The Importance of Sleep

A good night’s sleep is necessary to perform at the highest level in school, work, and/or sports.  Getting the correct amount of rest is vitally important to our body’s function, in reducing stress, and in keeping us productive.  It is generally recommended that adults get six to nine hours of sleep a night, but as we try to juggle the demands in our lives, sleep is often the first thing compromised.

Humans are unique in their ability to recognize and ignore circadian rhythms, curtailing sleep while traveling across many time zones or doing shift work.  Sleep deprivation may also be the result of disorders like sleep apnea, depression, or insomnia.  Any attempt to lose weight and recover from exercise will be undermined if the body’s sleep needs are not fulfilled.  Although it is often difficult to make sleep a priority, it is important to understand just how a sleep deficit compromises our ability to achieve our goals.

Our bodies produce and distribute a variety of hormones in response to the amount and quality of sleep.  The secretion of both melatonin and human growth hormone (HGH) are generated during deep sleep.  Melatonin chemically causes drowsiness and lowers body temperature synchronizing the body’s circadian rhythm and is also a powerful antioxidant.  HGH is an anabolic hormone that increases bone density, muscle mass, and immune system activity among its many functions.

When experiencing a sleep deficit the body produces cortisol and ghrelin.  Cortisol is a stress hormone that in high levels is known to cause weight gain, impair recovery in athletes, and decrease energy and alertness.  Ghrelin lowers the levels of the hormone leptin, stimulating the appetite – linking sleep debt to obesity.

Working out can increase your alertness, speed up your metabolism, and energize you.  Timing is important when it comes to getting the maximum benefits from a workout.  Although it is recommended that you work out in the late afternoon, working out close to the time of sleep can have a negative effect.  During exercise your body temperature and heart rate increase.  Studies have shown that working out at least 5 hours before bedtime allows the body enough time to “cool off” and return to a state that is appropriate for sleep.

It is important that we optimize the amount of time we allow ourselves to sleep.  Here are some recommendations that can help you in getting a good night’s sleep:

-Establish a good sleeping environment that is rid of distractions like noise, light, TV, computers, and phones.  An uncomfortable bed obviously will impact the quantity and quality of your sleep.
-Stick to a schedule.  Going to bed at the same time every night allows your biological clock to help you fall asleep.
-Exercise and eat properly.  Try to avoid either of these to close to bedtime.
-Don’t take naps after 3pm and limit them to 45 minutes or less when you do take them.  Taking longer naps late in the day makes it harder for you to fall asleep when it is actually bedtime.  Naps are a great way to re-energize the body, they just have to be done for the right amount of time and part of the day.
-Sleep in complete darkness.  Melatonin production by the pineal gland is maximized in darkness and inhibited by light.
-Do not do other activities in bed.  As a student, I know there were some nights I found myself studying in bed, but this can alter your mindset.  We have to program ourselves to sleep when we are in our beds.

Hope these tips help!

Ashley Walsh

www.fitnessquest.com

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