Why Sleep Is the Best-kept Secret for Crushing Your Health Goals
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Whatever your wellness goals, you won’t be able to perform at your best if you don’t make it a priority to get enough quality sleep. One of the best-kept secrets in unlocking your body’s potential for better health, losing and maintaining weight, and improving fitness is sleep!
We’ll walk you through all you need to know to improve your sleep so you can crush your health goals. To show you how sleep can help you, we talked to a few sleep therapists and reviewed reliable studies on how sleep impacts your health.
What You Need to Know About Sleep
Age affects how much sleep you need. If you’re between 18 to 60 years old, you should put in seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Rayni Collins, an online sleep and dance/movement therapist, says adults ages 60 and over require seven to eight hours of sleep.
Let’s be real though! While we may understand the recommended amount of sleep we need, other factors affect our sleep. In fact, the American Psychological Associationreported an increase in sleep disorders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several reasons for this: increased financial stress due to job loss, disrupted routines, and increased screen time. The list goes on.
This brings us to the next point:
How Do You Know if You’re Getting Enough Quality Sleep Each Night?
“Good question!” says Monica Le Baron, a sleep coach and certified yoga therapist.
“A good indicator that you got enough sleep is waking up in the morning, feeling that you slept really well. This might sound obvious, but can you recall the last time you had that feeling?
“If you wake up without an alarm and have enough energy during the day without drinking coffee, that’s also a good sign you have your zzz’s in order,” adds the sleep coach, who also specializes in helping women with sleep disorders get a good night’s rest. Using her signature program, Sleep Simplified, Le Baron helps hundreds of clients worldwide overcome insomnia, sleep apnea, and sleep deprivation.
“How many hours it takes to get a restorative night's sleep on a regular basis can be a trial-and-error process for each individual,” Collins weighs in.
“A well-rested person tends to have little to no difficulty getting out of bed and ready for the day. The energy dips during the day due to our circadian rhythms (typically around 11 am and 2 pm) do not result in severe sugar, carbohydrate, or caffeine cravings when one is getting enough sleep,” she continues.
How Do You Know if You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep?
“Out-of-proportion irritability and micro-sleeping (i.e., falling asleep for a second or two) are indicators that one is not getting enough sleep,” explains Collins.
Remember: Even one night of not getting enough sleep can affect you the next day. If this happens regularly, being sleep deprived is likely to threaten your health goals.
How Sleep Impacts Health
“When we sleep, we gain abundant benefits that support our bodies and brains. There is not one organ in your body or process in the brain that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep,” explains Le Baron.
One of those benefits is energy.
“Sleep correlates with energy levels, and energy levels affect any performance done by the body: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Insufficient energy decreases one's ability to perform at their best,” says Collins.
How Not Enough Sleep Can Threaten Your Health Goals
You eat or adhere to a certain diet to stay healthy or to lose weight. You exercise to stay healthy and fit. Without enough sleep, your body’s ability to deliver these results can be weakened.
“Even one night without sleep causes our bodies to malfunction down to the cellular level,” says Collins.
“For perspective, sleep deprivation puts a huge strain on the cardiovascular system [your heart and blood vessels] and central nervous system [your brain and spinal cord]. In the short term, this impacts how one’s body can handle stressors such as work or exercise. Over time, this can lead to severe medical events such as a heart attack or stroke. The best way to take care of your health is by prioritizing sleep,” she explains.
If you want to lose weight, not getting enough quality sleep can impact your “hunger” hormones (ghrelin and leptin).
This 2022 study showed that the quality of your sleep can affect the levels of ghrelin and leptin in your body. Leptin suppresses your appetite and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Ghrelin, on the other hand, boosts your appetite. That’s why it’s also known as the “hunger hormone.”
The study suggested that if you get little sleep, your body releases more ghrelin while reducing levels of leptin. The hungrier you feel, the more food you’re likely to eat. This undermines your efforts to lose weight.
Several studies have been done that provide more proof that lack of sleep can impact your dietary efforts to lose weight. Check out this one and this one.
If you want to improve your fitness/athletic performance, not getting enough quality sleep can impact how you recover from your workouts.
Exercise improves sleep. Sleep improves exercise. Still, if you had to choose between the two, sleep. Here’s why:
This 2019 study suggested that when you get enough sleep, you feel more alert and better prepared for your next session. Getting enough sleep gives your body time to recover and save energy. Sleep also stimulates production of the growth hormone that repairs your body and rebuilds muscle tissue torn from exertion.
It’s not surprising then that lack of sleep may make you tire faster or experience more soreness since the body isn’t getting enough time to repair itself after workouts.
