Sitting here in my underwear on a sunny, early Saturday morning in Camp Hill, PA, I’ve been thinking about my recent sleep patterns and how inconsistent they’ve been.
I’m getting enough hours of sleep (usually 9 when I’m training) but it’s the consistency of time I go to bed and wake up that is killing me. Going to bed at 11 and starting work between 8 and 8:30am is not good for my recovery or my sleeping patterns.
Now, we all throw out sleeping schedules off. We have a late night out, a night of drinking, a morning that we have to get up super early, or we’re so stressed out our minds won’t calm down. I fall into the last category usually and, I admit, I have to improve my sleeping habits so that I can go to bed and get up in the morning for the gym. Not always an easy feat to accomplish. My motivation to go to bed, however, is beating rush hour at 5pm.
Just getting to sleep to accomplish your goals earlier in the day shouldn’t be the only motivation. Your body recovers greatly while you’re asleep and the deeper your sleep is the better your recovery. Not only that, sleep is so important that it is a bigger determinant for life expectancy than your eating habits and training schedule.
LET ME REPEAT THAT:
Sleep quality is a bigger determinant for life expectancy than your eating habits and training schedule.
If You Need Some Science
The NHS reported a study from the Mirror, which analyzed data from a variety of studies on sleep and age of death. The studies all used the same method, which was a questionnaire, and death certificates to help determine a correlation between sleep duration and life expectancy. Of the 15 studies of 25 cohorts for a total of 1,381324 adults, most of the participants were over the age of 60. Their parameter for death in this meta-analysis was simply that: death by any cause. They calculated an overall risk, which can be affected by factors like the majority being older than 60, non-health related cause of death, etc. For my parents and relatives out there, this one relates to you more than my millennial peers, but the principle is the same and equally relevent.:
Better Sleep Patterns= Better Health
The meta-analysis found that there is a 12% increase in likelihood of death for those who regularly got “short sleep”, which is approximately 6 hours or less (studies varied the definition of “short sleep” from 4 hours or less to 6 hours or less. For our purposes, “short sleep” will refer to 6 hours or less). So not getting enough sleep is no bueno.
The meta-analysis, however, also found a 30% increase in likelihood of death for those that regularly got “long sleep”, which is approximately 9+ hours of sleep or more (for our purposes, this will refer to 9 or more hours of sleep per night, but studies varied that parameter as well).
I Hear a “But”…
Simply because you normally get 7 hours of sleep a night doesn’t mean you’ll live longer or that because I get 9 hours of sleep a night that I; going to die younger. The meta-analysis DID NOT account for factors such as:
- Exercise routines
- Eating habits
- Pre-existing conditions
- Mental Health (depression or anxiety)
- REM sleep achievement
- Age (results are skewed
Or other external factors affecting sleep quality. So, while getting the optimal number of hours (for the typical adult that’s 7-9), the quality of those hours is key.
Okay, cool. How do I Improve My Sleep Quality?
First, let’s consider the factors that affect sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation identified the 3 biggest factors on which you can assess your sleep habits and quality.
Time Slept vs. Time in Bed
This is important. Your bed, according to NSF should be for two things: sleep and fornication. If you’re eating, studying, watching tv, or doing a million other things on your mattress and not reserving your bed specifically for sleeping, you’re throwing off your sleep patterns.
When you turn in for the night, going to bed should be an indication to your body and brain that it is time to go to sleep. National Sleep Foundation says that if you’re spending at least 85% of your time in bed asleep, you’re on the right track.
Race to the REM
Are you falling asleep quickly enough? Or are you awake and staring at the ceiling because you can’t stop thinking about that one time you said something stupid four years ago?
Believe it or not, the second factor that the National Sleep Foundation states for sleep quality is how quickly you fall asleep. If you fall asleep within 30 minutes of your head hitting the pillow, congrats, you’re sleeping like a pro.
If not, then consider a bedtime routine that doesn’t include major distractions. Have a light snack, darken the room, sleeping in a cool room (69-72 degrees is good. If you’re my landlord, it’s 75 degrees.), having a warm bath/shower, or (if you’re a real nerd, like me) reading a few pages of a book before bed. Find something that works for you.
I Have to Pee…AGAIN.
How often are you waking up? How long are you awake? Getting out of bed once to go pee or get a quick drink of water is okay (especially if it’s dry due to the toasty 77 degrees that my apartment is), but anything more than once or longer than 20 minutes is affecting your sleep quality.
If you’re up frequently or for longer than 20 minutes, you should consider some factors that are keeping you from falling asleep. Did you do some exercise (even if it was just a walk or short yoga flow)? How long ago was that last adult beverage or coffee? How big was your final meal (this is something that could be a big factor for a lot of us because, as Americans, we typically eat more than the recommended portion size and the timing of that last meal could have us reaching for the Tums sooner than we thought).
Take a look at these three factors for evaluating your sleep. How are you feeling in the morning? Refreshed or groggy?
An Extra Nugget
Also, don’t run yourself ragged all week and then sleep more on the weekends. That also throws off your sleep cycle and can make you feel worse. Consistency is key here. If you throw off your sleep cycle by not going to bed and waking up at relatively the same time each morning, your body will have a tough time and cause you undue stress.
I cannot emphasize enough how important consistent, routine sleep is. It is paramount for performing in the gym, making the best eating choices, hormonal balance, and muscle repair. It affects your productivity at work, your driving ability, and stress levels. Fixing your sleep and having a consistent routine should be a priority for improving your health and reaching your goals.
Sleeping 4-5 hours per night and running yourself ragged does not a healthy person make. It’s actually crazy. Don’t pull all-nighters, they’re even worse. Get your sleep and tackle that big project with a clear, focused mind. Snooze and repair your body from the inside out. Don’t punish yourself by depriving yourself of sleep; that’s not loving yourself and remember: if you died tomorrow, your boss would replace you in two weeks.
Take care of yourselves.