It could just be a bad workout. You could just be craving sweets. You might just be down today. But you may just be sleep-deprived
Since childhood my head has been repeatedly drummed with the notion that I need eight hours of sleep every night. Stubborn as I am, this notion has been repeatedly rejected. First as a child, staying up until whatever hour of the night looking for Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” book, and now getting work done, surfing the web, and biting my nails—anxious about something new every other week.
Obviously, that’s not a good thing
As a child, finding Waldo and wearing my lack of sleep proudly had no material negative impact on me. Or so I thought. These days however, I’m well aware that my Googling and news-reading until the wee hours fly in the face of evidence that I really should get to bed earlier.
The authors of one study on sleep and athletic performance conclude that sleep makes up one of the three pillars of health, the other two being diet and exercise (no surprise for those two). There is plenty of material supporting this pillar as sleep is essential for muscle repair, muscle building, bone growth, and the promotion of the oxidation of fat. A sleep science coach writes with a focus on other benefits from adequate sleep, namely: the promotion of cardiovascular health, illness prevention, and memory retention and consolidation.
But, you probably didn’t need convincing that sleep is important
And nor did I. Yet, here I type undergoing cognitive dissonance, well aware that I hardly ever get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night. There are indeed some lucky folks who need less sleep than most of us and the seven to nine hours shouldn’t be a rigid rule we abide by. But perhaps in our athletic training we can get a clearer grasp of whether or not we’re getting enough sleep if we ask ourselves the right questions.
What questions should we ask?
Am I extra thirsty?
One study on sleep duration found that adults who reportedly slept for six hours on a nightly basis had higher odds of being inadequately hydrated compared with adults who had eight hours of sleep. Now, I suppose there is a rickety way to assess the concentration of your urine, but I think just mindfully inspecting how much water you’re drinking during a workout would be perfectly adequate.
Am I craving sweets and pastries more than usual?
An important point: Eat your sweets and pastries as they are divinely delectable additions to any diet. They deserve to be enjoyed to the fullest—just as you deserve to enjoy them to their fullest. The study on sleep and athletic performance does however point out that sleep-deprived individuals may crave these even more than usual, and may furthermore experience impairments in glucose sensitivity that may affect appetite and protein synthesis.
Do I feel my mind wandering from my workout more than usual?
One study maintains a broad consensus that a lack of sleep leaves individuals lacking in measure of alertness, attention, and vigilance.
Am I feeling a bit more gloomy?
One study on sleep and cognition points out the role of sleep in keeping away persistent and unwanted thoughts, which exacerbate and maintain psychiatric conditions. Sleep-deprived individuals in the study experienced an almost 50 percent proportional increase in “unwanted memories intruding into conscious awareness” than study participants who had slept.
Does my workout feel more difficult than usual?
Sleep deprivation impairs immune system recovery, makes it more difficult for muscles to recover, and leads to “autonomic nervous system imbalance,” which simulates overtraining symptoms. So more than just going through a workout and feeling more strain, you may also be feeling slightly under the weather.
So, you’ve answered yes to a few of the questions
In the current environment, I’ve set myself with the goal of staying healthy above everything. “Healthy” is more than strong athletic performance. It’s mental well-being, immune system strength, and a general feeling of wellness. Factoring in sleep as one of the important pillars to achieving this goal, here are some tips to get a good night of rest:
Try and get up at the same time every morning. I typically have my alarm set for the same time every morning regardless of what time I get to sleep. Assuming I get to sleep at a good hour most of the time, this works out well for a restful sleep most nights.
Follow a pre-bedtime routine. Be it focusing on getting each tooth clean while brushing or sitting down to a chapter from the book you’re on, it helps to have an activity designated as my pre-sleep activity.
The bed is for sleeping. While I have worked on, read in, and watched movies on my bed, designating it as the space for a night of rest has helped me fall asleep quicker. It’s been about associating the bed as well as the time of night with getting to sleep.
Ditch the phones and laptops before getting into bed. This may be about more than just avoiding the rabbit hole of the online world but also avoiding blue light. One study suggests that the blue light emitted by devices suppresses melatonin production needed to induce sleep while researchers at Brigham Young University suggest that it’s not the blue light itself impacting sleep. While the first study proposes ditching phone use two hours before calling it a night, I’ve found that even avoiding it 30 minutes before bed has me drifting off to sleep with less on my mind.
Own your sleep. You’ve earned it.
Our fast lives have painted sleeping as a luxury. But it is more than that, and more than a right too. The right to sleep may not be forged in legislation, but perhaps that’s because it is so intuitively bound to our being human. Demands from all angles keep us occupied and awake often for longer than our bodies can handle, especially when our bodies are active.
So for the sake of your athletic performance, your overall health, your mental health, and the expression of your humanity, try to get a good night of rest.
You’ve more than earned it.