You've probably heard a friend or co-worker say something like "I function just fine on 5-6 hours of sleep". Perhaps you've uttered that sentence before? Quoting the classic movie "Office Space", 5-6 hours of sleep is kind of like the "minimum amount of flair". It's up to you if you want to do the bare minimum... Sure, it's possible to function on less than 7-9 hours per night, but if you choose to do that, you're sacrificing more than you think.
Check out this excerpt from the Sleep Foundation.
"Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality of one's sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, however, interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the body's ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease." www.sleepfoundation.org
That article didn't even mention anything about athletic performance. Check out the study Stanford conducted on athletic performance and improving your sprint time and free throw accuracy! If you'd like to nerd out a little more on the positive effects of sleep/the negative effects of not sleeping enough, then check out the links below on the following subjects (If you don't have time to click and read the studies, don't worry, I've provided a "Takeaway" section with the most important aspects of the studies).
Lack of sleep and weight loss/gain
- Takeaway: On average, we need about 7.5 hours of quality sleep per night, (Breus) says. “If you are getting this already, another half hour will not help you lose 10 pounds, but if you are a five-hour sleeper and start to sleep for seven hours a night, you will start dropping weight.”
- Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz.
Lack of sleep and depression
- Takeaway: The relationship isn't exactly clear on depression and sleep deprivation, but usually where you find one, you'll often find the other. "Sleep deprivation can impair mood, and impaired mood can result in impaired quality and quantity of sleep.”
- Mark Mahowald, MD, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Hennepin County
Lack of sleep and hormone imbalances & metabolism
- Takeaway: "Lack of sleep could be a risk factor for chronic diseases, including obesity and diabetes."
Lack of sleep and inability to learn
- Takeaway: "This discovery indicates that we not only need sleep after learning to consolidate what we've memorized, but that we also need it before learning, so that we can recharge and soak up new information the next day."
- Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley
Lack of sleep lowers testosterone
- Takeaway: After only one week of decreased sleep (5 hours per night), testosterone levels dropped by 10-15%. "As research progresses, low sleep duration and poor sleep quality are increasingly recognized as endocrine disruptors,"
-Eve Van Cauter, PhD
Ok, so hopefully we're all in agreement that sleep is important no matter what your goals may be. So how can you improve your sleep? What if you're only able to get 6 hours per night? Is there a way to maximize the amount of quality sleep?
In the second part of this post, I'll address the ways that the average human can improve their sleep and maximize the benefits of this crucial part of your day.
*** I am not a doctor, nor am I a dietician and I cannot prescribe any form of supplement/medication. However, the things I'm about to write about have been shown to increase sleep quality and quantity. Before using any supplement, please talk to your doctor.***
Improving your "Sleep Hygiene"
1) Minimize the amount of "Blue Light" before you go to bed.
During the day, humans are meant to be awake. We need vitamin D to survive and if we were nocturnal, we'd all have rickets. Humans are supposed to be awake when the sky is blue and asleep when the sky is dark. When your eyes see blue light, a signal is sent to the brain to suppress melatonin (the hormone that anticipates the onset of darkness). This wasn't an issue 100 or even 50 years ago because we didn't have electronics at our fingertips. Fast forward to the land of the touchscreen and we're all looking at TVs, laptops, tablets and smart phones that emit, you guessed it: blue light. At exactly the time when your brain is telling your body to go to bed, your eyes are getting a mixed signal from the blue light telling your brain to suppress the melatonin. This is a recipe for interrupted sleep. Want to nerd out on blue light? Check out this study from Harvard.
How to mitigate the blue light: Shut off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Try to read or mediate before bed instead of scrolling Facebook. If falling asleep to the TV is the norm then this may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Depending on how far down the rabbit hole you'd like to go, you can also invest in a pair of orange glasses. Sure you'll look silly but they'll keep the blue light out. However, studies are mixed on the effectiveness of this application. If you absolutely must work on your computer, you can download an application like Flux. I use this app daily and as the sun goes down, the screen will adapt to the time of day. Pretty neat.
2) Take a cool shower before bed.
While we sleep, our core body temperature is lowered and it takes only a small decrease in body temperature to tell our bodies it's time for bed. I'll admit that this sounded like a terrible idea when I first read about it. However, after experimenting and tracking my sleep habits for a couple months I can say that this definitely decreases the time in which I actually fall asleep. Start with a warm shower, then slowly turn the dial down to where it's just cool enough. You don't necessarily want to do an ice shower, as this will make your core body temperature drop, but then quickly rise trying to acclimate.
3) Minimize alcohol before bed.
Believe me, I was a sailor and I can tell you firsthand that there's always an excuse for a drink. However, if maximizing sleep is a goal of yours, cut the booze before bed. Yay day drinking!! Although you may "pass out" early from drinking, the quality of your sleep will be interrupted due to the sympathetic nervous system which doesn't return to baseline until the alcohol is out of your system. Your body won't be able to secret the growth hormones needed for repair, and you'll likely wake up to go to the bathroom as alcohol is a diuretic.
4) Black it out!
I'm referring to the light sources in your room. The darker the better. Just because the light isn't blue, doesn't mean it's not disrupting. You can get "black out" curtains for your windows or use an eye mask, but keep those little flashing lights to a minimum.
5) Get the Stress out of your life!
Of course there will always be some sort of stressors in our lives, but there are things we can do to mitigate our body's response. You may have heard of Corstisol, the "stress hormone". High concentrations of cortisol can negatively affect your sleep, not to mention make it hard to lose weight. Cortisol levels can be controlled by decreasing stress. In fact, just eating carbs and protein post-workout will decrease cortisol levels significantly (Perhaps you've heard of the post-workout window??). Mediation has also been shown to decrease cortisol.
These 5 Hygenic sleep aids are awesome, but if you'd like to go even deeper, check out The Sleep Judge: http://www.thesleepjudge.com/different-ways-technology-affects-sleep-quality/ Supplementation…...
- Vitamin D3: Over half of the modern world is vitamin D deficient and Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to sleep disorders. Recommended dosage: Between 2000 to 10,000IU
- ZMA: John Berardi, PhD of Precision Nutrition recommends ZMA for those with difficulties getting to sleep. Recommended dosage: 2-3 capsules
- Holy Basil: I first heard of Holy Basil from the Robb Wolf Podcast. Robb and Greg mentioned it in relation to adrenal fatigue. Holy Basil is thought to lower cortisol levels and although supplement data is often mixed, the reviews on webmd lists Holy Basil at 4.9 stars out of 5 for effectiveness.
- Phosphatidylserine: John Berardi of Precision Nutrition recommends PS for the lowering of cortisol and for recovery. It's a little pricier than some of the others but it seems to have some legit studies behind it. Recommended dosage: 600 to 800mg
- Valerian Root: Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition writes that Valerian Root can help sleep quality. Often times on a low calorie diet or a very low calorie diet (VLCD) sleep patterns become interrupted. Supplements are often used to combat this.
If you're putting in work in the gym and the kitchen and still not seeing the results you're looking for, check your sleep. Make sleep a priority in your life and everything else may fall into place. Your productivity, sex drive, fat loss, muscle gain, mood, and recovery: All of these things may be positively affected by getting adequate sleep.
Until next time, lights out folks.
By Ryan Humphries
BS Health Management: Exercise Science
Self proclaimed sleep nerd