In today’s age and culture, sleeping is viewed as wasting time. Whilst you’re lying in bed with your eyes closed, the rest of the world is getting ahead in business, having fun, or getting fitter respectively.
Except, the latter may not be true, and the first two options are only true at a cost to one’s health.
The current normal routine many have most days is going to bed at 12am or 1am and getting up at 7am for work.
Then there’s the occasional late night of work or partying making that a 3am to 7am or 3am to 11am. This isn’t how your body clock worked throughout evolution.
Humans are built to sleep through three parts of a cycle that lasts about 1.2 to 1.6 hours, varying with individuals. In each cycle, you go through light or non-REM sleep; REM sleep; and deep sleep.
Ideally one should get all cycles every night, except humans are the only species in the world that rises with the sun, then uses artificial light to keep themselves awake when it gets dark.
Research on what goes on in your brain when you’re asleep has recently shown quite how important sleep is.
1. Sleep controls blood sugar levels and calories
Insulin delivers digested glucose to your cells. Reduced sleep appears to both reduce the release of these blood-sugar-officers and make the cells less responsive to them.
Glucose remains in the blood, leaving you with almost diabetic blood sugar levels.
Additionally, you are worse at making responsible dietary decisions when you’re sleep deprived.
Low sleep decreases levels of the satisfaction hormone, leptin, and raises levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Combine this with reduced motivation when you’re tired, and you have a key ingredient for weight gain – eating too much.
2. Sleep is the key to recovery
If you’re training hard in the gym, then acquiring enough deep sleep is the priority. The time taken to failure by athletes who get less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.
Research by Harpeet Rai, CEO of sleep-tech company Oura Ring, has also shown that after tough training sessions athletes have a higher ratio of deep sleep to REM than usual.
This leads to the conclusion that this is when muscular recovery and repair takes place in a cycle. Plus, deep sleep is when tests show heightened testosterone release as well as growth hormone, two natural catalysts for recovery and growth.
Physical progress doesn’t happen whilst you’re training, but rather whilst you’re recovering from the stressful stimulus of training to return stronger next time.
3. Sleep is when your brain goes through a cleanse
Research by Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “Why We Sleep”, shows that during deep sleep the brain goes through a similar recovery process to the muscles.
This rids it of amyloid proteins; neurotoxic plaque deposits that have built up over the course of the day. It’s this cleanse and reboot process that scientists have theorised is the key to prevention of dementia.
With modern medicine extending life expectancies, your brain health becomes more vital as it’s not as easy to fix. Sleep is suddenly the most important aspect of your new, longer life.
4. Sleep helps forge and consolidate memories
When the brains of rats were monitored during REM sleep, scientists found that they were repeating a pattern of sounds they were shown whilst awake, just three times faster.
Correlating results have been found in the human brain. It appears that in order to hardwire memories, they repeat things they’ve learnt that day.
Studying for an important exam? You’re better off getting a full night’s worth of sleep cycles than staying up late reading repetitively in order to properly retain your day’s learnings.
5. Better sleep means reduced cancer risk
After just one night of less than five hours’ sleep, your natural cancer killer cells are reduced by 70%. Their job is to attack cancer cells that appear in your body every day, so it’s not ideal for them to be operating at 30% efficiency.
It’s no surprise then, that scientists have linked a lack of sleep to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast.
And the rest
Better skin and hair? Increased brain plasticity? Reduced blood pressure? Regulation of the immune system? The list is long but you’re probably already convinced of the importance of sleep.
In the next article, you will learn how to be better at something that, until now, you thought was just a matter of lying down.
Joompa is a digital platform that facilitates the sourcing and booking of freelance, mobile personal fitness coaches. Available on iOS or via www.joompa.com.my