Sleep is for heroes

“Sleep is for wimps”. Some see the need for sleep as a sign of weakness. Corporate bigwigs brag about how little sleep they need because sleep is an indulgence and a waste of time. Many people are severely sleep deprived through working early and/or late shifts in their jobs or they may work through to the early hours of the morning.

We seem to think that we don’t do anything productive while we sleep. Actually, we spend over 1/3 of our lives sleeping. Sleep is an incredibly important part of our lives and is particularly important if you are training, as physical exercise places a substantial amount of physiological stress on the body.

When we are asleep, our brains are working away to restore the immune and endocrine systems and the metabolic cost of what we spend during our time awake is rebuilt. There is also a major implication on our cognitive development. Our brain absorbs information we have taken in during the day, processes it and stores it. We prioritise which pieces of information should be stored and which can be forgotten about. Our brains can even come up with creative solutions to the information that is being processed while we sleep. Jack Nicklaus worked out why his game was off when he realised that he held his golf club differently in his dreams, where he played brilliantly, and when he tried holding his club the same way on the golf course, it worked!

We don’t appreciate how important sleep is until we feel the effects of sleep deprivation. We know that when we are tired or don’t get enough sleep, our memory and creativity suffers. I’m sure the mums with new born babies are all too familiar with that feeling of being a space cadet. What’s worse is that we start to crave stimulants to keep us going, like caffeine, or worse, nicotine and other drugs. Then after we have kept ourselves awake all day on stimulants all day, we are still wired at 10pm and can’t sleep during the night. So we need a sedative; a glass of red wine to relax and forget about a hard day’s work. While it does relax you, alcohol interferes with your brains’ ability to process information, so if you consistently depend on that glass of red wine to make you sleepy, then your short term memory may suffer as a result.

There is also a connection between a lack of sleep and an increase in body fat. Your endocrine system is affected by a lack of sleep and makes you hungry. If you are sleep deprived you crave more carbohydrates, and being tired, you’re less likely to work out and it is inevitable that the extra calories are stored as fat.

So – do we still think sleep is unproductive and a waste of time? If all of this sounds familiar to you, you’d be well advised to prioritise the need to sleep. You will have a hard time getting your results at work or in the gym if you are sleep deprived for all of the reasons stated above. Being able to function and perform at a less than optimal state of mind and physical capability does not make you a superhero, it means you’re not performing as well as you could.

Here are some tips that can easily be implemented into your routine:

–        Sleep in a dark & cool room

–        Switch your phone off when you sleep

–        An hour before you sleep, prepare your mind and body by reducing the light, switching off electronics and winding down

–        Don’t eat late at night

–        Avoid caffeine after lunchtime

–        Don’t get into a habit of drinking alcohol before you sleep

–        If you work irregular shifts or wake up at a different time each day, then strive to maintain some regularity in your waking        hours and avoid having a lie in if you have a late start at work for example.