Why You Should Prioritize Sleep Above Diet And Exercise
Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested? – Matthew Walker, Author Why We Sleep
This may sound like fictitious advertising or the language used by pharmaceuticals to market the latest super drug. You’re probably thinking how much does it cost? Where can I get it?
Well, the good news is it’s FREE. It’s readily available, and there is nothing fictitious about this statement whatsoever. The above statement is describing the benefits of a full night’s sleep.
Don’t believe us? Well, according to Matthew Walker, there are over 17,000 highly scrutinized studies that say there are countless advantages to a good night’s rest.
So why is it that, contrary to this overwhelming evidence, and reasons to sleep more, two-thirds of the adult population in developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of sleep each night?
That’s an open-ended question. There are so many reasons, ranging from lack of education and understanding about sleep to people just not making it a priority in their lives. It’s hard to pin it down to just one reason.
But, before we get to the heart of this post, I want you to understand this key point:
The less you sleep, the shorter your lifespan. It’s time you make sleep a top priority in your life.Two-thirds of the adult population in developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of sleep each night.Click To Tweet
Lack of Sleep Affects Every Aspect of Your Life
Health comes first is our mantra here at Strength Matters. We prioritize WWS (Walk, Water, Sleep) above everything else when it comes to health and wellbeing. If you’re unsure of our concept of WWS, please read this article to learn more before continuing:
Without the presence of water and sleep in our lives, we will die. So important and damning is the evidence of sleep deprivation, Guinness World Records has now banned all sleep deprivation attempts.
Sleep loss affects every single aspect of our lives—from socially and economically, to physically and nutritionally. It doesn’t spare a single facet of the human body. In today’s world, we seem to like to celebrate the “sleep when you’re dead” philosophy. This couldn’t be any more stupid.
If you’re trying to achieve anything in the sports performance world or fat loss and weight loss, you need to sleep.
Lack of sleep will hinder any physical or performance-based progress you wish to make. In simpler terms, all the hard work you’re doing in the gym can be undone by a lack of sleep. Results will be slow or non–existent, and you’re working harder, not smarter, for the results you’re after.
But it goes deeper than that, so much deeper.All the hard work you’re doing in the gym can be undone by a lack of sleep.Click To Tweet
Who Sleeps, How Much Do We Need, and Why Do We Do It?
Every single animal ever studied sleeps. From insects and reptiles to amphibians. From birds and lions to humans. Sleep is universal.
There are many reasons why we sleep, but experts agree that, above all, we sleep to fix what has been upset by being awake.
Now, the amount of sleep that animals (including humans) need varies. Every species is different. Elephants need just four hours a day. For humans, the given answer is normally eight. Tigers and lions need fifteen hours, and the king of the sleep kingdom, the brown bat, devours 19 hours a day.
Scientists are still trying to crack the sleep code, but the essential understanding is that it’s necessary for everyday survival.
How Should We Sleep?
Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, has finally helped me understand the answer to this fascinating question.
Have you ever heard of the mid-afternoon slump? If you’re in a post-lunchtime meeting, watch how people nod off. (I see this all the time when presenting workshops.)
It has affected me over the years, too. I just thought it was natural for everyone to be sleepy in the afternoon, or maybe they all ate too much food (which is why I often fast at lunchtime to try to avoid this slump).
However, it appears humans are hardwired into doing this. It’s a biological need.
There are two types of sleep patterns:
- monophasic and
Monophasic sleep is when we sleep for a prolonged period (ideally 7-8 hours), and biphasic sleep is when we sleep for a similarly long period of time and then follow it up with a mid-afternoon nap of approximately 30–60 minutes.
The afternoon slump, known as “the post-prandial alertness dip” is evolutionary. It’s in our DNA. The descent from wakefulness to low-level alertness reflects the need for humans to naturally be asleep and nap in the afternoon.
Biphasic sleep is a deep biological need of all humans. We’re programmed to do it.
Biphasic sleep, according to experts, is the human biological model for sleep—asleep for 7-8 hours, followed by an afternoon siesta of 30–60 minutes. However, modern society has restricted us in such a way that monophasic sleep has become the norm over the years. But it shouldn’t be the norm. Experts are now considering the overall health implications of monophasic sleep.
Take this study from Harvard University. In the early 2000s, people in Greece were encouraged to transition away from a “siesta” style of living and move into the monophasic sleep lifestyle. Over a six-year period, Harvard tracked the impact across 23,000 participants in terms of cardiovascular health.
None of the participants had any history of coronary heart disease or stroke prior to the study, suggesting no cardiovascular ill health was present. Those that abandoned their regular siestas went on to suffer a 37% increased risk of death from heart disease compared to those that maintained regular daytime naps. In working men, the mortality risk of not napping increased by well over 60%.
In short, experts now say that if we don’t practice biphasic sleep, our lives are shortened. They are clear that biphasic sleep is a fundamental key to a long-sustained, healthy life.
