Aaaand…. SLEEP!

Aaand – SLEEP!

“Oh, it’s just an article on sleep.”

You may think it a tiresome subject? Well maybe not if you’re reading this on your tablet or phone whilst lying in bed, but we’ll get to that.

Agreed, an article on “the top 5 ways to burn belly fat” may grab you by the nutsack a little stronger than an artcile entitled “how to sleep better”, but what if I told you that sleep may well have gotten near the top of that top 5 list?

What if I now made the title of this article “sleep yourself lean”?

Oh now you’re listening.

Ok, well maybe you can’t sleep yourself lean, but it might make things a hell of a lot easier.

So why is sleep so damn good!?

There are a few things that we know we need for certain – We all know how important water is right? right!

And most people dare not go a couple hours with out food for fear of low blood sugar levels, so its safe to say we eat plenty.

We know we need O2, well because…breathing and all that.

But what about sleep? If something needs to get sacrificed, sleep is usually the first to go. To grab that extra time, got an assignment due in? bring on the coffee!!

I suppose the negative side effects aren’t so “in ya face” as a lack of oxygen for example. I guess we kinda know we need to sleep, but “sleep when ya dead” right?

Wrong!!

Go snuggle up!

We NEED sleep.

But why?

Well i’m not so sure scientists fully understand the reason for sleep yet, there is a few theories such as energy conservation, restoration and repair, the adaptive theory of increasing survivals chances based on the environment or to lock in information and get rid of un-needed information and also circadian-rhythms.

In my humble opinion, its probably not a case of only being one of those but likely a combination of them all.

What isn’t a question however is the fact that we need sleep, whichever one or combination of those reasons it may be.

A 2003 study by Hans P.A. Et al found that only a moderate restriction to 6 hours or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to 2 whole nights of sleep deprivation.

Say whaaat?

I know what your thinking – 6 hours is pretty common and i’m sure many people, especially shift workers, may get less than that pretty often. The effects of this “moderate” sleep restriction seem to “seriously impair waking neurobehavioural functions in healthy adults”, and the scary thing is that the subjects of the study were unaware of the cognitive decline that the sleep deprivation caused.

I know I’m guilty of this. Think back to the last broken nights sleep you had or a series of late nights and early get ups… How awful do you feel the days following? As you reach to stir your coffee with your toothbrush.

Then you know those times when its only mid week, but your beat up, your body aches, mind is slow, a little negative maybe, hell even a little depressive.

What’s the betting if you looked back at your sleep patterns leading up to those days you would see some disrupted or deprived sleep?

The authors of the study go on to state that;

“Physiological sleep responses to chronic restriction did not mirror waking neurobehavioral responses, but cumulative wakefulness in excess of a 15.84 h predicted performance lapses across all four experimental conditions. This suggests that sleep debt is perhaps best understood as resulting in additional wakefulness that has a neurobiological “cost” which accumulates over time.”

Sleep is clearly a special place where we make gains!!

Sleep is where the brain and the body recover, repair, learn, grow, optimize.

When we get optimal sleep we wake up refreshed, more alert, with increased energy and are likely a ton more productivity than in a sleep deprived state.

What happens to the brain when we sleep?

Sleep generally consists of 5 stages that can be cycled through many times during a night and scientists track these 5 stages via the changes in our brain waves.

Here’s a quick run through the stages;

Sleep Stage 1:

The stage between being awake and asleep lasts a few minutes. Brain waves are high amplitude slow waves and some alpha waves(same as during waking hours), this makes up approx 5% of young adult total sleep time.

Sleep Stage 2:

Slow-wave sleep begins with regular decreased heart and respiratory rates as body temp drops and you begin to enter deeper sleep and spindles (peak brain waves) occur. This can make up approx 44 to 55 percent of sleep time.

Sleep Stages 3 and 4:

Our deepest sleep occurs here. Brain waves are at their slowest, the muscles relax, respiration and heartrate also slow down again. This is our deepest and most restorative phase. hormones are released such as growth hormone that drives new growth, repair and development of new muscles! Blood supply to the muscles is also increased to further aid tissue repair and growth occurs. Chances of Dreaming, sleep-talking and walking are increased in these stages..

