The missing link to a healthier you may simply be a good night’s sleep. It’s fair to assume that most of us appreciate how important sleep is; yet in my humble opinion it remains one of the most undervalued aspects of modern life. Our hectic lifestyles involve cramming more into our days, later nights and earlier starts, and less time for the deep rest that is vital to feeling our best. Before I remind you of the benefits of proper sleep and the risks of too little sleep, let’s first explore why many of us (myself included, at times) struggle to get enough slumber...
The addiction of ‘busy’
Rest is one of the first things we sacrifice when we have too much going on, and as a small business owner I am prone to working late into the evenings when things get overwhelming. Sleep often takes second place to everything else; it’s the thing you do when you’ve got nothing left to do. Being busy has become a badge of honour in today’s fast-paced, sleep-when-you’re-dead culture. We like to compare how busy we are, who slept less last night and who had the more eventful weekend. It feels like, as a society, we associate being busy with being a worthy, successful, valid human. Take a look around (or in the mirror) and you’ll discover we’re obsessed with being busy. Busy has become the new ‘normal’.
My sleep story
All through my 20s my ‘crazy-busy’ lifestyle of burning the candle at both ends (as my Grandma would say) took a huge toll on my health. Busy was my normal and consequently, sleep was the area of my life most affected. It was something I thought I could put off until the weekend. I averaged six hours sleep through the week and couldn’t manage to drag myself out of bed before 10am at the weekend.
I was so obsessed with my intense nightly workout schedule, that I didn’t eat dinner until 9pm or later most nights. Unless you're holidaying in Europe, pre-COVID times, this is TOO LATE. It was a vicious cycle too; going to bed on a full belly, making for a restless night’s sleep. Instead of resting and repairing, I was wide awake digesting and feeling bloated and uncomfortable. That was until I completely burnt myself out and ended up with adrenal fatigue.
The turning point
Finally I had permission to slow down – it was my health practitioner’s orders. I paid a lot of money to see different holistic health professionals and I was committed to taking my homework seriously. The new me would prioritise sleep, relaxation and mindfulness. Put simply: more being, less doing. It sounded so simple. The hardest thing was learning to say ‘no’ more. No to things that no longer served me, no to multi-tasking, no to back-to-back weekend plans, no to ‘crazy-busy'.
"In our busy culture, there's still a fair amount of pride about not having to sleep and getting a lot of work done,"
Dr Aric Prather
5 benefits of sleep
Adequate solid sleep is crucial for our repair and recovery, it’s when the body gets to work clearing away any rogue cells, viruses and bugs. If good ol’ ‘beauty sleep’ isn’t enough of an incentive to get some proper rest, keep the following in mind next time you find yourself skimping on shut eye:
Deep sleep improves our immunity. want to protect yourself from catching the sniffles off a sick co-worker? Slumber is your answer. A University of California San Francisco study found that people who get less than six hours sleep a night are four times more prone to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared to people who sleep 7+ hours a night. What’s more the researcher team found that sleep was the greatest determining health factor to indicate the chance of catching a cold. Dr Aric Prather explains that age, stress levels, race, education, income and smoking cigarettes all came second place – after sleep deprivation - in terms of influencing the likelihood of getting a cold. Statistically, sleep is more immune-protecting than any other lifestyle factor.
Sleep is our brain’s best friend: lack of sleep effects our short-term memory. Sleep helps our brain consolidate memories and helps important details become more permanent, it also improves attention, alertness (cheaper than caffeine!), focus, reasoning and problem solving. The good news is once you finally catch up on sleep, your memory will eventually return to normal. And if you’re interested in preventing alzheimers, you may be interested to learn that sleep deprivation is linked to a risk factor for the disease, beta-amyloid. A recent National Institutes of Health study shows that losing just one night sleep immediately increased beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid proteins clump together to create amyloid plaques, a requisite of the disease. As doctor Neal Barnard says “Sleep deprivation really is one of the worst things you can inflict upon your brain”.
Helps you lose weight: want to shed some extra pounds? The answer could simply be: sleep more! Sounds too good to be true, but let me explain. While proper sleep (7+ hours) won’t have you dropping the weight overnight, it is scientifically proven to help you from gaining extra weight. Here’s why: sleeplessness makes us extra hungry (or ‘hangry’ for some) and the hunger hormones, leptin and grehlin, peak when we’re tired. This leads to an increased appetite, reduced satiety (a feeling of being full), more cravings and falling into the temptation of three-thirty-itis pick-me-ups.
It keeps your body in peak condition: Restful seep will help you feel better on every level - mentally, emotionally and physically. Not surprisingly, even a short bout of sleep deprivation can affect your speed, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and muscle recovery when exercising. A 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that sleeplessness reduced muscle strength and power the following day, especially if your workout was later in the afternoon.
It lowers your risk of car accident: As mentioned in the previous point, because insufficient sleep slows our reaction time (and affects our awareness and attention levels), “driving a car when you’re low on sleep is just as dangerous as driving drunk”, says Shalini Paruthi MD a sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Research supports this since people who regularly sleep 6-7 hours a night have double the chance of crashing as those who generally get 8 hours sleep, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Less than five hours slumber, and your odds of an accident quadruple, the study highlights. Bonus point for me: I don’t need a car in my busy London life, so fortunately there’s no risk to myself or others from tired driving.
These are just a few of the incredible and unparalleled benefits of sleep...
Sleep hygiene: biohacking good sleep
If you're keen to improve your sleep game, come along to my next public workshop on Thursday 27 May in collaboration with Fast Twitch.
Come along to this workshop to learn:
how to get a better night’s sleep NOW
tired and wired: why your lifestyle is getting in the way of shut eye
the best foods and supplements to support good sleep
about circadian rhythms and why they matter
top 4 daily rituals to help you sleep soundly and deeply tonight.
Join the Fast Twitch team and myself for an inspiring evening. You will leave feeling confident that you have the tools, strategies and knowledge to start making sleeping a top priority.
In my next blog, I'll share top foods to support sleep, plus my top sleep hygiene tips and environmental factors to be mindful of when it comes to getting your best night's sleep.
Note: the opinions and advice contained here are my own, from my own experience, the results from my clients, my studies as an integrative health coach, and my personal research. If you are ever in doubt about any health concerns, or about coming off your medications, please consult a doctor.