Sleep Series – Post 1: Introduction

I have been thinking about sleep a lot this week. Sleep has been a main focus in my Stress Management Masters class, I have several friends and colleagues that are suffering from lack of sleep, AND I have been thinking about next week when my ultrarunning friend Becca is going to tackle a 200-mile race with very little (if any) sleep. I will be crewing for Becca and I am worried that even though she is the one who will be doing all the running and all the work, I will be the one who won’t be able to keep my eyes open and be awake when she needs me at the aid station. The body is an amazing machine and the intense stress Becca will be under during her epic event will no doubt put a strain on every organ in her body. Coupled with the lack of sleep to build and repair the damaged muscle, sleep deprivation is going to further strain her system. Realizing this, I am trying to prepare myself mentally to understand what she will be going through so I can be of some level of help to her next week.

Sleep is more than simply the time between one day and the next. Adequate, consistent sleep is the key to reaching and maintaining body composition goals, peak athletic and cognitive performance, and optimizing health in general. Although “adequate” sleep is subjective, many experts agree that eight or more hours each night is what most of us need.

Why is sleep important:

  • Recovery – When we sleep, hormones such as testosterone repair organs and rebuild muscles that were worked during the day.
  • Immune boost – During the sleep cycle our white blood cells, macrophages, and leukocytes multiply and fight harmful bacteria.
  • Mental Health – Our brains have time to rest and recover to prepare for the stress of the following day.
  • Lack of sleep can increase carb storage and affect metabolism, decrease immune system function, lead to hypertension, heart disease and premature aging.

If you have trouble falling asleep, try the following practices:

  • Limit electronics (TV, cell phones, laptops, etc.) before bed. The blue lights from electronics can cause an increase in cortisol (a stress hormone), increase in the appetite hormone ghrelin and increase insulin production which increases fat storage while you are sleeping!
  • Create a comfortable environment: sleep in a dark, cool room (60-68 degrees is ideal) without noise, distraction and clutter. Your sleeping environment should be a simple, clean room without electronics present.
  • Follow the cycles of the earth: our circadian rhythm should ideally follow the rising and setting of the sun. Because of this, the amount of sleep we need can vary depending on the season. This is important because the circadian rhythm impacts not only our sleep and eating patterns, it also affects our cellular repair and regeneration in addition to our hormone production.
  • Be consistent: set a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Limit food and alcohol before bed: Carbohydrates are especially troublesome before bed because they trigger insulin response. If you are going to have a glass of wine in the evening, try to limit it to several hours prior to bedtime.

As a Certified Primal Health Coach, I subscribe to the Primal Blueprint guidelines regarding sleep and look forward to sharing more with you on future blogs or in personal coaching sessions.

Check back for more information on how adequate sleep can promote weight loss, reduce stress, optimize health and improve athletic performance.  Also stay tuned to hear how much sleep Becca and I get during her 200-mile race next week!!

Cat naps are good too!

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