The Benefits of Sleep for the Brain
There are many advantages of sleep for the brain, yet nothing is as impressive as the effect of sleep on memory. It positively impacts your ability to learn and retain the new information for a longer period of time, particularly in the case of skill-based training (which is what health, fitness, and nutrition really is).
Practice does not make perfect. In fact, practice with a good night’s sleep leads to perfection. And if we deprive ourselves of sleep, we are essentially depressing an important phase of motor memory development within the brain, thus rendering all our newfound skills of health and wellness redundant and hard to change.Practice does not make perfect. In fact, practice with a good night’s sleep leads to perfection.Click To Tweet
There’s significant research regarding the relationship between sleep and human performance, from everyday athletes to elite performers.
It points to the fact that anything less than eight hours of sleep a night, and especially less than six hours a night, will cause the following to happen:
- Time to physical exhaustion drops by 10–30%
- Aerobic output is significantly reduced
- Impairments in limb extension force and vertical jump height, together with decreases in peak and sustained muscle strength
- Marked impairments in cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory capabilities that lead to faster lactic acid buildup, reductions in blood oxygen saturation, and increases in blood carbon dioxide
- The impairment of the body to cool itself down through sweating, a key factor in peak performance
And then, you have the greatest fear of any athlete (or normal human being) – injury risk.
In a 2014 study of competitive young athletes, a chronic lack of sleep across the season predicted a massively higher risk of injury.
When the average amount of sleep was only 6 hours, the chance of injury risk was above 70%. Compare this to 9 hours, which was just over 10%. Matthew Walker took this a step further and analyzed an NBA player’s performance based on whether he had more than or less than eight hours of sleep.
He found that when the player had more than eight hours sleep, there was a:
- 12% increase in minutes played
- 29% increase in points/minute
- 2% increase in three-point percentage
- 9% increase in free-throw percentage
Compared to less than eight hours of sleep, which led to:
- 37% increase in turnover
- 45% increase in fouls committed.
This is pretty damning evidence in terms of sporting performance.
Imagine the difference this can make in our normal day-to-day lives? This information is not just for the elite performer. Just imagine what this can do for the average office worker or stay-at-home mother.
Sleep can be life-changing.
You Do Not Know How Sleep-Deprived You Are When You Are Sleep Deprived
Sleep loss can inflict devastating effects on the brain—such as numerous neurological and psychiatric conditions—and on every physiological system of the body, contributing to countless disorders and disease.
The scary thing is that most of us do not even know that we are sleep deprived; nor do we understand the effects it has on our daily lives. Chronic sleep deprivation can accumulate over days, weeks, months, and years, leading to impaired performance, lower alertness, and reduced energy levels.
This low-level exhaustion becomes the accepted norm. We fail to recognize how our own state of sleep deficiency compromises our mental aptitude and physical vitality, not to mention the slow buildup of ill health.You Do Not Know How Sleep-Deprived You Are When You Are Sleep DeprivedClick To Tweet
Millions and millions of people live in a sub-optimal state of psychological and physiological health, never maximizing their true potential of mind and body due to their ignorance and blind belief that sleeping too little is okay.
Matthew Walker’s work proves it – “You simply cannot get by on just four or five hours a night.”
In fact, studies show that people who are awake for 19 hours straight are just as cognitively impaired as people who are legally drunk.
Intensive research now proves that humans begin to fail cognitively after 16 hours of being awake. We need more than 7 hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance.
More disturbing is the fact that after just ten nights of seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.
Health Is More Than Just Diet and Fitness – It’s About Staying Alive
This next part is particularly close to the bone. As a former police officer, I have attended a significant number of traffic accidents of varying degrees of severity. There’s nothing worse in life than delivering a death message to a loved one’s family.
Sometimes staying healthy is a matter of just staying alive.
Every 30 seconds there is a car accident somewhere in the U.S. caused by sleeplessness. Sleep-related accidents exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.
Let that sink in. That’s 1.2 million accidents caused by sleep-loss each year, and each of these accidents tends to be far more deadly than any other accident.Sleep-related accidents exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.Click To Tweet
Another frightening statistic is that 80% of U.S. truck drivers are overweight, and 50% are obese. As a result of the far higher risk of suffering from sleep deprivation, truck drivers are 200–500% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident. And when a truck driver loses his or her life in a sleep related accident, they take on average 4.5 people with them.
Sleep is more than just health and fitness.
Sleep Deprivation, Loss of Health, and the Body
Just over 12 months ago, we came up with WWS (Walk, Water, Sleep), and we categorically state the importance of walking, drinking water, and sleeping. This is done before we even touch diet or fitness.
We approach walking, water, and working out first because we’re working towards better habits for sleep above all else.
Sleep is the foundation of everything we do. If it is off just a little, dieting and physical exercise become less effective, thus taking you further away from your goals.
