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Why is sleep so important?

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

I'm sure you have heard a variety of things regarding the quantity of sleep, but I think we can agree that the quality also needs to be high!

In regards to the quantity, it will vary slightly from person to person, but the majority of us need 7-8 hrs per night to completely reset and recover. There used to be little known about why we need sleep, aside from the observed long term repercussions of not getting enough of it. This includes high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, obesity, and depression.

Fortunately, there have been some major breakthroughs in this area recently. With this new data, we've been able to shed some light in a more anatomical perspective on why we actually need sleep.  Researchers at the National Institute of Health have recently uncovered a (once thought to be non-existent) system of lymphatic vessels (the body’s sewer system) which lie amongst the blood vessels in the dura mater of the brain (a thick membrane surrounding the brain).  This discovery was important in that we now know how the brain gets rid of its cellular waste, and how much of an important role sleep plays in this.  As we sleep, the brain slightly shrinks in size from its daytime “inflamed” state.  When this happens the toxins (or cellular waste) can then be flushed out via the lymphatic tracks in the dura mater. 

How can this effect my fitness results?

Having adequate sleep is imperative for your body to recover and reset for the next day's activity. Because sleep affects so many of the main tissues and functions of our body such as the brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune function, and even mood, it is essential we get enough sleep to feel well-rested and tackle our workouts (and lives) with our 100% everyday!

Circadian rhythms influence many functions of the body like body temperature, metabolism, and release of hormones. All which have enormous impacts on a fitness goal. Your body's biological clock, which is closely based to a 24hr day, controls most circadian rhythms.

Sleep Stages

Most of us have heard of R.E.M. sleep before. But what does it mean? What are the other types of sleep? R.E.M. or rapid eye movement, is just one of the two basic types of sleep we can have. R.E.M. sleep and non-R.E.M. sleep are the two basic types of sleep, and non R.E.M. sleep has three different stages.

R.E.M. Sleep - This Stage of sleep occurs throughout the night in cycles where blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are similar to that of when you are awake. This is also when most dreaming occurs. Eye movement is fast and irregular.

Stage 1 non-R.E.M. - This stage is still a light sleep where heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and muscles start to relax. Eye movement slows down and occasional twitching may occur as well.

Stage 2 non-R.E.M. - This stage is also a lighter sleep. Muscles relax even further, body temperature drops slightly, and eye movement is minimized.

Stage 3 non-R.E.M. - This stage is a deeper sleep where heart rate and breathing are at their true resting rate. This stage is very important for having a complete reset. Having the feeling of being refreshed, strong, energized, having mental clarity, and overall well-being are all benefits of being able to obtain enough time in this stage!

How much sleep do we need?

The requirement of amount of sleep as well as your individual sleep patterns will change as you age, and each individual person will have a different pattern and need. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night. To get a good idea of how many hours you'll need each night, it's best to see what time your body will naturally awaken after going to bed at a similar time for at least one week straight. That means no alarms, or distractions during the night for one week straight. It can be a tall order, but going to bed early can compensate for a required wake up time and allow you the chance to have your body's alarm clock do the work and wake you up when it is done resting. Try to get out of bed within 10 min of waking up to prevent yourself from falling back asleep and feeling groggy from too much sleep!

Looking at the large majority of the population, most of us simply do not get enough sleep. In addition to this, the sleep we do get is not very high in quality,  meaning there are interruptions in the cycle of deep to R.E.M. sleep.  This will, over time, cause hormonal imbalances, irritability, problems with memory, interaction in relationships, an increase in anxiety, risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disorders, and your overall health as a whole will just be sub-par from your real potential!

Sleep Tech

Many people are now using smart technology to track their sleep patterns, help them get to sleep using sounds or meditation videos, or even turning off the blue light being emitted by screens after a certain hour. All of these can be great tools in keeping tabs on your sleep patterns and helping you ensure a restful night sleep at the same times each night. There are pros to each of these techniques, but when the technology itself becomes a distraction from you actually getting more hours of sleep, this is where it is time to draw the line and just go to bed earlier.

Another thing to keep in mind is trying to have your cell phone at a distance out of reach while sleeping (especially if you have a hard time not looking at it). This can ensure you have a routine that tells your mind and body that once you are in bed, it's time to sleep - not time to read posts (like this one), or scroll through your favourite social media platform which will stimulate your brain further.

Tips for a good night sleep

Exercise regularly -

At least 30 minutes a day will help your body expend all that great energy and leave you nice and tired at night.

Avoid caffeine a few hours before bed -

Seems like an obvious one, but a lot of us will have sources of caffeine before bed without knowing it like dark chocolate, tea, or pop.

Keep on a regular sleep schedule -

Going to bed and waking up at similar times each night is very important for your circadian rhythm, metabolism, hormones, mood, and everything in-between to operate correctly.

Keep your bed for sleeping -

Or course there are other things you can do in a bed (which we don't need to mention), but this mostly refers to trying to avoid using your bed for things like studying, snacking, video games, and watching tv. Leaving the bed primarily for sleep will help allow your mind and body to know it's time to shut down as soon as you crawl under those nice covers at days end.

Temperature -

Try to set a slightly cooler temperature in the bedroom to allow your body to naturally calm down, and start to slow its functions.

If you're having trouble falling asleep - Go do something else outside the bedroom. Reading, meditation, and thinking about future goals (your vision board) and how awesome it will be to achieve them are some of my favourites. Then, when you're ready, go back to bed. This may seem tough to do the first night, but installing this habit will have you needing the trick itself less and less.

Still having trouble?

It can't hurt to mention your trouble sleeping to your doctor, chiropractor, even massage therapist, and trainer. Every one of these professionals can have a helping hand in making sure you are taking the right steps in working toward a great night sleep!

Looking for more?

Of course you are! We love sleep too! Check out Tom Bilyeu and his Website/Youtube channel called Impact Theory for many more tips on sleep, and great interviews with other professionals!

Tom Bilyeu. "These Sleep Experts Explain How to Get the Best Rest | Health Theory." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Dec. 2019. Web. 8 June, 2020.


Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep

NIH Publication No. 17-3440c

A Good Night's Sleep

Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency

Tom Bilyeu. "These Sleep Experts Explain How to Get the Best Rest | Health Theory." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Dec. 2019. Web. 8 June, 2020.

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