Is sleep the missing ingredient to your healthy lifestyle?

We all try to be healthier and better versions of ourselves through exercising, eating well, stress management, and being more active in general. However, sleep is often overlooked and under-utilised as a major component of health. If you’ve got everything else in check with your health and you are having issues with productivity, dropping body fat, improving your strength numbers in the gym, building muscle, zero libido, or you just simply want more energy, then this article may be something that can add a serious amount of value to your life.

First of all, what is sleep?

Sleep is ultimately a period of time when our eyes are closed, our body is inactive, and our minds are in a state of altered consciousness. It is a time to rest and recover from our previous daily activities. There are 4 stages of sleep, which are explained below.

Here are the 4 stages of sleep:

NREM Stage 1 – This is the first stage of sleep where we transition from wakefulness to sleep. This stage lasts around 5-10 minutes.

NREM Stage 2 – Stage 2 begins and you become less conscious. Your heart rate will begin to slow down and your body temperature will decrease. This phase lasts around 20 minutes.

NREM Stage 3 – This is your deepest stage of sleep. Blood pressure drops, breathing slows down, and your muscles are in a state of relaxation. 

REM sleep stage 4 – Rapid eye movement occurs as your brain becomes more active. Breathing will increase and it may even be irregular. This is usually the stage in which dreams occur, although, dreams can occur in any stage of your sleep. 

After REM sleep is complete we cycle back to stage 2, where the cycle will repeat itself. We should go through the sleep cycle 4-5 times every night for optimal sleep quality. 

Disrupted sleep can lead to issues such as:

  • Decreased learning ability
  • Decreased creativity 
  • Emotionally less stable
  • Poor ability to solve problems
  • Poor nutritional choices
  • Drowsiness 
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased libido

Frequently disrupted sleep cycles can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Lower quality of life
  • Weight gain
  • Increases insulin resistance 
  • Reduced immunity 

Why is sleep important?

Sleep plays a vital role in brain health. It is paramount to get enough quality sleep to boost performance in cognition, physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Increased levels of decision making, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, are just a few examples of how quality sleep improves performance. 

Enough quality sleep will drastically improve hormonal health, along with mood regulation and appetite regulation. A lack of sleep will lead us to make more poor nutrition choices to manage our stress. Which can obviously lead to a vicious cycle causing extreme weight gain overtime. We tend to crave more foods high in sugars as a result of sleep deprivation. Of course a lack of sleep will also make us horribly grumpy. We will be less productive in work and/or in our exercise regimes. 

Getting regular quality sleep will vastly improve your hormone regulation. Poor sleep will have a negative effect on hormones, such as, cortisol, testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone, growth hormone, thyroid, melatonin, and also hunger hormones, like insulin, leptin and ghrelin. 

Essentially our life suffers majorly without enough sleep. That being said, how can we improve our sleep quality?

Here is a list of things that will improve your sleeping habits:

  • Creating a bed time routine 
  • Prioritising 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night
  • Get to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Black out curtains. A darker room has been proven to improve sleep quality
  • Optimal room temperature should be around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3ºC)
  • No screens for at least 1-2 hours before sleep. That means no phone screens, television, laptops, etc
  • Consume your last meal 3 hours prior to sleeping
  • Having a hot bath using magnesium bath salts in the evening. Magnesium is great for managing anxiety and improving sleep. We often tend to be deficient in magnesium also.
  • Reading a book
  • 5-10 minutes of meditation 
  • Wash your bedsheets often for more comfort

Other things that you can do to boost sleep quality:

  • Follow an exercise program consistently
  • Limit caffeine intake or only consume caffeine in the mornings
  • Eat a high protein diet
  • Prioritise nutrient dense foods
  • Avoid highly processed foods 
  • Hydrate throughout the day
  • Increase activity levels by going for a 30 minute walk
  • Be productive in the day. This is often overlooked but make sure you’ve completed your daily tasks which will reduce anxiety.

I would strongly suggest that you take a look at your own sleeping habits and assess where improvements can be made. It could be the biggest life changing thing that you could possibly do. Optimising your sleep quality will make you happier, healthier and leaner in the long run. Identify, sleep, as a pillar of health, and use it to become a better version of yourself. 

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