Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Why sleep could be the key to your health and fitness dreams
There’s this strange modern idea that the busier, more stressed and more tired you are, the better you’re doing at life. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve heard semi-complaining, semi-boasting about just how busy and tired they are all the time.
But people who’re under the impression that bags under your eyes are a kind of badge of honor showing that you’re managing to cram everything in need to start rethinking their approach for the sake of their health.
But even if you’re not swept up by the idea that if you’re not flat out 24/7 then you’re doing something wrong, it’s still easy to start sleeping less than we should. Sleep is normally the first thing we cut back on, whether intentionally or unintentionally when the pace of life starts picking up.
We go to bed later and wake up earlier to try and squeeze more into our days, and then wonder why we’re low on energy or unproductive. I wonder.
After all, sleep is the foundation on which our entire lives are based. It’s when our bodies recover and regenerate. Without the right amount of sleep, we’re still able to function on a basic level, but our energy levels are lower, and we’re not as sharp. We get less done than we would if we were getting enough shut eye.
And a lack of sleep can take a serious toll on both our physical and mental health.
Sleep and mental health
If you’re not sleeping enough, then your brain can struggle to control emotions and think in a rational manner.
That can mean you start thinking negative thoughts and even experience depression or anxiety. If you’re feeling tired, then life can seem difficult to cope with, which makes you stressed or worried, which in turn stops you from sleeping well. It’s the ultimate vicious cycle, and it’s probably one you’ve experienced in the past.
So, if you don’t take your sleep seriously, then it could end up taking a fairly serious toll on your mental health.
Sleep and physical health
When it comes to physical health, the effects of sleep deprivation are fairly obvious. Your energy levels dip and your body just aren’t as capable as it would be if you were well rested.
You’re not going to be very likely to jump out of bed in the morning and launch straight into your daily work out if you’ve only slept for four hours.
But as well as impacting the amount of exercise you do, a lack of sleep can also have a negative impact on your diet.
Let’s face it. You’re not very likely to find the energy to cook up a healthy meal in the evenings if you barely slept the night before.
What’s more, sleep deprivation can mean that your body struggles to maintain the balance of the hormones that let you know when you’re feeling hungry or full.
Too little sleep means you have higher levels of the hormone that makes you hungry, meaning you’re likely to eat more than you would if you slept for longer.
On top of that, not sleeping enough can mess with your blood sugar levels, which throws your whole metabolism out of whack. If you’re trying to lose weight, then a lack of sleep can throw a serious spanner in the works.
On the face of it, then, boosting your health and fitness should be the easiest thing in the world. After all, sleeping involves zero effort. But, if we’re being realistic, it’s not as simple as just deciding that you’re going to sleep more from here on out.
Actually getting into bed at a respectable time requires effort and commitment, and you’ll need a few tricks up your sleeve to help you manage it.
Plan for better sleep
When it comes to health and fitness, organisation nearly always plays a big role. And in this case, it’s no different. You need to actively schedule in your early nights.
If it’s a busy social life that’s keeping you up, then you need to book in a non-negotiable few nights a week on which you won’t be out and about, meaning you can get to bed on time.
If you’ve been up till late with work, the same applies. Schedule in a cut off point and stick to it. You’ll be all the more productive for it.
If you haven’t been able to catch up on sleep at weekends, plan for a weekend of rest and say no to any suggestions anyone might make, no matter how tempting they might seem. You won’t regret it.
Develop your own bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is really important because it signals to your brain that it’s time to start shutting down. Doing the same thing every night is calming and stabilising.
If you tend to lie there staring at the ceiling, struggling to switch your thoughts off, then you could try adding something new into that routine. Reading, journaling, listening to a podcast or listening to calming music are all great ways of zoning out.
Switch off all screens
Sleep and screens don’t mix. I know just how tempting it is to check your emails or your Instagram likes one more time before you switch off for the night, but the blue light emitted by screens keeps our brains alert and active, which means going to sleep is even more of a challenge. That light mimics sunlight, which means your brain decides it’s not sleeping time at all.
And it’s not just the light. Any urgent work emails, negative social media comments or bad news stories could worry you, and make it tough for you to drift off.
So, make the bedroom an official screen-free zone. Try putting your phone on to charge in another room, and going old school and investing in a real alarm clock. Half an hour is a good amount of time to avoid screens for before you try and close your eyes.
Set an alarm
Have you ever been watching a series n the evening, and found yourself watching just another episode, then another one, then another one? And before you know it, it’s 2 o'clock in the morning.
You might be working, or reading, or chatting to someone. Whatever it is that keeps you busy, those evening hours can slip through your fingers without you noticing.
If you find this happens a lot, then why not set an alarm reminding you to go to bed. There should be asleep reminder function on your alarm app, so you never miss bedtime again.