March Focus: The Benefits and Importance of Getting Good Sleep

Here's the scenario: It’s Friday and you can’t finish the WOD. The deadlifts feel really heavy and let’s just say you’re really glad we use spotters when benching. There could be several factors at play here that may make you feel this way. If this doesn’t sound like you, you are still able to learn and grow from this blog post; potentially have an even greater increase in performance (inside and outside of the gym).

This month, we'll be talking about sleep! We'll discuss the benefits and ways to “train” ourselves to sleep better. Like anything else, practice makes... permanent! So, let’s encourage each other to incorporate better sleeping habits!

Just for fun, let’s look at some of the benefits from good sleep. This does not include napping, short sleep, bad sleep, or interrupted sleep. As always, we at Humble Beast CrossFit/Barbell are willing and able to provide the evidence-based research to support what we encourage, including why sugar is bad for you. We laugh at the irony regarding why sugar is terrible for you, but big soda companies will pay to have evidence-based research say otherwise. Ultimately this calls into question the validity of all evidence-based research without publicly publishing the source funding.

Regardless, here are some of the factors of good (and bad) sleep:

1. Good sleep improves your immune function.

2. Good sleepers tend to eat fewer “calories” (take this one with a grain of salt, 0-cal salt).

3. Good sleep can (notice the word usage, "can", not guaranteed) improve concentration and productivity. That’s right, we’re talking work-place productivity!

4. Good sleep can maximize athletic performance. Reminder, maximize does NOT mean increase, it means maximize your ability. Think of being able to squat your 1RM every day! We increase performance with our periodized program approach.

5. Good sleep reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.

6. Bad sleep is “linked” to depression.

7. Bad sleep can make you fat (not bigger, but fatter).

There are more factors than these seven we listed, but you can imagine that the list goes on! Now, how do we “improve” our sleep quality? We're going to give you many options! For the month of March, let’s take it week-by-week. We will list two to focus on per week and try to implement them every week. You can decide how many and how fast to implement the changes. Just commit to what you can and remember: consistency is more important than quantity.

Week 1

1. Increase bright light exposure during the day. Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. Natural sunlight, or bright light, during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration. In patients with insomnia, daytime bright light exposure improved sleep quality and duration. It also reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83% (1). A similar study in the elderly found two hours of bright light exposure during the day increased the amount of sleep by two hours and sleep efficiency by 80% (2). So, sit by windows, take a brief walk during your lunch break, get outside to get fresh air and some natural light!

2. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening. Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but daylight exposure during nighttime has the opposite effect (3). Again, this is due to its impact on your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This suppresses hormones like melatonin, which help you relax, prepare for sleep and acquire deep sleep. Make sure you set your cell phones and tablets to nighttime mode, and download the f.lux (https://justgetflux.com) application for your desktop and laptops. Don’t forget home lighting and electronics like your TV. Turn off the TV late at night!

Week 2

1. Reduce irregular or long daytime naps. While short “power naps” have been proven beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal body clock, meaning you may struggle to sleep at night (5). Napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance daytime brain function, while longer naps can negatively affect health and sleep quality. So, don’t lose your naps, just have them work for you, not against you.

2. Try to sleep and wake at consistent time. Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset. Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid in sleep quality in the long-term.

Week 3

1. Set your bedroom temperature. Body temperature and bedroom temperature can profoundly impact sleep quality. As you may have experienced during the summer or when on vacation, it can be very hard to get a good night’s sleep when it’s too warm. One study found that bedroom temperature affected sleep quality even more than external noise.

2. Relax and clear you mind in the evening. Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia. This may include meditation, reading and baths. A relaxing bath or shower is another popular way to prepare for sleep. Studies have shown it can improve overall sleep quality and help people fall asleep faster. In one study, a hot bath 90 minutes before bed improved sleep quality and helped participants get greater amounts of deep sleep. Alternatively, if you don’t want to take a full bath at night, studies have shown that just soaking your feet in hot water can help you relax and improve sleep.

Week 4

1. Don’t drink alcohol. Okay, if you’ve been trying this for three weeks now and haven’t found success, it’s time. Don’t drink. Drinking a couple drinks at night can negatively affect your sleep and hormones. Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns (6). It also alters nighttime melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm (7).

2. Don’t consume caffeine late in the day/evening. In one study, consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality (4). Depending on how quickly you metabolize caffeine, it can remain in the blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4p.m. is not recommended, especially if you are caffeine sensitive or have trouble sleeping.

Now that you have a plan and options, let’s take this goal/focus seriously! Talk amongst each other and communicate with us! 3,2,1… zZzZZ.

 

Sources

(1) Campbell. S.S., Dawson. D., & Anderson. M.W. (1993). Alleviation of sleep maintenance insomnia with timed exposure to bright light. Journal of American Geriatric Society. Aug;41(8):829-36.

(2) Fetveit. A., Skjerve. A., Bjorvatn. B. (2003). Bright light treatment improves sleep in institutionalised elderly--an open trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Jun; 18(6):520-6.

(3) