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In the last article I wrote, I mentioned that sleep was an important part of building muscle.
I also promised a dedicated post to talk about sleep and how important it is.
Let’s get started!
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Your mental and physical health and the quality of your waking life is dependent on the quality of your sleep.
But we are all so busy. There is so much to accomplish each day. Surely, just getting one hour less sleep each night is a good solution. It seems like a small sacrifice to make to get everything done in a day, and what harm can it do, you ask?
The problem is that losing just one hour of sleep every day can lead to long-term sleep deprivation which can have a devastating effect on your health and well-being. Your mood will change. You will handle stress differently. Mental sharpness and energy will decline.
Remember, when we are sleeping, our body doesn’t just shut off. Our brain keeps working on all the biological stuff it needs to do to keep us healthy and in top condition.
But how much sleep do you need?
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
This is the million dollar question. There are lots of opinions about the amount of sleep that we need to stay healthy.
What everyone agrees upon is that if you don’t get enough quality sleep, there will be consequences.
The following chart shows how much sleep the average person needs at different stages of their lives.
We all know that one person who seems to get by on just a few hours of sleep every night and still function properly. Those people are an anomaly. It may seem they are functioning fine, but eventually the lack of quality sleep will catch up with them.
I will give a personal example. When I was younger and working hard, and less happy in my life in general, I would stay up working until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then I would go to bed, exhausted, just to get up at 6am to start the next day.
I “survived” on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night for 15 years or so. During that time, I went to the gym regularly in the mornings to try to stay in shape. I hired a strength coach and followed the strict lifting and eating plans, but was unable to gain any muscle, and in fact ended up injuring myself quite seriously.
It is only now, years later, that I realize that I was not giving my body enough time every night to repair itself, grow muscle, and prepare for the next day.
I now get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, work out three or four times a week (instead of 5 or six times), lift less weight, and yet have made gains in muscle mass that I could not make when I was younger.
There are other factors in play with this muscle growth, but I am convinced that sleep is one of the major factors in my health today.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about quality of sleep. It isn’t just the hours of sleep that we get. If we are constantly waking up, then we are not getting enough deep sleep. It is during this deep sleep that the body repairs itself and stores energy for the next day.
It is important to get this REM sleep. If you are sleeping the recommended hours for your life stage but are still feeling sluggish throughout the day, then you are probably not getting enough deep sleep. This is when the body suffers.
What If I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
So how do you even know if you are sleep deprived? So many of us have functioned for so long on not enough sleep that our “normal” is getting through the day without enough energy.
If you always feel sleepy in meetings or warm rooms, if you feel sluggish in the afternoon, if you need a nap to get through the day, or if you fall asleep while watching TV, you might be sleep deprived.
If you need an alarm clock to wake up and you rely on the snooze button, if you get drowsy after meals or while driving, or if you fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed, you might be sleep deprived.
If you are experiencing these sleep deprivation symptoms, then there are more serious things happening behind the scenes in your body that you need to be concerned about.
Those symptoms are just the outward manifestations of sleep deprivation. Other effects include:
- moodiness and irritability
- increased risk of depression
- decreased sex drive
- relationship issues
- premature skin aging
- weakened immune system
- frequent colds and infections
- reduced creativity and problem solving skills
- difficulty making decisions
- fatigue and lethargy
- lack of motivation
- impaired motor skills
- increased risk of accidents
- increased risk of serious health problems including stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers
- weight gain
Any one of those should be enough of a wake up call for us to realize that we need to be getting enough sleep.
Put together, sleep deprivation is a serious, serious problem.
Are There Any Health Risks To Sleep Deprivation?
Let’s just talk a little about a couple of the issues listed above.
First, sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, Sleep deprivation has a direct link to overeating, and therefore, weight gain.
There are two hormones in the body that regulate the normal feelings of hunger and being full. Ghrelin stimulate appetite and leptin sends a signal to your brain when you are full.
If you are sleep deprived, your ghrelin levels go up, so your appetite is always stimulated. That would be OK if leptin also went up so your brain would know you were full, but the opposite happens.
When you are sleep deprived, your leptin levels go down, so you are never satisfied with the amount of food you have eaten and you want to keep eating. And so the cycle continues and you overeat and gain weight.
Another serious effect of sleep deprivation is that our brain performance is similar to aging. One study looked at sleep deprivation and brain function and found that those who were severely sleep deprived (no more than 4 hours of sleep per night) had a decline in thinking ability equivalent to adding eight years in age. That’s serious.
Another study found that sleep deprivation increased the risk of early death, and another review of 15 studies found that people who sleep less than 7 hours per night have a greater risk of stroke or heart disease than those who sleep seven to eight hours each night.
All of this to say, we need to be getting enough sleep.
That’s great, you say, but what if I can’t sleep?
Why Can’t I Sleep?
There are a variety of reasons that you may be unable to sleep.
Remember what I always say: It’s what we do most of the time that matters. If you are getting the required hours of sleep most of the time, and then stay up really late one night, it’s not the end of the world. Or if you lay awake in bed and can’t sleep once in a while, no biggie.
It’s the constant, regular lack of sleep that leads to sleep deprivation.
Perhaps your lack of sleep is your own fault. Maybe you have habits that are keeping you from falling asleep at a reasonable hour: screen time, TV, reading in bed.
Then there are work obligations. If you work shift work, then it takes your body a while to adjust to your different sleep patterns. Or it could be there is a lot of stress in your job and you find it difficult to wind down at the end of the day.
And then there are personal obligations like family and friends. Perhaps you are providing care for a child or an aging parent. Maybe there is tension in your relationships. All of these things may be factors in your sleep deprivation.
There are things you can do to assist in getting enough sleep.
First, see a doctor and rule out any medical issues. If you are still having trouble sleeping then try some of the following:
- stick to a regular sleep schedule to allow your body to get into a sleep habit
- get regular exercise – 30 minutes a day may help
- be smart about what you eat and drink – no caffeine, alcohol or sugary foods after dinner
- Get help with stress management – talk to someone about ways to deal with the stress of work or home
- improve your sleep environment – keep the bedroom dark and quiet
- reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sex – not reading and screen time and TV
- develop a relaxing routine before bed – leave the TV and phone out of the bedroom; avoid stressful conversations before bed; take a warm bath or shower, read by a dim light, practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques before sleeping
- postpone worrying – remember that there is nothing that you can do about it now. Write it down and deal with it tomorrow.
Sleep is crucial for good health. Without the required hours of sleep, our bodies cannot repair and grow and prepare for the next day.
It is while you sleep that your muscles grow. When you work out, you tear down the muscle tissue. When you sleep, you give your body the time to do all the work behind the scenes to rebuild the muscle tissue bigger and stronger.
There is no substitute for a good nights sleep. Sleeping in on the weekend won’t make up for a lack of sleep during the week. It may just cause more problems.
Look at the chart. See where you fit in. Then build a schedule that has sleep as the important center of well-being.
Without the proper amount of sleep, you will suffer all kinds of malady.
Remember, I am not a professional. If you are having sleep issues, seek the advice of a doctor or other professional.
Once again, the choice is yours. How do you want to live your life?
I choose a long healthy life, filled with joy, laughter, love, and fitness! Sleep helps me get this life!
As always, if you have questions or comments about my opinions, please leave them below.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!