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Sleep Yourself to Fitness and a Longer Life

These days its hard to fit everything in.  Our mornings start with emails as soon as we open our eyes, gym sessions, breakfast on the run, work, dinner, exercise, friends, television, reading..Its no wonder that we push against the margins at the start and the end of the day and we are in the middle of a national sleep epidemic.

The human body between the ages of 26 and 64 years of age needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. This drops to 7-8 hours after 65 years of age. Roughly 12% of us, however, sleep less than 5.5 hours per night.  23% of us report that we do not get enough sleep. The problem is that sleep is pretty much essential for all of us. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It affects the metabolism, decreases glucose sensitivity and causes us to crave fats and sugars.  Studies over the entire population of countries have found that people who sleep less than eight hours a night, on average, will have a higher BMI than those who don’t.  In fact, one study showed that just sleeping one more hour a day can drop 14lb from your frame over the course of a year.

It also affects our immune system, leaving us more exposed to infections. Reduced sleep over long durations can double the risk of cancer, reduce our ability to empathise with others, and reduce libido. A single night without sleep is equivelent to a blood alcohol level of 0.08.  Thats right, if you drive without sleep, you are a weapon, and not in a good way.

As for strength, you can imagine.  Staying fit and growing muscle without enough sleep is like driving a car with the brakes on.  Sure, its fun and the sweet haze of brake pads and smoke can be alluring, but its a tough way to hit your goals and its just not super smart.

Getting enough sleep involves some do’s and some don’ts.  The Do’s are pretty much about giving your body a chance to work properly.  Firstly, go to bed at the same time every night, give or take.  Our bodies have an internal clock and an entire system of hormones, the most important being melatonin, that regulate when you get tired.  When you give your body a system that it can rely on, the hormones all line up for you and the clock works perfectly.  You get tired and you fall asleep.  Secondly, light matters. Those hormones we talked about are reactive to light, because thats the signal they wait for to turn you back on again, and they can’t tell the difference between sunlight and the light on your Iphone, your television, your clock radio or your bathroom light.

The Don’ts pretty much involve things you are doing, eating and drinking that you shouldn’t. Stay out of bed during the day unless you are having a nap. Don’t train straight before bed. Don’t have that after dinner expresso.  Don’t do your emails straight before bed, and especially don’t lean over at 3am, turn your phone on, check facebook, like a post, and then think you are going to just fall back asleep.  That literally breaks about ten rules..

A large number of us have sleep issues, and most of the above apply to all of us from time to time.  Its a bit like training; when the now and then becomes the every day, you get stronger, and it works in the reverse as well.  Three to four hours a sleep is ok once or twice a week, but if its a continuing thing, give some thought to what you can do to make a change, without resorting to sleeping pills or other outside aids.  You’ll see the differences in a few weeks, and you’ll feel them straight away.  Stay old man strong.