The Power of Sleep

“I’ll live whilst I’m alive and sleep when I’m dead”
is a line from one of my favourite songs and whilst there is not much to criticise the great Bon Jovi about,  they may have got this one wrong.

You see the power of sleep (whilst you’re alive!) is not to be underestimated.  In fact it’s possibly the most important thing we must do to survive, repair, recover and retain skills. It enriches a diversity of functions, including our ability to learn, memorise, and make logical decisions and choices. It re-calibrates our emotional brain circuits and down in the body it restocks the immune system: fighting malignancy, preventing infection and protecting from illness

However, many of us just aren’t getting enough sleep every night.  According to the National Sleep Foundations’ recommendations  the amount of sleep we need varies throughout out life according to age with adults needing between 7 – 9 hours each night yet,  the average Britain only gets just over 6.5hours.

So what effect does this have on the general public?

Sleep deficiency in the general public can affect:

  • all efforts to improve body composition
  • strength and fitness
  • long-term health contributing to:
  • increased blood pressure
  • impaired appetite control
  • over eating, weight gain and obesity
  • carbohydrate metabolism/blood sugar control introducing a state similar to diabetes
  • inflammation
  • lowered immune function

Additionally, less than 6h sleep or more than 10h sleep is associated with a greater risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

But what if you’re an athlete?
With an increased training load, the effects on the body and performance can be even worse. Physical performance has been shown to be affected by lack of sleep, including weight-lifting, cardiorespiratory functioning and psychomotor tasks that require accuracy and consistent performance

  • Lack of sleep reduces accuracy during skill testing.
  • Less than 8h sleep (and particularly less than 6h) reduces your time to physical exhaustion by up to 30%, and aerobic output is reduced. In addition, the following are also seen:
    • reduced limb extension force
    • reduced vertical jump height
    • reduced peak and sustained muscle strength
    • reduced cardiovascular capacity
    • reduced metabolic and respiratory capability
    • increased rates of lactic acid build-up
    • reduced blood oxygen saturation
    • increased blood carbon dioxide
    • a reduction in self-cooling ability.

So what can we do to get a good nights sleep?

Reduce blue light exposure.
We need blue light (a wavelength that is highly concentrated in sunlight) during the day. In fact, it is absolutely crucial for many of our body’s processes including setting the body clock, However, it is also emitted from the screens of electronic devices and so the use of these after dark impacts the human circadian clock contributing to sleep deficiency.

Maximise daylight exposure particularly first thing in the morning.
Did you know that sunlight in the morning actually signals a part of your brain (the hypothalamus) and all corresponding organs and glands to be alert and wake up? Not only that, it also triggers our body to produce optimal levels of daytime hormones and neurotransmitters which regulate our internal patterns (sleep, alertness, eating, digestion, hormone production, mood and temperature).
Break your day up with a walk or simply take a hot drink outside to enjoy.

Add a pre-sleep routine 
The body likes routine and by completing a simple routine, such as switching off electronic devices, having a hot drink etc will signal to the body that it’s time to relax. Think of it as a warm up to sleep.

Put your thoughts on paper
By writing down all the things that you’re trying to remember for the next day, it allows the mind to quieten knowing that nothing will be forgotten and again signals to the body/brain to relax and sleep!
Thanks to Paula Clayton.  Extracts taken from Co-Kinetic