Snooze, You Lose?
We have all seen infomercials touting miracle products. Things like juicers that will turn any fruit or vegetable into liquid gold, knives that never go dull even if a recipe calls for you to slice up a shoe or a brick, and even towels that can soak up an ocean are being hocked as items you don’t just want, you need. Your life has been a farce up until the moment you discovered Sauna Pants (Google it, I do not want to get off topic). There’s a saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, but what if that wasn’t always the case? Well now it is my time to sell you on a product. What if I told you I knew the key to burning fat, gaining muscle, improving your memory, and a host of other benefits to be had? There are no juicers as loud as a jet engine required, or suggestively suspect looking “fitness” dumbbells that may or may not include the words “shake” and “weight”, and there is certainly no complicated “at home gym” machine that folds up so you can put it under your bed and forget about it forever. I am talking about the miracle product simply known as Sleep.
The reason I chose to talk about sleep is because I myself used to live by the mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. While it may sound gruff and Teddy Roosevelt-esque, I have learned that it is a remarkably poor attitude to have. I spent quite some time averaging 4-5 hours a sleep a night. Spoiler alert, I was not in particularly great health at the time. The side effects of a lack of sleep are well documented. The most obvious effect is being tired, nobody functions at a high level when they are constantly yawning and fighting to keep their head from slipping off their hand while resting their elbow on the desk or table. Nothing is more embarrassing than the classic “head-droop, snap awake” move, we’ve all done it. A lack of sleep can lead to a host of other, more serious side effects as well. Sleep deprivation affects everything from your immune system and hormonal levels to your blood pressure. As an athlete, when you stress your body through physical activity, these negative effects can be compounded when you’re not hitting the sack properly.
I’m not going to harp on the negatives here too much, I like to keep things positive, so let’s look at the benefits of this miracle called sleep. First and foremost, for the low low price of zero dollars, sleep improves cognitive brain function. Simply put “cognitive functions” relate to awake, real world interactions between your brain, body, and the environment around it. For example, breathing would be considered an “autonomic”, or automatic, function. Whereas, watching your phone ring, and ignoring it so you can continue scrolling through Instagram is a cognitive function. Why is this important? As an athlete, your cognitive functions directly translate to how you move through a workout. A lack of sleep can lead to injuries through poor movement. Would you rather do 50 box jumps on a full night’s rest, or after 4 hours of sleep when your eyelids feel heavy? A good night’s sleep can even help to improve your lifting numbers, this is not available in stores folks.
But wait! There’s more! Perhaps the most important benefit of sleep for many people is how it relates to weight management. Sleep improves the body’s ability to burn fat by regulating insulin levels. Sleep is also when the Sandman goes to work repairing our bodies and brain function is at its highest level. A fit 150lbs person can burn upwards of 800 calories during a full night’s rest. That’s like free money! This product pays for itself! A lack of sleep can throw cortisol levels, a major factor in fat burning/retention, way off. This can make it difficult to burn excess fat. So while you may be crushing it in the gym, you may not be seeing the results you’ve been looking for because of too many late nights catching up on your DVR.
These are just a couple of the benefits of sleep. An exhaustive list would simply be too long for the scope of this infomercial, but I urge you to look into it yourselves. The last topic I want to talk about is difficulty falling asleep. This can stem from a variety of choices made during the day. First, try to avoid caffeine after noon time, caffeine can remain in your system for upwards of 10 hours after drinking it, so lay off the Pumpkin Spice Lattes after noon. Secondly, shut the screens down an hour prior of trying to fall asleep. Backlit screens (tvs, smartphones, tablets) can interrupt the body’s melatonin (the brain’s sleepy time medicine) levels, suppressing them enough to make falling asleep difficult. Read a real book (they used to print books on stuff called “paper”, a wild time in world history) in dim lighting, or invest in an e-reader with reduced blue light emissions (open a Google tab next to “Sauna Pants” and look into blue light emissions). Your sleeping environment also plays a role in your sleep quality. I personally love sleeping with the television on, so I had never slept in a completely dark room until I met my wife. She introduced me to sleeping in a pitch black room, its like the Batcave if the power went out, and to her credit, I’ve never slept better. Make it dark, think of it as a “set it and forget it” scenario. Set the room to dark and forget about it. Lastly, cool it down. Studies have shown that sleeping in cooler rooms improves sleep quality.
The author John Steinbeck is quoted as saying “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it”. I agree with that sentiment, sleep is not only the miracle infomercial product for our physical bodies that we need, but also for our mental well-being, an oft neglected aspect of our overall fitness. I’ve been asked on many occasions for my opinion on pre-workout supplements, and my answer is always the same, sleep. Make a concerted effort to improve your sleep habits and I guarantee results, or quadruple your theoretical money back.