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Dear sleep, I'm sorry we broke up this morning. I want you back!

Last night I was lying in bed trying to get my recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep, generally looking at the clock and thinking if I was asleep now I would get 7 hours and 45 minutes of sleep …. I am sure lots of you can relate to this and some of you think what ?? “Sleep that’s easy!”

However, in today’s world where time is a commodity and a rare one at that, it is increasingly difficult to get a good night sleep. I for years, as mentioned in a previous article, thought that sleeping a third of my life away was a crime. The reality is I thought it was low priority; we work long hours then get home to a busy schedule and of course let’s not forget technology poking its nose into every aspect of life. At least once a week I will hear a client say I just didn’t have time to … I think we find it easy to focus on certain aspects of our fitness regimes and the one that gets the least attention is sleep.

Now these are just averages, we are all different but this is a good guide to work from. From speaking to clients, friends and family, it seems we aren’t getting enough sleep. It’s estimated that in the UK that the average person is only getting 6.5 hours of sleep a night, that’s a lot of sleep deprived people! If you then consider the quality of sleep each person may be getting, the statistic is even worse.

Many people know how important sleep is for our mental health but few link our physical health to a good night’s sleep. Making sure we get enough sleep will only help to enhance our health. Now you can still make it through life on less than the recommended hours of sleep but most of us will have to pay for that sleep deprivation. The amount of sleep you get can affect many areas of both your mental and physical health.

The effects include:

  • Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation

  • Moodiness and irritability; increased risk of depression

  • Decreased sex drive; relationship problems

  • Impaired brain activity; learning, concentration, and memory problems

  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills; difficulty making decisions

  • Inability to cope with stress, difficulty managing emotions

  • Premature skin aging

  • Weakened immune system; frequent colds and infections; weight gain

  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents; hallucinations and delirium

  • Increased risk of serious health problems including stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and certain cancers

If you are lacking in sleep you are more likely to become ill, you may have low moods or just a general feeling of lethargy; these alone are responsible for most missed workouts and poor nutrition. From a fitness point of view it’s clear to see a lot of these a factors can mean the difference between a good workout and a bad workout.

Nutrition wise, it turns out there is a reason we like junk food when we are tired. Firstly the obvious; if we are awake longer there is more time to eat; if we are awake longer we need more energy and so we feel hungry. Now added to those points there is a direct link between sleep deprivation and overeating/weight gain. This is due to an imbalance in some of the body’s hormones.

Firstly poor sleep will result in an increased level of cortisol (a stress hormone), and as mentioned in a previous article, cortisol will reduce the body’s insulin sensitivity meaning the body is more likely to store extra energy as fat.

Secondly there are two other hormones in play that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin tells the brain when you are full. When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want to eat more than normal, leptin levels however go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and so eat more than you need to. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave and the more you will overeat!

So how do you improve your chances of getting this elusive 7 to 9 hours of sleep I hear you say?

Well obviously you should get some regular exercise each day, but try to not workout to close to bedtime, especially if it is a high intensity workout;

Ensure you don’t have any possible medical causes; a common cause can be side effects of certain medications;

Make sure you try to stick to a regular sleep pattern. Make sleeping a habit, get up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends (work permitting of course).

Think about what you eat and drink and when you do it. Caffeine, alcohol, and sugary foods can all disrupt your sleep. Personally I don’t drink caffeine (a stimulant) after 3pm; some research says stop at 1pm. Alcohol effects the restorative quality of your sleep meaning you may sleep but your body will not recover or repair as efficiently and so will not gain the benefits of sleep. Eating heavy meals or drinking lots of fluids too close to bedtime can also have a negative effect on sleep, getting up once or twice a night to go to the bathroom will seriously ruin a good night’s sleep (I can vouch for this).

My biggest problem is not going to bed! It sounds silly but it’s true; I used to refuse to go to bed before midnight lol! There is always one more episode of … to watch (much to my poor wife’s dismay, she needs at least 8 hours of sleep to even function). Turn off the television and go to bed!

Lastly, you made it to the bedroom and it’s like daylight due to the light from outside. Your bedroom should be dark and quiet. It should be cool - not hot…not cold… (the goldilocks zone of sleep). Don’t watch telly or do a final check in on social media (make sure your devices have at least got night time mode on to reduce the blue light).

Above all keep the bedroom for two things - sleeping and adult recreation time.

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