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Sleep Please!


Health and fitness professionals often talk about the importance of nutrition and fitness, however equally as important is sleep, recovery and mindset. Before taking a deeper dive into this subject matter, let’s talk about stress. Stress is a feeling, a perception, of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, unsettled or apprehensive. Or, it can be your body’s reaction to a physical challenge or demand. Simply put, stress is something that disrupts homeostasis (activity maintaining fairly stable conditions necessary for human survival) and can have positive and negative benefits and outcomes.


There are many types of stressors, both internal and external, that can impact us. Examples of physical stressors can be physical activity, poor nutrition, injury, illness, and not getting enough sleep. Mental stressors can be anxiety or racing thoughts, too many cognitive demands, information overload, mental illness and perfectionism. Emotional stressor examples include fear, disconnection from self and others, depression and anger. Lastly, external factors in the environment that cause stress are pollution, noise and extreme weather conditions. With these stressor, it can oftentimes impact our desire, motivation or ability to improve upon our fitness and nutrition but also impacts our sleep, recovery and overall mindset. All these factors are intertwined. For example, if you do not get proper sleep, the body will not have adequate recovery, therefore negatively impacting the individual physically, mentally and emotionally.


So let’s talk about sleep. Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of US adults report that they get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and daytime impairment such as reduced concentration, slower thinking, and mood changes. So, how much sleep should you get in a 24 hour period? Well, for most adults over the age of 18, it’s recommended to have 7 or more hours per night. Individuals with an illness, physically active, pregnant, high stress lifestyle or aging may need 8-9 hours of sleep for recovery purposes. Sleep is important to help the body remain healthy and fend off diseases. Adults who receive less than 7 hours of sleep per 24-hour period, were linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.


Time to get nerdy! You may or may not know that you have an internal “body clock” known as the circadian rhythm which regulates your sleep and awake cycles. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle and determines when we are alert or preparing to shut down. Much like our cellular device, we have to sleep to “recharge our batteries” so we have the ability to get through our day while functioning optimally.


In a series of internal (hormones and neurotransmitters) and external (light, dark, activity and stress) cues, they help guide the circadian rhythm to form our patterns of sleeping and waking. For most, when we wake in the morning, light (either natural or artificial) influences the circadian rhythm and we begin to wake. Actually the brain contains a special region of nerve cells in the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night and let the body know when it’s time to get up! Cortisol levels steadily rise in our bloodstream from about midnight to 8 a.m. and stimulate our brains and other hormonal systems to promote energy and alertness to prepare our bodies and minds to wake up and take on the day. As the day progresses, we accumulate other neurotransmitters like adenosine, which when built up to certain levels, make us tired. Also hormones, like melatonin which, as natural light disappears in the evening, the pineal gland from the brain will release from our brains which signal that the cycle of wakefulness is coming to an end and it is time to to start shutting down and preparing to fall and stay asleep.


So you can see that there are many different internal systems and external factors involved when discussing our sleep, rest, recovery and wakefulness. There are many things we do in our day to day lives that become routines and habits for us but also alter these natural physiologic processes. Examples include (but not limited to): technology which extends our brain’s exposure to light, working long hours into the night which cause us to shift our normal sleep cycles, taking care of crying babies in the night which intermittently disrupts our sleep and wake cycles, taking on more and more stress to become more and more productive increases our stress responses which increase certain hormone and neurotransmitter levels, thus greatly impacting our body’s natural circadian rhythm and diminishing our ability to rest and recover properly. When internal physiology is not optimal the brain and body don’t function optimally.


Short term situations are manageable for our bodies and minds where we are able to adapt with minimal symptoms such as upset stomachs, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, or feelings of just not being well. However repeated patterns of abuse to the way our individual bodies and minds prefer to operate, may lead to other more serious issues including changes in eating patterns, food cravings, changes in metabolism, mood disorders which have been directly linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and even early death.


As you can see, sleep rules our physical recovery and metabolic processes. When participating in physical activity, especially strength, resistance training and vigorous or intensive cardio, the body needs time to repair muscles and tissues. The term commonly used for physical repair is adaptation which refers to the body's ability to adjust to increased or decreased physical demands. It is also one way we learn to coordinate muscle movement and develop motor skills. And let us know forget that professionals with demanding physical jobs like construction or individuals recovering from illness or trauma will need adequate sleep and recovery time to heal their bodies too.


Now, how does sleep impact our mindset you ask? Mindset refers to a person's way of thinking and their opinions. The state of being mindful is about being aware of our surroundings and responding to it. Research has shown sleep deprivation leaves people vulnerable to attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reaction time, and mood shifts. This can impair your abilities to concentrate, think clearly, process memories and function to your best capability in day to day life. So, lack of sleep really impacts our mindset!


Apart from complying with your body’s natural circadian rhythm and trying to limit negative stress; practicing good sleep habits, known as “sleep hygiene”, can help improve your overall health, performance and avoid the negative impacts of sleep deprivation. These include:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.

  • Making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.

  • Removal of electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom.

  • Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.

  • Daily exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Our hope is that you will be able to use this information to help you be self-ish in caring for yourself, which will positively impact both you and those around you. If you can see how positive and negative stress affects your physiologic processes so you can better adjust your behaviors and lifestyle to be more inline with your natural physiologic processes relating to sleep, rest and recovery, you will be able to perform at an optimal level in whatever you do.



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