Regardless of your health and fitness aspirations, sleep has a profound impact on how well you progress toward achieving those aspirations.
Sleep is the best thing you can do to reset the health of your body and mindMatthew Walker
World renowned sleep expert Matthew Walker highlighted in his book ‘Why We Sleep’ the importance of prioritising sleep before nutrition and exercise.
Evidence shows that without sufficient quality and quantity of sleep you can’t exercise anywhere near your full potential and are more likely to get injured. Therefore, the effectiveness of your workout will be greatly diminished without proper sleep. Sleep is also vital for recovery.
Also, the better you sleep, the more of the hormone leptin is produced which suppresses hunger. However, just a single night of bad sleep exponentially increases the hormone ghrelin which makes you crave more refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
During good quality sleep, your body and brain literally starts regenerating itself and repairing your cells to reduce likelihood of disease. Without this your body isn’t in a relaxed enough state to be able to do this.
So not having good quality sleep has a knock on effect in many other aspects of health.
Of course nutrition and exercise are important, but sleep quality provides the foundation for nutrition and exercise to be effective.
We have a chronic sleep problem
Despite the above, many of us are chronically sleep deprived. A study by Oxford University highlighted the fact that many people in the UK don’t get good quality sleep with considerable consequences to our health. This includes weight gain, quadrupling our chances of getting sick and being low on energy.
So what is causing us to be so sleep deprived?
I think it is a cultural issue around whats considered socially ‘normal’.
There is a hidden shame attached to sleep.
You don’t feel ashamed for exercising or eating well.
But there is a hidden shame attached to sleeping. If you sleep a long time you are sometimes perceived as lazy and slothful.
We also live in a culture that almost praises sleep deprivation. Being so busy achieving things and not having enough time to sleep can be seen as a good thing.
We live busy, stressful and screen addicted lifestyles.
There is always one more urgent task to complete right now. One more distraction.
We’ll just drink another pot of coffee or sugary energy drink, and that will get us through the storm.
Then we say we will change for the better when I get the time.
But of course, you never get the time. And the same thing happens again and again.
So it’s no wonder we have a sleep and bigger health crisis.
So it’s ultimately up to you to empower your own health.
Solutions for better sleep
We now know the vital importance of sleep and also the fact we live in a sleep deprived society.
However, actually making the lifestyle changes required to get better quality sleep is easier said than done.
So I offer four practical tips below;
1.Schedule and prioritise your day
It’s common to think you don’t have time.
But since I’ve started to schedule things I’ve realised it’s not a lack of time, it’s an overload of distractions and things that don’t matter.
From checking emails 50 times a day to checking my phone and social media updates.
So first, prioritise what matters most to you.
Initially it seems like more work, but spending 10 minutes to write down what you are going to do and for how long including what time you will finish working and what time you go to bed is incredibly powerful.
Research shows that once you write it down and have a plan to follow your brain is much more likely to want to stick to it and it will soon become a habit.
There will always be something more to do.
Task lists are never ending.
But you have to realise that whether you like it or not, you are not a robot.
You are a human being.
So if you really feel like you need to spend more time working ask yourself the following question: will my world come to an end if I don’t do this today?
If the answer is no, then it’s better for your health and for your productivity to stop, get a decent night’s sleep and start again in a more productive state tomorrow.
2. Limit caffeine after lunch and swap it for green or chamomile tea
In simple terms, caffeine blocks the signals that tell our brains we need sleep.
It does not actually address the physiological needs which can only be met with actual sleep.
Therefore, caffeine just masks the problem of sleep deprivation rather than solving the problem.
We have not evolved to drink loads of caffeine.
It is not in our natural nature.
If you feel you really need caffeine to make it through your morning without feeling sluggish, that should be a major red flag that you are already sleep deprived.
If you do feel like you can’t live without it, try to have it just in the early part of the day and not in the evening.
You could also try drinking green or herbal tea instead which contains small amounts of caffeine and provides many other health benefits.
Chamomile tea is also a good choice if you want a hot drink with studies showing it helps you relax and improve sleep quality.
3. No technology 30 minutes before bed
The longer you go before bed without technology, the better.
But if this is difficult start with just 30 minutes.
To get a deep restful sleep body needs a hormone called melatonin and technology and screens actively restrict the production of this hormone.
Therefore, try not to use technology in bed and instead read a book to help you relax. This will help your brain associate bed with sleep.
It is also preferential to sleep in total darkness to help keep your body’s circadian rhythm is sync.
4. Do some physical activity outside in the morning
Research shows that exercising in the morning daylight helps you to sleep.
This is true even if it’s cloudy as well as sunny.
It helps to kick-start the brain in the same way as when you expose yourself to bright light early in the morning, and it makes the body release melatonin earlier in the evening.
Moreover, you reap all the amazing additional benefits of exercising outside.
However, if your only opportunity is to do your workouts in the evening, you can have a hot shower which will help bring your body’s temperature back in sync for a better nights sleep.