Throughout Self Care Week we discussed the importance of fitness, nutrition, decreasing your stress levels and living a healthier lifestyle in general. Last, but not least, we turn our focus to ensuring you’re getting enough sleep.
Sleep is important for our general wellbeing. It also contributes to us being able to stick to a healthy diet and getting the most out of our training plans. Having a poor night’s sleep can cause you to make decisions you’d be less inclined to make under normal circumstances. When we’re tired, our minds wander to comfort foods. We catch ourselves thinking how great that burger and fries would taste, or how much we need a packet of crisps to help us through the day. Unfortunately, while this is fine once in a while, we can fall into a cycle where this becomes habitual and counterproductive to reaching our goals.
Getting a good night’s sleep allows us to replenish our energy levels, recover better from exercise and be ready to take on the next day. In today’s society, however, we find that a decent night’s sleep is hard to come by.
Why do we struggle to sleep?
Our sleep cycle can be affected by a number of factors in our daily lives that we encounter on a daily basis, namely:
- Working late
- Spending too much time with technology (late night texting, watching series until all hours, playing video games)
- Exercising too little
- Poor nutrition (too much caffeine, alcohol and sugar, not enough balance in our diets)
- Excessive partying or socialising
- Stress and worrying about life
- Depression and poor mental health
While it is occasionally necessary to stay up late, it’s equally important to realise that we are only human and that self care begins and ends with us. It’s crucial that we all find the time to be by ourselves and find a healthy balance. It doesn’t mean to say that you cannot finish watching your favourite tv show or that you shouldn’t socialise with friends, but that you need to be conscious of what your body is telling you.
How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Are you ready to go to work or class, prepared to study and complete all of our tasks, or do you feel lethargic and drained? According to Matthew Walker in his book, Why we sleep, if you feel like you could go back to sleep at 10 am after having been up for a few hours, you’re not sleeping enough!
How lack of sleep affects every aspect of our lives
Sleep deprivation can have many negative side effects, including:
You’ll find that when you don't get enough sleep, your appetite is greatly increased. This is your body trying to find a way to recoup the energy spent during periods of poor sleep and is largely a hormonal response. In a study that looked at healthy people and the effect of sleep deprivation on their levels of leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol, the findings showed how leptin levels were lowered, while spikes in ghrelin and cortisol were identified. Leptin is the hormone that suppresses appetite and causes us to not be so hungry, while cortisol and ghrelin do the opposite. This hunger can also lead to poor dietary choices as your energy levels are in flux.
In short, your tiredness can make you go straight for the Red Bull, cake, and sweets in a vain attempt to stuff yourself with enough energy to stave off your increasing hunger.
Our metabolism goes into a slump when asleep, as is the same for many other body processes. But the problem with a lack of sleep is that this slump can continue throughout the day. This is due to your body making alterations to glucose metabolism which can cause weight gain. The problem is that your energy expenditure will decrease. It’s in a slump like this where your whole system is not operating at an optimal level that weight is gained and laziness sets in. The bad news here is that a slower metabolism can lead to weight gain. And no one wants that.
Reduced Muscle Mass
Sleep deprivation studies have indicated that muscle mass is perceived to decrease because of inadequate recovery. Surprisingly, muscles don’t grow in the gym, but when we recover, and this recovery also takes place while we sleep. A decrease is activity of protein synthesis pathways is highlighted can be a reason why you’re not seeing results.
Fat Loss vs Fat Gain
This one is a bit of an eye-opener regarding the importance of sleep. Studies show that “the amount of sleep contributes to the maintenance of fat-free body mass at times of decreased energy intake”. In a correlation between sleep, diet, and fat loss a 55% difference was found between sleep deprived individuals and those who slept well.
When you’re sleeping, your body is managing the fat in your body, indicating that a main cause of obesity could be due to poor sleep patterns.
Change in Fat Cells
Insulin is a hormone responsible for absorbing nutrients from food and regulating blood sugar. If insulin sensitivity is poor then we’ll have trouble digesting foods, turning them into fat and storing them in organs like the liver. Sleep deprivation can cause our insulin sensitivity to become lower.
This means that you might be eating more food of poorer quality because you lack energy, but due to insulin resistance all you’ll be more likely to gain weight and putting yourself at higher risk of getting diabetes.
Bad Food Choices
When you haven’t had enough sleep, you’ll not only crave foods that you shouldn't, but your portion sizes are more likely to be bigger as well. That not only means a risk of obesity and diabetes, but derailing your healthy diet altogether. Your brain activity is also lowered, leading to poor choices.
We’ve spoken a lot about how sleep deprivation affects your diet and the way your body operates, so now let’s talk specifically about gym. If you train regularly then you’ll already know what a bad night’s sleep can do to your training the next day: tired, fatigued, non-committal, and downright dead. But not only can it lead to injuries, but a greater perceived exertion – even though your heart rate and metabolic rate stays the same.
In short, when you’re fatigued and lifting weights or spinning, ten minutes could feel like 30. You’ll be gasping for air and incapable of lifting your regular weight, or doing the same number of sets. And with poor gym days, comes a loss of motivation and added stress.
Poor mental health
Tiredness is a big contributor to reduced mental health. This is due to your brain not being able to function properly which can lead to you being unmotivated and stressed as, for instance, work piles up and the pressures of life increase. In turn, all of the aforementioned results of a poor sleep cycle will contribute to an overall decrease in your wellbeing. You could feel less inclined to take proper care of yourself and the cycle will only continue until it becomes hard to properly manage.
How to practice better sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene are those habits that you proactively incorporate into your life that help you have a good night's sleep. Common sleeping problems (such as insomnia) are often caused by bad habits reinforced over years or even decades, which we have mentioned above. Before seeking professional help (if your situation deteriorates to that extent) you can take control and practice self care by doing the following things daily to break the cycle and sleep better:
- Make a list of your key priorities for the next day. This will help lighten the load on your mind.
- Turn your electronics off at least an hour before you sleep (or even buy some funky blue light blocking glasses)
- If your bedroom gets a lot of light filtering in from neighbours or street lights, perhaps invest in blackout curtains to help darken your room.
- Don’t drink caffeine in the late afternoon. For more on caffeine, read our blog, Finding your centre: tips to help reduce stress.
- Try not to exercise right before bed time – although it’s different for everyone
- Listen to music that relaxes you
- Take a long, warm bath
- Try meditating for 15 minutes before bedtime
- Instead of watching TV, read that book you’ve been promising yourself you’re going to start
In conclusion, a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are needed when you have goals in mind pertaining to weight loss, muscle gain, and overall health and sleep is the third crucial component that brings everything together and makes your goals easier to attain.
You will feel more active, have more energy and even feel happier and healthier when you are getting your eight hours of sleep a night, waking up refreshed and renewed, ready to take on the next day with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
Self care is very close to our hearts at DNAFit, as it’s a core element for living a long, healthy and happy life. Because of this, our wellness team created a handy measurement guide to check if you’re looking after yourself as well as you could be. Download Mastering the Art of Self Care, to see if you’re a self care champion or in need of an intervention!