I am often asked about the importance of sleep and how to know if you’re getting enough sleep to support your health and fitness efforts.
I, for one, am very sensitive to a lack of sleep. If I get less than seven hours of sleep each night, my mental acuity and physical performance drop dramatically. The amount of sleep needed seems to vary widely from person to person and there is no simple formula to calculate a person’s sleep requirements. So why do some people need less sleep?
It seems genetics has everything to do with it. There is one example where researchers found small mutations in a gene called DEC2, which plays a role in the amount of sleep people with this gene require. Other studies have found similar findings — in most cases the need for sleep is a biological requirement rather than a personal preference.
For the majority of us, getting too little sleep will have a noticeable impact on our health, quality of life and can even shorten our life expectancy. Our bodies’ need for sleep is regulated in a similar way to how we regulate our need for water and food. We must sleep, eat and hydrate eventually or we could impact our health to the point of death.
Your nightly sleep cycles roughly 4 to 5 times each night. Those sleep cycles last about 90 minutes or so and in some people, a bit longer. When we talk about a sleep cycle, it is important to understand what they are. As you fall asleep, your brain starts a process that lets your body relax, muscles release, heart rate slow and your body temperature drop. At this point your immune and endocrine systems kick in and start repairing cells and other systems in the body. The final part of the cycle is delta sleep or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is also when the vast majority of dreams occur. During delta or REM sleep, your body goes through a number of changes by increasing blood pressure and heart rate along with increases in your respiratory and brain activity.
Once you shortchange your body of sleep, it does not necessarily get replenished by taking a quick nap or sleeping in a day or two later. Studies have shown lack of sleep catches up with you almost immediately. It is estimated that the loss of a couple of hours of sleep can have the same effect on your driving skills the next morning as drinking a couple of alcoholic beverages does.
One of the first areas in your body to be affected by lack of sleep is how your body handles two key hormones: Insulin and cortisol. When these two hormones get out of balance due to lack of sleep, they will directly affect your metabolic health. Lack of sleep can trigger insulin resistance and spike cortisol levels which can lead to weight gain and other metabolic disorders. Research has shown that just a few nights of bad sleep can jumpstart insulin resistance in even healthy individuals.
High cortisol levels can be very problematic, leading to equally bad health concerns like elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, irritability and even muscle loss.
In the U.S., it is estimated that seven in 10 Americans are affected by sleep deficiencies. As you look at your overall health and fitness for 2019, you need to include proper sleep patterns and manage them. We live hectic lives and sleep is often taken for granted, so if a healthy new year is in your plans, slow down and be sure to get enough sleep to fit your body’s needs.
How can you tell if lack of sleep is affecting your overall ability to stay health and at peak performance? For athletes and people living an active fitness lifestyle, the following are among the most common complaints caused by sleep deficiencies:
• Fatigue and reduced reaction time during physical activity.
• Delayed recovery and healing time from training or athletic events.
• Poor concentration that can lead to injury, poor posture and improper form.
• Headache and poor digestion leading to an inability to train or compete.
• Inefficient conversion of fats, protein and carbohydrates for fueling the body.
• Mood disturbance and lack of motivation.
Regardless of the reason for lack of sleep, it is very clear that the negative impact to health, wellness and fitness is undeniable. Approach your sleep requirements just like you do your workout schedules and good nutrition programs. Make better sleep a priority in 2019 and you will certainly feel better in the long run.
Judd Jones is a certified primal health coach and fitness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org www.jhanawellness.com.