Updated: Jan 10, 2021
There is a good reason why doctors, trainers and health professionals all over the world dedicate their life’s work to studying the importance of sleep, it's impact on our day-to-day lives, as well as long term health. Sleep is essential for maintaining our mental and physical health. The consequences of not getting enough sleep both acutely (one bad sleep) and chronically (a month or longer of poor sleep), can have a huge impact on our health. The bad news is that many people struggle to get enough sleep on a regular basis due to work, school, stress levels, technology use and more. The good news is there are some tips and tricks on how to improve your sleep quality and get a good night’s rest!
So, how important is sleep really? During sleep our body cycles through different phases of sleep every 90-120 minutes. We need to cycle through this at least 4-6 times per night. One of these phases is called REM (rapid eye movement) - you may have heard of it. During REM, our muscles are relaxed and our body goes into a stage of 'rest & digest' where our digestive system is active and our muscles can take a break and truly rest. During this 'rest & digest' stage, there is an increase in Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) which allows our muscles to repair and regrow after any stress that we have placed on them throughout the day (i.e. a workout). Not only does it benefit our body, but the cognitive effect sleep has is quite impactful. This is where we solidify our learning and memory which aids in motor control (how we control our bodily movements) and mind to muscle connections. This is essential for everyone, especially fitness fiends and dancers!
We now know how important quality sleep is, but what happens if we don’t get enough of it? When we lack quality sleep, both in short bouts or over long periods of time, it can have a major impact on our functioning and overall health. We may experience increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone), decreased cognitive functioning which can affect our concentration and memory, and an overall lack of energy. Additionally, we may have less control of our appetite due to increased ghrelin secretion (the hormone that tells us we are hungry), and an impaired leptin activity (the hormone that tells us we are full and satisfied). This list is most definitely not extensive and there are so many other impacts of not getting adequate sleep.
Luckily we have some control on the quality of sleep we have. Here are 5 tips on how to get a better night’s rest and take full advantage of the benefits of sleep!
1: Have a solid routine. Try going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time, and complete workouts around the same time each day. This will help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm (our natural clock).
2: Keep your room dark and cool at bedtime. This will help tell our body that it is time to rest. Blackout curtains or a sleep mask can be a great investment to help with this part.
3: Avoid caffeine within 12 hours of going to bed. Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, which means our body may still feel the effects of it within 12 hours of drinking it.
4: Avoid eating before going to bed. Try to eat your last meal 3-4 hours before bedtime. However, if you are hungry try to stay away from high sugar foods before bed. Our body will use this natural energy to keep us awake and alert, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do when we get all tucked in.
5: Turn off screens 1-2 hours before bed. This includes TVs, phones, laptops, etc. Try dimming the lights in your house during this time as well to signal your body that it's almost time to rest.
These 5 easy steps can help you achieve the good night’s rest that we all need and deserve. If falling asleep is something that can be challenging for you, start off with one of these steps. Over time, try adding a new tip into your routine. We don’t have complete control over how much rest we get, but let’s do everything we can to focus on that good, quality sleep.
Sleep tight, and remember - always reach for the clouds!