Sleep: the forgotten performance enhancer

I’m sure we’ve all heard new products stating that they are the next big thing for weight loss, performance, productivity and recovery. Unfortunately the vast majorities are marketing sales pitches and empty promises.

What if I told you there was a “product” out there that, reduces stress, increases creativity, improves stamina, enhances libido, fights off age, increases productivity, reduces risk of heart related problems, strengthens memory, elevates mood, improves decision-making and it has no dangerous side effects.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Each of the above are all scientifically proven benefits to improved quality of sleep.

The cost?

Free

Simple but a bit trickier to implement.

I moved into a new building last month and it had a negative effect on my sleeping routine. This along with a few other personal issues resulted in me getting very run down, stressed and weak in the gym.

After a week of being a zombie I moved to the back side of the building where there was no noise. I blacked out my windows and now, thankfully I’m sleeping like a baby once more.

It got me thinking about how I feel when I can’t sleep or don’t get enough sleep. It is torture. It messes up the following day.

Up until very recently (the invention of electricity, recent in the grand scheme of things) man lived according to natural sunlight. He would wake at sunrise and sleep soon after sunset.

This 24 hour pattern driven by the sun is called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm has many important functions including

  • Cellular repair and regeneration.
  • Hormone secretion.
  • Brain wave patterns.
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When we disrupt our circadian rhythm (through inconsistent sleep patterns, jet lag, late night socializing) we disrupt the very functions that are required to keep us performing optimally.

What happens during sleep?

Recovery of the body as a whole (organs, muscles, systems) is accelerated. The sleep hormone melatonin produced in the brain controls this. As the sun goes down, serotonin (feel good hormone), which keeps your mood balanced throughout the day, starts to convert to melatonin to prepare you for down regulating and sleeping.

The opposite occurs when the sun rises. Melatonin is again replaced by serotonin, which prepares your body for the day ahead.

Here some of the other important hormones released during sleep.

  • Insulin – controls blood sugar.
  • Androgens – the muscle-building hormones
  • Growth Hormone
  • Cortisol, the “stress” hormone

Sleep cycles

The brain is active during sleep drifting between various cycles. Our natural sleep pattern ranges from light sleep REM (rapid eye movement when you dream) to various ranges of deeper sleep cycles (non REM when you are out cold and the restoration processes take place).

This cycle between REM sleep and non REM sleep is repeated throughout the night. Studies have shown that time is not the most important factor with sleep. It is the amount of complete cycles you have experienced during the night.

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Some studies claim up to 75% of the population suffers from some sort of sleep difficulty. This is bad news and poor sleep is the cause of weight gain, inability to lose weight, altering hormones that effect appetite and metabolism.

This explains why some people seem to getting it all right with diet and nutrition but still aren’t dropping fat.

A lot of the sleep problems people experience comes back to distractions and over stimulation from tv, phones, internet and as discussed here.

5 ways to hack your sleep tonight.

  • Sort out your bedroom.

Make sure your room is dark and quiet. You can get blackout curtains or tape black paper to the windows like I did. Next make sure it is quiet. If outside isn’t a problem then make sure other people in the house are aware of your new bed time and all that. If it’s noisy outside get earplugs. This is one of the most important items I have used while traveling.

  • Wake and sleep consistently throughout the week.

Get into a daily routine of waking and sleeping at the same time. This will take some willpower but in order to optimize your sleep it’s essential.

Set a daily alarm clock 1-2 hours before you have to sleep. No matter who you are with or what you are doing drop it and get ready for bed. It’s time to start putting yourself first.

  • Wind down two hours before you plan on sleeping.
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Moving on from the previous point, allow yourself plenty of time to calm down before bed. Watching movies, Facebook, email are all going to make it more difficult to sleep.

The same goes for exercise. Try to finish two hours before you plan on sleeping.

Tim Ferris, three times NY times bestselling author, recommends reading only fiction before bed as it relaxes the mind. Anything by Bill Bryson or Dan Brown are my picks.

  • Eat and drink smart.

Eat a higher fat meal before bed. Don’t eat a large amount right before as it will be uncomfortable lying down. A glass of wine or cup of chamomile tea are both good to unwind in the evening also. A magnesium supplement can help with sleep as well.

  • Eliminate caffeine after 2pm.

Depending on your culture this could be quite hard to implement. I was in Brazil last year and they drink coffee at all times of the day. I was being offered it at 9 and 10pm! This is something that a lot of people forget about so keep your caffeine to the morning and lunch time.

Sleep is something that we all need to be giving more attention to. Implement the 5 hacks above to improve your sleep tonight.

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