Sleep loss and sleep deprivation impact everything we know, but let’s take a deep dive into the three key areas we’re concerned with here at Strength Matters:
- Weight Gain and Obesity
- The Cardiovascular System
- The Immune System
Diabetes, Weight Gain & Obesity
The less you sleep, the more likely you are to eat. Your body is unable to manage those extra calories effectively, especially the levels of sugar in your blood. Sleeping less than seven or eight hours a night will increase your probability of being overweight, and it significantly increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
A lack of sleep essentially hijacks the body’s ability to control blood sugar. Your body becomes less receptive to the hormone insulin (responsible for absorbing sugar from the bloodstream). If the blood sugar levels cannot be lowered, over time your body will become intolerant to dealing with these high levels, and you could develop type 2 diabetes.The less you sleep, the more likely you are to eat.Click To Tweet
There are huge links between lack of sleep and diabetes that cannot be ignored.
Now, let’s look at just pure weight gain.
The less you sleep, the more likely you are to gain weight. This is proven science.
There are two hormones that control appetite: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin signals a sense of feeling full. When there are high levels of leptin, you don’t feel like eating. Ghrelin, on the other hand, triggers a strong sensation of hunger. The less you sleep, there is less leptin and more ghrelin present in your body.
You are basically muting the voice in your head that says stop eating and increasing the volume on the voice that shouts “Carry on!”
In numerous studies, it has been found that, on average, people consume 300 calories more per day when they are sleep deprived.
This is an extra 70,000 calories per year and up to 15 lbs. of weight gain, each and every year.
Let’s go even further. Sleep loss increases levels of endocannabinoids in the body (similar to the drug marijuana). Like marijuana, they stimulate appetite and increase your desire to snack (think the munchies). Combine this with the impact of leptin and ghrelin, and this all leads to one thing: overeating.
And the more tired we get, the more lethargic we want to become. So all together, it’s not just an issue of overeating. It’s overeating, desiring more processed foods (chocolate, candy, pizza) and expending less energy. These are the conditions that are optimal for weight and fat gain.
But the great news is that a good night’s sleep can help control this (along with other key factors).On average, people consume 300 calories more per day when they are sleep deprived. This is an extra 70,000 calories per year.Click To Tweet
The Cardiovascular System
Walker says “unhealthy sleep, unhealthy heart.” The closer we approach midlife, our body begins to deteriorate and our health starts to decline. The impact of sleep loss on the cardiovascular system increases. Adults over forty-five years old who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who sleep over seven hours.
A 2011 study that tracked over half a million men and women of various ages across eight different countries found that shorter sleep was associated with a 45 % increased risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease within seven to twenty-five years from the start of the study.
This is partly to do with blood pressure. Just one night of poor sleep can increase the rate of a person’s heart and increase their systolic blood pressure. Combine this with the evidence that shows a lack of sleep erodes the fabric of those strained blood vessels, in particular, the coronary arteries, the corridors that supply blood to your heart. It’s no wonder that heart disease is the biggest killer on the planet.
Remember two-thirds of adults don’t get adequate sleep. It’s all linked to basic health.
Concluding Thoughts and Something to Remember
I may have bombarded you with a bit of doom and gloom here today, but amongst all this, I want you to remember the importance of what happens when you lose just one hour of sleep.
Every year, approximately 1.5 billion people are forced to reduce their sleep by one hour for daylight savings. Researchers have gathered data that show that just one hour of sleep loss results in a frightening spike in heart attacks the following day. The number of traffic accidents increases the following day, too.
Most people think that losing an hour of sleep for a single night is inconsequential. But the brain is important to the heart as well as attention lapses in the brain.
The opposite is true when the clocks go forward in the latter part of the year. Heart attacks drop, traffic accidents drop.
It’s amazing what one hour of sleep a night can do.
Imagine what it could do for your health if you addressed your sleeping habits?
Sleep must be a high priority for your health and wellbeing. We must think of it as the handbrake that holds everything else back in your life.
Release the handbrake, and your potential will be exponential. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!
Every Journey Begins With a Single Step
In every great movie, the hero embarks on a path that promises adventure, challenges, and finally, achievement. Often, the hero finds a guide that takes the hero under their wing and pushes him or her to the limit. Just think, where would Luke be without Yoda? We are the stars of our own movies. And we all need that guide.
When it comes to fitness, a coach can be your guide to movie hero-type success, and your secret weapon. There are so many benefits to having a personal coach. I would go so far as to say that coaching is a prerequisite for achievement. Period.
Applying the Strength Matters System of Athletic Development to achieve a pain-free athletic lifestyle won’t be easy but it’s guaranteed to work if you follow it. And we’re here to guide you every step of the way.
Are you ready to take that first step?
Attribution: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
Life’s better as an everyday athlete. ~ James Breese