Some of us love it, some of us hate it. But the fact is: we all need it. And no, we are not talking about chocolate, we are talking about sleep. We spent about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and no, it’s not a waste of time. I’m going to tell you why sleep is so important, how to make sure you get enough of it and what happens when you don’t. Some of us function with only 4 hours of sleep while others need at least 8 decent hours before you can even say a word to them. There have been lots of scientific studies around the topic of sleep, which have resulted in many different theories. To this day there still isn’t a single and correct answer to why we sleep and how much we really need.
What does sleep do to our body?
Sleep is known as a life sustaining activity (just like eating). It’s a protective mechanism that our body developed. Just like not having any food makes us hungry, not having any sleep makes us tired. Even if you move over twenty times in your sleep, your muscles stay relaxed. This gives your muscle tissue the opportunity to restore and repair themselves. While we sleep, our heart rate and blood pressure slow down so that our vascular system can get the rest that it needs. Long story short: your body is being recharged overnight.
What does sleep do to our mind?
Our mind is a miracle and some parts of it are still one big mystery for many researchers. However, one thing they seem to agree on is the fact that sleep has a ‘behind-the-scene’ function. It boosts our memory (even a small power nap can do that) by reorganising and refreshing our thoughts while we think about riding pink fluffy unicorns and having abs of steel 😉 During sleep, brain activity is not interfered with other ‘outside’ experiences and information, giving it an opportunity to use all of its capacity to reorganize and refresh itself.
What happens when we lack sleep?
There is a chemical in our brain that tells us when we are tired, it’s called adenosine. Adenosine is build up while you are awake and the amount of it grows. The larger the amount of adenosine, the more likely you will feel tired and have the desire to sleep. When we sleep our body clears the amount of adenosine in our system in order for us to feel fresh and renewed when we wake up. And then we have caffeine, which does the opposite of adenosine. Although we do not recommend it, it does help to (temporarely) overcome sleepiness but it’s only a short-term solution because the amount of adenosine stays the same and kicks back in when caffeine decides to leave the body.
Here are 5 facts that we dislike about the lack of sleep:
- Higher risk of accidents. Due to drowsiness causing slower reaction times, you are more likely to make mistakes that could even be dangerous.
- Dumbs you down. Lack of sleep won’t make you a smart ass, in fact, it slows down your alertness, concentration, reasoning en problem solving.
- Kills your bedroom skills. Lack of sleep lowers your libido en limits your interest in some one-on-one cardio. You gotta keep the vibes going!
- Skin-ageing. When you don’t get enough sleep your body releases more of the hormone cortisol, also known as the stress-hormone. That means no young and shiny skin as well as panda-bear eyes without even wearing mascara.
- Weight gain. You snooze, you lose! Sleep seems to be related to appetite. If you sleep less than 6 hours a day you have a higher risk of developing obesity over time as lack of sleep stimulates cravings for high-fat and high-carbs food.
Sleeping and working out
Every decent fitness program should include some advice on sleep. It’s a crucial aspect if we talk about working out. The amount of sleep you get can have a big impact on your athletic performances. Let’s see how sleep and working out are tied together. Anyone who wants muscle definition should definitely make sure to take enough rest at night. At night your body releases growth hormones and you can maximize this hormone production by getting enough sleep.
Every time you lift weights at the gym, tiny cracks are created in the tissues of your muscles. When the cracks get restored by the body, you gain strength and size. Most of these repairing mechanism occur during sleep. If you want to build lean muscle you have to get enough sleep. When your sleep levels are low, your metabolism gets slowed down. This results in messed up blood levels (such as glucose), which can make you feel constantly hungry even if you have eaten a lot already.
Although we all need different amounts of sleep, the average amount of time is around 7 hours. If you sleep (a lot) less than 7 hours you will have a higher risk in developing some of the factors mentioned above and we do not want that to happen. Some things that can help you get the right amount of sleep is creating the right environment with a comfy bed, soft lighting and a low temperature. You can also try to get yourself into a routine so that your body gets used to going to sleep at a certain time and it will feel natural.
Don’t eat or drink too much before going to bed. Your digestive system will get to work, making it harder to fall asleep because your energy levels rise. If you are hungry (which we, Fit Girls, are quite often if we’re honest 😉 ) keep the amount of food you consume before bed small and avoid high-fat foods.
So for all of you Fit Girls out there, get your sheet (get it, sheets?) together and hit the sack!
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