"Health is the first muse, and sleep is the condition
to produce it."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most people are well aware of the importance of a good
night's sleep in order to stay energetic, but did you know that sleep is the
most effective way to lose weight, heal sore muscles, improve strength, balance hormones, and
until the invention of electricity (barely 100 years ago), we synchronized our
biological rhythms with the changing of the seasons. We would wake at first
light, and sleep when the sun went down, providing us anywhere from 9-12 hours
of sleep per night. What the heck happened? We have 24-hr electronic
stimulation at our disposal, coupled with increased work stress, shift work, caffeine,
sugar and TiVo, how could we possibly get to bed before midnight, there's just
too much to do!
experts say the average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that we (western civilization)
are extremely sleep deprived, in fact, Americans today on average sleep one
hour less per night than we did just 20 to 30 years go. "Sleep is just as
important to our overall health as are exercise and a healthy diet," said
Carl Hunt, the director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in
There are some very common sleep-related problems that need
to be addressed to help curb this national sleep deficit:
1. Getting to bed too late
2. Getting up to work or train before 4am
3. Getting less than 8 hours of sleep on a
4. Always feeling tired and lethargic,
especially at sunrise when it's time to get out of bed
5. Poor sleep quality, e.g. frequently waking
during the night, or restless sleep
1. Getting to bed too
Many of our hormones are produced in tune with the cycle of
the sun. Stress hormones (cortisol) are produced in the morning and taper off
throughout the afternoon, while growth and repair (healing) hormones increase
in production as the sun goes down. Our bodies are designed to wind down from
sunset until about 10pm when our body should be telling us it's time to
sleep. Physical repair takes place from around 10pm to 2am and psychic
(mental) repair takes place from around 2am to 6am These are
crucial sleep periods as healing cannot take place without adequate sleep at
the right times. While you may go to bed beyond midnight and wake up feeling
refreshed, your physical regeneration will be left starving for the necessary
repair. This means you must be asleep by
10pm most nights.
2. Getting up to go to
work or train before 4am.
Given we need at least 8 hours of sleep/night, a 4am wake-up
would require going to bed by 8pm the night before. For many people this is
unrealistic due to the fact that it is still light outside during certain times of the
year or they may not even get home from work before then. The best solution is
to get to bed by 10pm and sleep till 6am, however, if an early rise is a must,
then you need to do whatever it takes to
get in your 8 hours. This may mean installing blackout curtains in your
bedroom and telling the kids to keep the noise down. I often see clients with
"perfect" meal plans and committed exercise routines that fail to lose body fat
or increase muscle mass because they are sleep deprived.
3. Getting less than 8
hours of sleep on a regular basis.
Some would suggest that our bodies are fundamentally the
same as those of our ancestors. Therefore, if humans used to sleep 9-12 hours/night,
then one could deduce that we need the same amount of sleep as they did back
then. Most people would say that that much sleep is a waste of time and
impossible. It's simply a matter of prioritizing and organizing for most
people. If you want to lose weight, feel better, look better and perform
better, then figure out how to get to bed by 9 or 10pm. It's as simple as that. Research show's that short sleepers are on their way to hypertension, weight gain, diabetes, and even premature aging.
4. Always feeling
tired and lethargic, especially at sunrise when it's time to get out of bed.
I have a 9-month old little girl. I spent the first 4 months
after her birth walking around in a trance. I was foggy headed, lethargic and
exhausted. I was waking multiple times a night and never getting close to the
recommended 8 hours of sleep. I continue to feel the effects from those sleepless
nights. For many people this is a daily occurrence, regardless of whether or
not they have small children, they continue to rack up sleep debt by frequently
going to bed too late. This debt occurs by consistently getting less than 8
hours of sleep per night. The most important thing you can do is to start to
pay back that "debt" by getting the adequate sleep you need at the right times
(10pm-6am). The longer you have been building up debt, the longer it will take
to pay back, but the health benefits will be profound, including increased
feelings of well-being, energy levels, work output, body-fat loss, blood
profile improvements, etc.
In my clinical practice, I find one of the most beneficial
things to get clients to get to bed on time is to minimize their exposure to bright
light late into the evening. Common culprits are the television, computer and
even cell phones, and these effects are exacerbated when sitting too close.
This light exposure acts as a stimulant on the pineal gland which can inhibit
the production of melatonin, your bodies natural sleep aid. This can make
people feel like they have more energy and frequently keep them stimulated past
the 10pm window.
Because of over-stimulation late into the night, the natural
melatonin production doesn't occur till later than normal, which can remain present in the
system into the early morning hours. This can lead to the feeling of grogginess
as well as the desire to hit the snooze button just a couple more times. Usually
those that have sleep problems also have a hard time producing enough cortisol
(natural waking hormone) as the sun rises and have an even harder time waking
up. The best advice I can give is to limit
bright light exposure at least 1-2 hours prior to your desired bedtime.
5. Poor sleep quality,
e.g. frequently waking during the night, or restless sleep.
It is not uncommon for people to have altered hormonal
rhythms during the day and night that can interfere with the amount and quality
of sleep. Poor nutrition, excessive
caffeine late in the day, and increased environmental and emotional stressors
can all affect our body's ability to turn on and off our sleep and wake
hormones. It is often necessary to consult with a health practitioner that
has the ability to assess your hormone levels, develop a customized nutrition
plan and help you reduce your physiological stress load.
Many people think that over the counter drugs can "fix"
broken sleep patterns, but this is not the case. If you have problems sleeping,
then take a hard look at your everyday activities and figure out which of the
poor sleep habits you fall into. After all, sleep is our natural healing
mechanism, without which our health will ultimately suffer. It is important to
follow these sleep guidelines to optimize your health:
- Get to
bed by 10-10:30 p.m. and sleep for a minimum of 8 hours
exposure to bright lights and electromagnetic stressors (television,
cell-phone, computer) 2 hours before bed.
- Sleep in
a totally dark room without an alarm clock close to the bed.
- Avoid the
consumption of artificial stimulants after lunchtime as they may affect your
ability to relax at night.
C.E. "Sleep - The Forgotten Ergogenic Aid" Road Runner Sports. 2002. Volume
T.S. and B. Formby. Lights Out.
Pocket Books, 2000.
Fishman, S. "Are You Sleeping" IMAGE. Harpersbazaar.com. April 2001.