This is the first of several articles in our Cornerstones of Health series whose purpose is to educate, stimulate, and motivate. This information is a compilation of data from many reputable healthcare sites, books, classes, and my personal clinical experience….so, read on.
Leave a comment if you have questions or catch me at the gym (hopefully not between rounds of Fran).
Sleep…. The cornerstone to health
Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life and we do know it’s imperative.
Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults, and too much or too little can have adverse effects on your health. Athletes need more!
For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
- Dramatically weaken your immune system
- Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
- Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
- Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, decrease your problem solving ability, lead to frequent injury and slow recovery. In other words – your next WOD will suck!
When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone and an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight disease, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to disease.
Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders including: heart disease; stomach ulcers; constipation; and depression.
Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as CrossFit). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger among other things – and it helps you get strong.
Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as most of you probably know.
Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning—or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep—you are bound to find some relief from these tips below.
Optimizing Your Sleep Area
- Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio. Cover your windows—using blackout shades or drapes.Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for ACTION.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
- Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view or angle it away from your sight.
- Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you watch TV or work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed. Use your bed for two things only….
Preparing for Bed
- Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health. So – all you night WOD party people….. shut it down before 11.
- Don’t change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
- Don’t drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom, or at least minimize the frequency.
- Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you’ll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
- Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production.
- Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
- Take a hot bath or shower before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed.
- Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks reduces night wakings.
- Wear an eye mask to block out light. As discussed earlier, it is very important to sleep in as close to complete darkness as possible. That said, it’s not always easy to block out every stream of light using curtains, blinds or drapes, particularly if you live in an urban area (or if your partner has a different schedule than you do). In these cases, an eye mask can be helpful.
- Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow’s deadlines.
- No TV right before bed/iPad/iPhone/laptop – or anything with a blue light. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV and electronics with blue lights (or any light) disrupts your pineal gland function. This is especially important for young people.
Lifestyle Suggestions That Enhance Sleep
- Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after 3 pm. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption.
- Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
- Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.
- Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep.
- Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems. Keep notes of what foods cause reactions and avoid them.
If you want more – check out the latest sleep article in the Crossfit Journal.
Take good care Trident