At this stage I can imagine that after reading the title you’re either a little perplexed, irate, or so excited that there’s finally a fitness idea which can promise you results with little to no effort. Now, whilst we are bombarded with changing trends and opposing arguments on many areas of health, when it comes to the quality and quantity of sleep, it’s unanimous… Sleep is good, very, very good.
But how can sleep affect all these things while there is no real energy expenditure? Well my friend, it is simple – sleep helps regulate almost every hormonal and metabolic system in your body. And considering the act of sleep itself is the ultimate form of laziness, why not utilise it and be closer to a thoroughbred rather than a rotund shetland pony at Slippery Pete’s neighbourhood circus?
Why is it important? (Beware… mild science stuff ahead)
Assuming nutrient levels in the body are good, sleep is a great time for the liver to get to work! The liver transforms toxins such as environmental pollutants, through a binding process so it gets secreted from our bodies. The easiest time for the liver to do this is when sleeping.
As another detoxification process, researchers have recently found the “glymphatic system” -which is a clearance mechanism for waste products from the brain. The research leads to this pathway being opened in deep sleep. Interesting studies are now looking at conditions such as Alzhiemers and it’s relation to neurotoxins.
Not only does the body undergo many hormonal and metabolic balancing processes whilst asleep (bad hormones can make you fat!) but there is also significant data pointing to fragmented sleep limiting the amount of potential fat oxidisation over the next 24 hour period.
Whether you’re a conservative exerciser or a hardcore training maniac, you are probably aware that part of the “breaking down” process of exercise needs to be complemented with a repair phase. Sleep is by far the best time for this process to happen.
How much do I need?
Like everything, there is no golden rule. But what is just as important as quantity, is quality! Aim for a standard 8 hours per night, with renewed attention on how many of those hours you can spend in deep, restorative sleep. You should awake feeling refreshed and ready to take on a new day.
Hot tips for great sleep
Limit stimulants. Red bull may make you the wolf of wall street during the day, but remember we want to be “at one with the universe” when it’s time to sleep. Try not to have any caffeine at least 7-8 hours before bedtime.
Turn your bedroom into your zen-like sleep chamber. Remove televisions, laptops, mobile phones. The ultimate bedroom is one where you simply sleep (well, mainly sleep)! Invest in some black-out curtains and soundproofing and get busy removing everything but the bed.
Create a mental shut-down process that becomes your nightly habit. Perhaps some stretching, slow breathing, and a long shower. We want the bodies’ actions to start telling the brain “hey, calm down, it’s time to log off”. Consciously remove the thoughts and concerns of the day and replace them with some affirmations and gratitude. It’s much easier to sleep when you’re happy!
Play catch-up. When end-of-month rolls around and you’re surviving on coffee and adrenaline, remember you need to make-up for all those nights of poor disruptive sleep. Factor in some big “sleep nights” asap.
How to track sleep?
By far the best way to measure how effective your sleep is, is to see sleep specialists at what are typically called “sleep centres”. Whilst they may be inconvenient and more costly, the quality of data is far superior to cheaper devices. Most private hospitals in Hong Kong will have a dedicated sleep clinic. However, devices can still be a good idea and the quality of technology has definitely improved.
Check out the follow sleep tracking devices for an alternative to the specialists!:
UP band by jawbone, www.jawbone.com
Bettit band, www.beddit.com
Fitbit band, www.fitbit.com
Invest time on improving the quality of sleep – your body will love you for it!