The idea that we live in a sleep-deprived society isn’t a new one. Once upon a time, our ancestors’ circadian rhythms abided by the rise and fall of the sun, but today we have access to endless streams of entertainment and caffeine, as well as lengthy to-do lists and a culture that touts an “I can sleep when I’m dead” mantra. According to the CDC, more than 25% of the population reports occasionally not getting enough sleep, while 10% report chronic insomnia. That means that a really high number of adults are falling into sleep debt on a regular basis.
You’ve likely heard that inadequate sleep can stunt your focus and make you grouchy, but this phenomenon may also be holding back your weight loss or fitness goals. One study found that dieters that don’t get adequate sleep lose half as much fat as individuals on the same diet that are getting enough sleep on a regular basis. That means that two physiologically similar individuals can go on the same diet, but if one regularly gets less sleep than the other they run the risk of losing half as much weight as their well-rested counterpart.
If you’re more focused on strength and athletic training, you probably aren’t quite as concerned with shedding pounds. However, it’s worth noting that an athlete in training may need about an hour more than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep to allow the body to fully recover. Moreover, one of the major hormones responsible for muscular regeneration, HGH, is triggered by sleep. So opting out of valuable rest can hinder muscles from properly regenerating and strengthening following a training session.
A sleep deprived body is a body of confused hormones. Take insulin, for example. When we lose sleep, our insulin sensitivity declines, meaning our body produces this hormone in excess. This excess results in the improper storage of fat in the wrong tissues. In addition, your groggy endocrine system produces more ghrelin and cortisol, and less leptin than your body needs. This means that you’re likely to feel more hungry, burn fewer calories, and feel less full after a full meal than a well-rested individual.
On a good day, most of us can resist the urge to continue eating after a sufficient meal, but sleep deprivation limits our decision-making skills and leaves us more vulnerable to the lapses in our diets that the groggy endocrine system is already encouraging.
All of this information may seem a bit discouraging, but we have a few action points to follow through on so that you can get the sleep you need.
First, try to limit - or, ideally, eliminate - caffeine and stimulant consumption after lunchtime. This is a pretty challenging task, and maybe unreasonable for some individuals, although I think most of us can learn to limit caffeine intake even if we can't completely cut it out.
Section off the time you need for sleep. This sounds simple enough, but making time for sleep is really a matter of balanced priorities. If you burn daylight watching videos of pandas tipping over and save the important stuff for your later hours, you’re going to infringe on valuable hours of rest.
Third, within a half hour of the aforementioned designated sleepy times, start cutting out artificial blue-light sources. Your laptop, phone, TV - whatever you’re using to watch The Walking Dead in bed - needs to go to sleep before you can. Maybe you want to argue that you just can’t fall asleep without a show on. You tried once. It was hard. For these people, I would recommend books. Not a book on your backlit tablet, but an unlit reading device (you know, like an actual book) as read by the light of a nice little bedside lamp. It’s really that simple.
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, try out some deep breathing or meditation before turning to sleep meds. The latter might seem tempting, but sleep meds often compromise the quality of sleep, even if they help you fall asleep faster. If I’m really having a rough time falling asleep, audio guided meditations (you can find these for free all over the interwebs) are often especially useful.
Now go forth and rest up Atlas community! Your body will thank you.
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