Sleep is a key pillar in our health, wellness and athletic performance. It’s often overlooked, or put on the back burner because we perceive we don’t have time. However, sleep is something we are in control of and making changes cost very little.
Sleep allows the entire body to rest and the mind to repair itself. The brain and organs are still active while you sleep but it’s a lower grade activity. Sleep is absolutely essential to a health. While you are asleep a lot is going on to help your body recover and rebuild. Sleep is actually a highly metabolic process that helps optimize our brain structure, repair damaged cells in the body and to restore energy levels.
How much sleep is enough?
Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep and try to get a couple of those hours before mid night as this is when you typically get the most deep sleep, where as the REM sleep is more active closer to waking.. Ideally you want to hit 5 sleep cycles per night and each sleep cycle is about 90 minutes. Women tend to need more sleep them men. Athletes also need sleep to help with recover from the stresses of training, so consider increasing sleep priority during heavy training blocks or before your big race.
There are 5 stages to sleep: Stage 1 and 2 are light sleep, stage 3 and 4 are deep sleep and stage 5 or stage R is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Light sleep initiates your sleep cycle and is a transition point for deeper sleep stages. Approximately 45-55% of your sleep time is spent in light sleep.
Deep sleep is where a lot the cellular repair occurs through increased blood flow to the muscles, release of growth hormone, and clearance of waste products from the brain. Approximately 13-23% of your sleep time is spent in deep sleep. After a hard workout you might find you get more deep sleep to help with repair of tissues.
REM sleep is associated with memory consolidation, learning, problem solving and dreaming. Approximately 20-25% of your sleep time is spent in REM sleep. After a cognitively stressful day you might find you have more REM sleep to sort out your day.
Quality vs Quantity
Sleep quality is just as if not more important than sleep quantity, so if you have trouble sleeping, here are some tips to improve sleep quality.
Create your Optimal Sleep Routine and Sleep Sanctuary
Food & Drink
Sleep trackers and interpreting your data.
Wearable devices that track your sleep are becoming more common and more sophisticated, but what does the data mean and how can you use it. First you can identify how much sleep you are getting night in and night out and compare that over the course of a month, season or year. You can compare the quality of sleep and the performance in your workout(s), race or identify if you are getting sick or burnt out.
Use the data to adjust your alarm / wake up time to be inline with trends you see on your device. For example, if you are being woke up in deep sleep or REM sleep you might feel groggy or shocked. Whereas if you adjusted your wake up time (and maybe bed time) by 15-30 mins you might wake up in a light sleep phase and actually feel more refreshed. Play around with your data and alarm time and see what impact it has.
Nutrients/Supplements to support sleep.
Here are some foods, nutrients and supplements to consider that can help support your sleep. If you have any questions about supplements it is best to consult a qualified health care practitioner and check for any contraindications with existing medications or health concerns.
How to Take Action
If you already know you don’t sleep well, identify the areas in your sleep routine that you can improve on.
If you think you sleep well, but are only getting less than 6 hours of sleep, then choose to prioritize you sleep for the next 2 weeks and focus on setting an earlier bed time and see how you feel with more sleep.
Sleep is something we are in control of and making changes cost very little. Remember, that email can wait until the next day. The TV show can be recorded and the friends you text at night will be OK too. Turn off those lights and go to bed!!