wake up feeling refreshed and practically leap out of bed.

So how do you go about making sure you have a good nights sleep? Make your bedroom your bed room.

Here’s a list of things that you need in your bedroom:

1. Bed.

That’s it. Even a window is optional, in fact you’ll probably get a better sleep if you sleep in a room without a window. If you must have a window in your room then I suggest getting the heaviest curtains you can find to shut out every bit of light when you plan to sleep.

Your bedroom should be used for sleeping. Your bedroom should not be a room where you hang out, play games, watch TV, surf the net, do college work etc (if you can help it).

Try to create a mental association between your bedroom and sleeping, it will make it easier to just drift off to sleep once you hit your bed.

Shut off

This goes for ALL electronic light sources in your room. The red LED alarm clock should be thrown in a drawer, or thrown out altogether. Your phone needs to be off, if you need an alarm to wake you then invest a few bob in a cheap alarm clock. No laptops, no televisions. Nothing that can create light, sound or emit radio waves your way should be present in your bedroom.

Prepare

About an hour before you intend to be sound asleep, you should be preparing for sleep, winding your body down so that you can drift off to sleep naturally and without too much of a struggle. There’s nothing worse than getting into bed to toss and turn for an hour.

Pre-sleep checklist:

  • Stop working an hour before sleep (college/work projects)
  • Don’t exercise
  • Shut off your TV/Laptop/Phone 20 minutes before bed
  • Make sure your bedroom is slightly cooler than other rooms in your home — a room that’s too hot or too cold may interfere with sleep.
  • As a miscellaneous tip try to read one chapter of a fictional book before you sleep. It will help to clear your mind of your real-life problems and relax you.

Also, if you want to wake up feeling refreshed take in a source of fats (a spoonful of coconut oil or nut butter) before and try to avoid coffee, chocolate & other stimulants before bed.

In conclusion, we all know sleep is important. I hope this article makes you realise exactly how important it is and gives you a deeper understanding of why it’s important.

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. You can follow his work on Facebook or his website

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