In today’s society, a huge emphasis is placed on work and productivity over anything else. This could mean sacrificing quality of nutrition to save time (fast food), and or sleep deprivation, whether it be on purpose, or due to parties or late night gatherings, stress etc…
The single factor that will have an impact on the widest array of health qualities is sleep! It is so important that it is something I will look at first when consulting a client for health optimisation in my gym. I will spend as much time as we need, trying out different strategies, until it is no longer a problem. This all happens before moving onto anything else!
When we sleep, it gives our system a chance to recover, which directly affects our performance the very next day. The actual time we get to sleep will specifically impact the benefit that we reap from our time spent in bed. From 10pm-1am it is primarily time for brain regeneration! The time between 1am-7am is mostly physical regeneration. This would dictate that the times we get to bed past 1 am at night, we are sabotaging half of our recovery efforts! Sleep is the most underrated recovery mechanism. Living in a world full of constant stresses, from the morning traffic rush, the business presentation, the gym, and putting the kids to bed, it has never been more important to get a good night’s sleep.
How and Why this is Important
People that can’t fall asleep have trouble getting stress hormones to go down at night. People that can’t wake up in the morning have trouble releasing the surge of energising hormones that should come with the morning. People that have trouble staying asleep are often over stressed to the point where they are nutrient depleted and are suffering from things such as liver toxicity, oxidative stress, and unbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain. When I speak of the importance of brain regeneration, here is what I mean: The endocrine system is what manages your hormones.
Hormones dictate what builds (anabolism) and what gets broken down (catabolism). They also dictate your status as a male or female (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone) as well as things like mood, focus, hunger, hydration balance, blood pressure, digestion, survival, reproduction etc… As you can see, these can have quite an impact on quality of life to say the least!
Deep in the centre of your brain are two very important glands. The pituitary and the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the major control centre of most of your brain’s survival functions. It is what tells everything else what needs to happen for survival. The hypothalamus tells the pituitary which hormones it needs to secrete in order to elicit a response from the rest of your endocrine system.
Think of the hypothalamus as the king of the body’s functions, while the pituitary is the general of your endocrine system battalion. One takes direct orders from the other. If the pituitary general is fatigued from poor sleep, the orders will not be carried out efficiently, and the war may be lost despite the king’s best efforts.
The pituitary has direct control over your muscle building hormones and fat loss hormones (testosterone, growth hormone). It is also paramount to directing ovulation as well as determining the speed of resting metabolic rate via the thyroid gland. Yes, your metabolism will slow to a halt if the proper signals are not being sent to your thyroid from the pituitary gland.
The second portion of our sleep cycle is dedicated to physical regeneration. This is when you reap the benefits of your workout efforts. If we are looking to build lean muscle tissue in order to supercharge our metabolism, you had better count on getting quality sleep. If you don’t, you will be stuck in a constant state of muscle breakdown. Results happen during rest (i.e. sleep time).
Sometimes individuals get to sleep at a decent time but they have trouble falling asleep initially because they have anxiety, or racing thoughts. Or perhaps they just don’t feel tired. Other times they sleep through the night, but they just don’t sleep deeply enough. This is characterised by someone that has frequent dreaming, as dreams happen in a relatively light sleep state.
Sometimes a person will get to sleep easily, but then wakes up in the middle of the night one or more times. Waking up at night, even if it is to go to the bathroom, is detrimental to your recovery. This is common but not normal. Ideally we should go to sleep immediately, and not wake up until 8–9 hours later. If you wake up to urinate or even if you just wake up for more than 3 seconds at a time, it is your body trying to tell you something.
The Times we Wake up and what they Mean
Pay attention to the times that your sleep gets interrupted by waking up prematurely. The body works in cycles according to acupuncture meridians. Most of the time, the body wakes up during times that can be very helpful for identifying what the potential problem is.
(The following are based upon a 10pm bed time)
Waking up from 11pm-1am is usually a sign of sugar dis-regulation. Cortisol is spiking in an effort to balance sugar levels in the bloodstream. Try including more vegetables and eliminating sugary foods closer to bedtime. Or perhaps the size of the evening meal is just too large.
Waking up from 1am-3am is indicative of liver toxicity. Liver detoxification is a priority for you.
3am-5am is usually a sign of oxidative stress. Increasing quality of multivitamin, and or addition of specific antioxidants would be helpful.
Waking up from 5am-7am is usually related to the large intestine and or the triple warmer meridian. If this is your normal wake up time for work etc, then it should not concern you.
What is a good night’s sleep? Proper sleep means falling asleep easy, not waking up until the morning, and waking up with energy. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up, or all the above, it is a sign you are not able to manage the stress your body is under.
The good news is that there are natural ways to improve your sleep and your health at the same time. Over the counter and prescription sleep medications may make you sleep, but they could leave the underlying condition untreated.
The simplest and most effective ways to help improve sleep are ensuring adequate nutrient levels of magnesium and zinc, D3 (either from sunlight or in supplemental form), and eliminating stimulating activities immediately before bed such as TV, the computer, or being on your phone. Once those are taken care of, consider the potential adjustments above based on when you tend to wake up during the night.