If you don’t have enough energy for optimal performance at the gym and you use stimulants such as caffeine, Collins has some advice:
“If that stimulant is consumed after the caffeine cut-off time — generally needs to be 7+ hours before bedtime — and is not burned off, it can affect sleep that following night. It can affect sleep onset [going to sleep] and/or sleep maintenance [waking up in the night]. This can create a vicious cycle. The best way to have a productive day at work or at the gym the next day is to routinely get a good night's sleep.”
If you want to think better and be more productive, not getting enough quality sleep can impact your cognitive functioning.
Just as sleep helps you recover from physical exercise, so too does it help you recover from your brain’s mental exercises. On the flipside, lack of sleep affects cognitive functions such as thinking, reasoning, or problem solving. It can also affect your ability to recall information or react quickly.
Does Napping Affect Your Ability to Sleep at Night?
Short answer: It depends.
If you’re worried that napping during the day might affect your sleep at night, the sleep therapists we talked to understand your concern.
“A 30-minute nap before 4 pm isn’t going to severely impact that next night of sleep. However,if it causes issues, such as sleep onset or sleep maintenance problems the following night, then a nap is not advised,” explains Collins.
“I’m a big fan of naps, especially yoga Nidra naps,” says Le Baron.
“I’m not suggesting that people take two-hour naps or close to bedtime, but if during the day you’re tired, moody, or can’t focus, a nap is exactly what you need. Yoga Nidra is my favorite productivity hack. This yogic sleep tool is a guided meditation that works in the five layers of your being. Listening to 10 minutes of Yoga Nidra is like taking a whole hour of rest.”
Quick Tips for Getting Consistent Quality Sleep Each Night
Now that you know how sleep impacts your health and fitness, you might wonder how you can ensure you don’t jeopardize your goals.
Try any of the following and see if it helps you improve the quality of your sleep.
Bedtime Routine and Wake Time
“The number-one tip on sleep hygiene is a consistent bedtime. A consistent wake-up time is just as important, if not more. It can be difficult to maintain a social life, find time to do enjoyable activities at the end of the day, and sometimes you don’t feel tired enough for bed, so the time to go to bed can fluctuate. A set wake-up time, no matter when a person goes to sleep, will at least ensure a good night's sleep the following night. As a result, one will probably start going to bed at the same time every night, which will regulate sleep patterns,” advises Collins.
She also suggests relaxing not only the mind but also the body before going to bed. Your pre-sleep routine can include listening to relaxing music, taking a hot bath, meditating, or deep breathing.
“Let your exhales be longer than your inhales to balance your nervous system,” says Le Baron. “Breathing this way can help you get deeper sleep, fall asleep faster, and wake up fewer times at night.”
Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing, clean, and enjoyable place. Reduce external noise, light, and artificial lights — and especially blue light — from devices like alarm clocks and phones.
Your bed quality can also affect your sleep schedule. Make sure you have a comfortable bed, sheets, blankets, and pillows.
Body and bedroom temperature can also affect sleep quality. As you may have experienced during the summer or in hot locations, it’s hard to get good sleep when it’s hot.
Regulating Your Body Clock
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock, and it impacts sleepiness and alertness. It works for 24 hours and is the reason you can feel sleepy at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. During the day, light triggers the production of cortisol, the hormone that keeps you awake and alert. The dark of nighttime triggers the production of melatonin, which induces sleepiness.
Exposure to light before bedtime can throw off your body clock and disrupt your sleep. Different lights affect you in different ways. Blue light, which devices such as computers and phones emit in large amounts, disrupts your sleep the most. It tricks your brain into thinking it’s still day. This reduces production of melatonin, making you less sleepy.
To avoid disrupting your sleep, reduce your screen time in the evening. Dim your lights a few hours before you sleep, and set your devices to “night” mode to tone down the bright glow. You can also use apps or blue-blocker glasses to block the blue light from your devices.
Le Baron also suggests getting some sunshine early in the morning. Get outside for 10–20 minutes of sunlight to hit your eyes (remember what mom said about not staring directly at the sun). Bright natural light stimulates the sympathetic nerves and elevates natural production of melatonin at night.
If you don’t already work out in the morning, this could give you good reason to move outside shortly after you wake up. You’ll be less likely to skip the workout when you do it first thing, and you’ll also get the dose of sunlight you need to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Getting quality sleep is as important as eating healthy and exercising. In fact, sleep ensures you get the desired results of your dietary efforts and workouts. If you aren’t getting enough of it, incorporate some of the tips mentioned in this article and see if they improve your sleep. Please consult your healthcare provider if any of the measures you take don’t improve the quality of your sleep.