Sleep is probably the single most underrated tool for health and recovery. It’s essential for basic maintenance and repair of all our systems, impacting everything from chronic disease to body composition. Plus, it’ll definitely help you become a better athlete.
You’ll Have a Better Metabolism
One of the undervalued results of good sleep is surprising: an improved metabolism. Not only does it help your body maintain balanced hormone production (1), it positively impacts the levels of inflammation in your body, and increases your basal metabolic rate. By getting good sleep, you can control genetic expression (2) that helps you control your appetite (3), improves your body composition and cuts down your likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome (4).
Improves your glucose (carbs) tolerance
Bad or irregular sleep affects the way your body metabolizes glucose, increasing glucose production and reducing how much your cells can take in. Research suggests that if you get less than 7 hours of sleep on average, you’re considerably more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who get at least that much. Think about how prevalent Type 2 Diabetes is in the U.S., and how sleep trends have shifted over the years!
Optimizes your Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin and ghrelin are, in effect, opposing hormones. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite and leptin acts as an appetite suppressant. Stunted sleep cycles are associated with less leptin and more ghrelin. That means that you’ll feel hungrier and be less satisfied when you do eat, leading to tricky issues with calories and portion control. This creates the perfect storm to throw your metabolism out of whack.
Helps you manage your cortisol levels
Cortisol is important for our bodies, helping control blood sugar, regulate metabolism and reduce inflammation. It can be a good thing and help us deal with normal everyday stress like exercise (or a bear chasing you) but as with anything, we want it in moderation. Reduced sleep is associated with higher levels of cortisol, which can contribute to an increase in body fat and lead to adrenal burnout. Burnout means that your body can’t produce cortisol, which can spiral and land you with a host of issues that can take years to fix.
It’s Harder to Get Sick
Our body does some of its most important work during sleep, balancing out our daytime inflammatory response and allowing our immune system to function properly. In a study where 153 healthy adults were voluntarily exposed to the cold virus, those with better and more sleep showed an increased resistance to getting sick by a large margin.
You’ll Have Better Mental Health
Sleep can not only be a predictor for types of depression, but it can greatly impact our gut health. Gut health is an important and fast-growing field of study that’s been strongly linked to many aspects of health and mental function (5). Our gut microbiota is deeply impacted by fluctuations in our circadian rhythm, which in turn can have a major impact on everything from our mood to how we manage stress (6).
Your Memory is Better
Sleep is integral in memory formation, consolidating your daily experiences while you dream away. This process helps your brain build on related memories, making stronger associations between them for the long-term. Plus, it’s been shown that it’s not just practice that makes perfect; it’s really practice + sleep that makes perfect. Whether you’re studying for a test, working on a new skill at work or trying to get better at something in the gym, working on it then sleeping will help your brain incorporate your new knowledge in the most optimal way.
Tips for Better Sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep:
- Turn down the lights at sunset. Turn on your phone’s nighttime settings and avoid watching the TV in the evenings. Blue light from our devices make it hard for our brains to know when to shut off, messing with our circadian rhythms.
- Create a nighttime ritual for yourself. Find something that helps you wind down: take an epsom salt bath, stretch by candlelight, or read a book.
- Sleep in a cool room. Your brain needs to literally cool down after every use, just like a computer. Sleeping in a cool room can help you get to sleep quicker and get more restorative sleep.
- Go to bed before 10pm. There’s truth to the proverb: an hour before midnight is worth two after. It’s not just the length of sleep the matters, but when it happens.
- Find a routine and stick with it. Keeping to a regular sleep schedule can ensure your hormones are in a good rhythm, releasing when it’s best for your body.
If you have trouble staying asleep:
- Try to control your stress. Put things in perspective in the moment by asking yourself “Is this life threatening?”
- Make a worry list. If to-do items come up while you’re winding down, add them to a list that you can tackle tomorrow and try to let it go.
- Limit the amount of light in your room. Get rid of night lights, install blackout curtains, and invest in a dimmer alarm clock (or cover it with tape).
- Try to eat 2 hours or more before bed. Don’t be too full or too hungry before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night because of hunger, try a protein snack 30 minutes before bed.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it disrupts your natural sleep cycle by blocking several nighttime hormones, making you thirsty, and messing with your blood sugar.
- Avoid stimulants during the day. Caffeine stays in your system for 5 or 6 hours, so avoid drinking coffee, tea, or soda for at least that amount of time before bed.
- Drink more water. Many times, we feel a lull in energy when our bodies are simply thirsty, which can lead to drinking coffee/tea later in the day.
- Kick your furry friends out of bed. This seems silly (and we love our pets!), but think about how much they move around during the night. This can interrupt our sleep all night long.
- When all else fails, nap. Life happens, so if you can after a particularly after a bad night of sleep, naps can be surprisingly restorative.