REM Rapid eye movement (REM) Sleep Stage:

The brain waves here mimic those during waking hours. The heart rate increases while breathing slows down to shallow levels. The muscles are relaxed and as the name suggests the eyes begin to move rapidly. This is the stage that is said to support and improve daytime performance. The REM stage lengthens with each cycle throughout the night lasting for as little as 10 mins and ending on the last cycle anywhere upto an hour, this is where dreams are their most vivid and possibly why it seems your strongest most vivid dream are right before you wake up.

Hopefully you haven’t nodded off yet, but if you have, sleep tight I’m glad I could help.

For the rest of us, lets go fourth and take a look at my top 5 tips for better sleep.

Here are some of my top tips and this comes from experience.

I’m a night owl, with a fair a share of onset insomnia. When it starts my brain is a mirror image of Genies lamp from Aladin with a tad more things bouncing around and just as many crazy characters, as you can imagine or maybe you cant, that can render my ability to fall asleep a hopeless task.

The list below has seriously improved my ability to find slumber over years, as I see it, sleep is something that needs practice and honing like a skill, you cant just lie there and hope for it or huff and puff and throw your innocent pillow a swift jab.

Hopefully these will help you too;

1. Keep the media out of the bedroom – the bedroom is for sleeping and very few other activities, watching tv, being on your phone or tablet shouldn’t be one of them, the blue light can have serious detrimental effects prior to sleep. Which I’ll delve into in more detail in a further article. So get all your facebooking and electronic gadgetry fixes done out of the bedroom and not immediately prior to sleep.

2. Food – Ever notice how everyone falls asleep after Christmas dinner? well say thank you to ya mums mashed potatoes, the whacking portion of carbohydrate has a big influence on the brains seratonin levels hence the carb induced coma. It doesn’t appear to be a huge portion of carbohydrate needed. I’ve found a simple white or sweet potato with my evening meal usually has the best effects to help relax to sleep slowly, while something real sugary like say a bag of sweets can knock me out like a dart from the wachutu tribe, BTW, that is definately not a thumbs up to go grab a bag of tangfastic for “sleep purposes”. Be sensible, but it highlights another reason to time carbs to suit you, best pre bed or pre workout? test what suits you.

Foods that also contain higher levels of the amnio acid trytophan seem to induce sleepiness too, another reason carbs help as they make trytophan more available to the brain. Foods like chicken, milk and Turkey contain high levels of trytophan, another win in the sleep column for the Christmas dinner, pass the cranberry sauce – I’m off to lala land.

3. Nootropics, vitamins, minerals and essential oils.

– 5htp is a precursor to seratonin that is a neurotransmitter that relays signals between brain cells. The body makes 5htp from the essential amino acid trytophan. Dietary supplementation can help raise serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, and may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety and also appetite.

– Magnesium is the second most commonly deficient mineral behind vitamin D, shows an improvement in sleep quality in persons with poor sleep quality.

– Melatonin is a hormone secreted in the brain that regulates sleep. Ingestion of Melatonin may override regulation and force you into slumber.

– Lavender – my Grandma must have read the research as she made pillows infused with lavender for me and my brother when we were little whippersnappers. The essential oil and aroma derived from the Lavandula family of plants appears to have some anxiety reducing properties following oral ingestion. Try Badgers Lavender Balm.

4. Ofuro, or the “Japanese bath” is much more than simply washing. Many Japanese people view sitting in their ofuro tubs as a must-do daily ritual, and the ritualistic nature of an activity can have quite strong relaxing properties alone. The Japanese bath water also tends to be much hotter than what Westerners normally find comfortable, the heat increases melatonin release and the subsequent rapid cooling of the body that aids slumber.

So go run yourself a hot bath, hotter than usual, one you can barely take. Combine this with the tips from number 3. on the list and include Magnesium bath salts to the water which is a very efficient way to absorb the useful mineral I like to use Zach-stein Mg salts.

Add to that a few drops of lavender oil and you have the perfect sleep inducing combo.

Ice baths have also been tested and maybe superior, but if you think I’m testing it out you’re mistaken, be my guest, and be sure to let me know how you get on.

5. Read Fiction – This one is a very useful tips took from Tim Ferris, I was guilty of only reading research, work related stuff and not reading fiction thinking that I was somehow missing out on gaining new knowledge by doing so. Turned out I was just being stupid, and likely inducing a stupider state with the lack of sleep I was getting. Ferris puts it like this “Reading fiction engages the imagination and demands present-state attention as opposed to reading non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation/planning” which obviously isn’t conducive to a good nights sleep.

If you have any more to add to the list, feel free to let me know.

In the meantime sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Dan