The Unparalleled Benefits of Improving Sleep Quality
If you are trying to improve your health, but fail to address your sleep quality, then you are wasting your time.
Very few people truly understand the importance of quality sleep.
How many hours of sleep do you get a night? What about when you are on call?
When it comes to fully optimizing your health, there are three factors that you need to pay attention to- exercise, nutrition and sleep.
Sleep is the equalizer. It affects absolutely EVERYTHING you do.
Having a busy schedule, and getting a long restful night is almost incongruent in today’s world.
Welcome to the White Coat Trainer Sleep Series.
Today we will talk about sleep basics; why you need to care about it, and how to improve your sleep quality despite your busy schedule.
This post will cover
- The Relationship Between Sleep, Health and Fitness
- How Much Sleep You Really Need
- How to Maximize Your Sleep Naturally During Your Busy Schedule
The Many Benefits of Sleep
Don’t ever take your sleep lightly. Far too many people will trade a good night sleep for just about anything.
Do not make this mistake.
Poor sleep quality can easily cancel out any fitness or nutritional improvements you might make.
There is a reason why we spend close to a third of our lives asleep!
When You Sleep Your Body
- Goes into Anabolism- which is the process of restoration and healing
- Replenishes your energy stores making you feel refreshed
- Improves Cognitive Function
- Regulates Key Hormones in Fat Metabolism
If you truly understood how important sleep was, you probably wouldn’t skip it as much.
The Shocking Truth Regarding Sleep and Fitness
There is clear and consistent data that individuals who do not sleep regularly are negatively impacting their health and fitness.
Sleep is the ultimate anabolic state. As such, it is necessary for reaping the benefits of the hard work you put in at the gym.
Exercise is naturally an inflammatory, catabolic, destructive process that fatigues your musculoskeletal system and depletes your metabolic reserves.
The only way that your body can adapt to exercise is to rebuild itself into a stronger, more resilient state.
Sleep and nutrition is what will allow this process to occur.
If you choose to workout instead of sleep, you are making a bad trade. (I’m talking to you if you are training at 24 hour fitness at midnight).
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to numerous illnesses and conditions, including mental effects such as irritability and poor decision making.
You probably don’t need any studies to prove that last point to you.
Studies have demonstrated that sleeping less than 5 hours a night is associated with
- Higher levels of body fat,
- Increased insulin resistance,
- Higher levels of cortisol,
- Depression and
- Suppressed immune function.
It can also lead to decreased libido and testosterone levels.
Do you need any more convincing?
Do I Get Enough Sleep?
Everyone is different. The old adage of 8 hours of sleep each night does not necessarily pertain to everyone.
The only way to know how much sleep you really need is to do an experiment.
Heres what you need:
1) Identify a 7 day time period where you will have the best chance of maximizing your sleep:
Determine how many hours you want to obtain, and do everything you can to get it.
Most people will need somewhere between 6-8 hours of sleep each night, so work backwards from the time you need to wake up.
It is also important to note that quality is just as important as quantity. 5 hours of good quality sleep may be just as restorative as 8 hours of broken, interrupted, low quality sleep.
2) Set a pre bed alarm:
Set an alarm 30 minutes before you need to go to bed, and start wrapping up whatever you are doing. You must resist hitting the snooze button.
3) Track your sleep:
Get a sleep tracking device to measure how many hours you are actually sleeping each night. (It doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not, you just need to use the same device every time to collect consistent data.)
I use my Fitbit as a sleep tracking device. It predicts how many times I wake up throughout the night and how often I am restless.
If you are able to sleep the desired amount of time for 7 consecutive nights, notice how you feel.
Do you feel more refreshed?
I personally can get by with ~7 hours a night, and Brittany usually needs ~8.
Sleeping less than 6 hours a night is probably too little, and sleeping more than 9 hours a night is probably too much.
10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality Naturally Despite a Busy Schedule
So without further ado, here are the top 10 ways to get better sleep.
Some of these strategies you probably already know, and others need constant repeating.
Try and implement as many of these as you can.
1. Don’t Confuse Your Body
If you want to improve your sleep quality, understand that your body likes patterns and predictability. Do your best to go to sleep AND wake up at roughly the same time every single day.
This includes weekends and holidays.
For example, if you are a resident physician, you may notice that when you are on a rotation that requires you to wake up much earlier than you are used to, your body will begin to wake up naturally, even before your alarm clock goes off.
Obviously, this becomes difficult when you take 24 hour calls or take night shifts- but understand that you just need to be as consistent as you can be.
Get back into the pattern and the rhythm the next day.
- If you are working night shifts, ensure that you sleep the same 6-8 hours during the day time.
- If you are out at a social gathering or are having a late dinner with friends, excuse yourself before it gets too late.
- If it's a weekend, don't stray too much from your normal bed time.
Who cares what everyone else thinks. It’s your body and your fatigue that you have to deal with.
There is no need to be out at 1 or 2 am in the morning. As Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother would always say, nothing good ever happens after 2 am.
On average, Brittany and I go to sleep everyday around 10 pm, and we are up around 6 am.
2. Stop Abusing Your Bed
You want to make your bedroom as much as a sleep haven as you can. This means using your bedroom for one of two things. Sleep and Intimacy.
Do you perform work related tasks on your bed? Are you talking on the phone while in bed? Do you watch a lot of television while in bed?
All of these activities, which may or may not be related to stress, will create negative associations between yourself and your bed.
Again, your body likes predictability.
If you do a variety of different tasks on your bed, your body won’t know to associate it with relaxation and restoration.
When it is time to go to sleep, your mind will begin thinking about all of the stressful situations you normally engage in, instead of what it should be focusing on.
Do your best to not use your bed for anything other than what it is meant for.
3. Learn From Preeclampsia
As an OBGYN resident, one of the things that we see just as often as babies being delivered, are women with preeclampsia.
This is a condition that develops in the third trimester in pregnancy where the body responds to the placenta by constricting its blood vessels.
If left untreated, the patient can develop very high blood pressures, decreased perfusion to vital organs, and devastating complications such as strokes and seizures.
Almost everyone knows someone who had preeclampsia.
If you ask a former preeclamptic what they remember about it, they will tell you that they received a medication called Magnesium, and they hated it.
It makes the patients feel warm, drowsy, blurry, and most of all sleepy.
Every time we check on patients who are on Magnesium, they are often fast asleep.
If you are diagnosed with severe Preeclampsia, you will receive Magnesium
So what can we learn from this? Magnesium is a critical nutrient that can help us sleep. Numerous studies have found an association between Magnesium consumption and improved symptoms of insomnia.
Magnesium also helps to regulate blood pressure, decreasing the risk of heart attack and strokes, and it helps regulate nerve function.
This is why we give Magnesium to our preeclamptic patients.
Many of you are deficient in Magnesium.
No, a supplement won’t save you. The best way to get Magnesium is through your diet.
Which foods are high in Magnesium? Check them out at 5 Terrific Superfoods You Should Consume Every Day.
That’s it for right now.
In the next post, Sleep Better With a Busy Schedule Using These Proven Methods, we go over the other 7 ways to improve your sleep quality.
Try these 3 tips right now and see if your sleep improves over the next several days.
Post your comments and questions below.
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