You’re nauseous. You’re cranky. You can’t put two sentences together. You’re seriously craving doughnuts.
This is our story when we lose sleep. Skipping this one step has devastating consequences—from turning our bodies into fat-storing machines to increasing our chances of deathly diseases. And things can go south fast. It just takes one night of bad sleep to drastically change how you feel and the choices you make.
On the flip side of the pillow, though, good sleep turns on our superpowers. Sleep gives our body the ability to fight off cancer, crush our workday, and control mood swings. It even makes us physically stronger and switches our body into fat-burning mode.
If you want to optimize your progress and your health, sleep has to be at the top of your list. First, let’s get clear on why you need to prioritize sleep.
There’s no way around it, we all need quality sleep. In fact, that group of toughies claiming to only need five or six hours of sleep a night is mistaken.
According to Matthew Walker—Professor or Neuroscience and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, the number of people who can survive on 6 hours of sleep or less a night without showing any impairment is 0% of the human population. A super small fraction (less than 1%) of humans have an incredibly rare gene that allows them to survive on about 5 hours of sleep a night without physical and mental consequences.
The rest of us undeniably need 7-9 hours nightly. The shorter we sleep, the shorter we live. Inadequate sleep predicts an earlier death from any cause.
Sleep deprivation also kicks our weight loss goals to the curb. Lack of quality sleep leads to:
Increased hunger and cravings. Sleep deprivation increases Ghrelin, your hunger hormone, and decreases Leptin, the full-feeling hormone.
Affects your sympathetic nervous system, which leads to increased cortisol, your stress hormone. Cortisol causes our bodies to store the food we eat as fat.
Increased levels of insulin, another fat-storing hormone in the body.
A higher body mass index (BMI) and weight gain. Unfortunately, many sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, are also worsened by weight gain.
Fatigue, which can impact the amount of daily activity you perform and your effort in your workouts.
Here are three tips to help you create better sleep habits.
Your body has a sleep-wake rhythm that you can tap into to get better sleep. A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that is part of your internal clock. Your internal clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, like light.
When properly set, your circadian rhythm can help you catch consistent and restorative Z’s. If your circadian rhythm is thrown off, you might experience sleeping problems, like insomnia, and mental health issues.
During the day, light generates alertness. As the sun goes down, our bodies start producing melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep.
To help reset your sleep-wake cycle, anchor your circadian rhythm with morning and evening sun exposure. This will create a stable cycle of restorative rest that will allow you to have energy during the day.
When you first wake up, step outside and look into the sky or pull back the curtains and look out the window. This simple step switches your brain into day mode.
Skip your nap, or keep it short. Long naps can confuse your circadian rhythm and communicate to your body that it’s actually nighttime.
Avoid screens around bedtime. You’ve heard it before, but blue light from our phones and computers wakes us up. It actually shuts down melatonin production and can delay sleep for up to an hour.
Cue your body that it’s nighttime by watching the sun go down, using blackout curtains, or dimming the lights in your house.
Even if you’re the spontaneous type, your body likes consistency. Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day can drastically improve your sleep quality and quantity.
This practice is associated with healthier body composition (especially in the elderly). It also lowers the risk of heart disease.
Creating a solid sleep schedule—whether it’s strict or now—invites better quality rest, leading to better overall health.
Set up some self-care time that can help you transition into sleep. Take the steps that help you relax and avoid sleep disturbances. Caffeine late in the day, naps after 3 p.m., and exposure to blue light from your devices can mess with your sleep, so avoid them when possible.
A good wind-down routine needs to include the things you personally find relaxing. Here are some ways to relax and de-stress before sleeping:
So now you know why sleep is important. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people who get adequate shuteye tend to have improved learning, an easier time making decisions, better emotional well-being, boosted moods, lower risk of diseases, better immune function, and increased performance compared to those with sleep deficiencies.
Many of us know what we should do for our health, but we struggle to take action. If that’s you, join the LEAN community. I can help hold you accountable and provide the daily support you need to make these daily habits stick for good!