Alphas notoriously underestimate the importance of sleep. “I only need 4 hours” is a phrase thrown around so often in gyms and locker rooms that some folks actually think it’s true. Living life aggressively is what we do and this I-can-sleep-when-I’m-dead mentality is part of our determination… right? Wrong. When you understand how significant sleep is to your body composition, strength, health, and overall well-being, it becomes pretty obvious – the better we’re able to sleep, the better we’re able to live.
A quick reminder on the science of sleep:
Sleep is divided into two major categories: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep (yes, in REM sleep your eyes rapidly move around like you’re watching a sprightly leprechaun do a shuttle run.) You spend most of the night in NREM sleep and gradually work towards REM sleep every 90 minutes or so. In terms of restorative function, the later stages of sleep is more money but you can only get there if you cycle through the initial stages. That’s why sleep quality is as important as sleep quantity.
So why is sleep so damn important?
You produce most of your growth hormone when you sleep. Growth hormone (GH) is aptly named because it is essential for you to grow. But its benefits aren’t limited to bigger and stronger biceps. GH increases your calcium retention (to help maintain your bone mass), it promotes fat loss, it reduces fat storage, it supports your immune system, and it keeps your organs operating smoothly. So much of your health is depended upon optimal levels of GH which means so much of your health is dependent upon sleep.
GH isn’t the only hormone effected by sleep. Ever go to bed hungry? If you have a full nights sleep, you’ll wake up not hungry. During sleepy-time, the body balances two hunger-controlling hormones – ghrelin and leptin. A study in the journal PLoS Medicine showed a strong correlation between limited sleep, high levels of hunger-inducing Ghrelin, low levels of satisfied-inducing Leptin, and obesity. It turns out, lack of sleep will make you fat.
On a hormonal level, sleep is essential to stack the cards in your favor, but this only touches on the benefits of sleep. We’re still learning how sleep mitigates aging, helps reinforce lessons in the brain, and informs our natural circadian rhymths (our 24 hour physiological process). It’s pretty well understood that optimal sleep levels does wonders for all of this, but we’re still working out the details.
So what are optimal sleep levels?
Like nutrition, sleep needs are unique to the individual. Eight hours is NOT the perfect amount of sleep for everyone. But 4 hours is not the perfect amount of sleep for anyone. For males between the ages of 17-35, the national sleep foundation recommends 7-9 hours. Lifestyle and activity levels play a huge factor – the harder you live, the more sleep you need – so you’ll have to figure out your own personal sweet spot.
Let’s troubleshoot the two most common reasons we DON’T get a full nights sleep…
A) “I don’t have the time.” Our culture tends to overemphasize the importance of “going”. Most of us don’t sleep enough simply because we feel as though we don’t have the time. In order for you to change your sleep habits, you need to change this perspective. Sleep isn’t when you’re not living. It’s actually when you’re living better.
B) “I’m not tired at night.” If you’re wired at night, here are a few things to consider:
1) Take a look at your sleep environment. Try reducing ambient light and noise as much as possible (if you wake up in the middle of the night, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face). That means getting some decent blinds and covering up the blinking green lights on your modem.
Dos) Develop a nighttime ritual. It may sound cheesy, but the body loves repetition. A half hour before you want to fall asleep, turn the lights down, get into your Superman PJ’s (no? only me?), and read some easy fiction. It’s a great way to let the worries of the day fade away and prepare the body for sleep.
Drei) If you can, go to bed every night and wake up every morning at the same time. You set your inner alarm clock (the aforementioned circadian rhymth). It really does work like a charm.
Sleep is at the foundation of strong and healthy living. The more we learn about sleep, the more we understand its importance. Bandana Training’s take home message – if you want to get shredded, strong, and awesome…keep dreaming my friend.
*Something like this article was originally published on MensFitness.com on Feb 27th, 2012.
Works Cited: Cause I’m legit like that.
Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index”. PLoS Med. 1 (3): e62. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062 12 Feb 2012.
“How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” National Sleep Foundation. <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need> 12 Feb 2012.
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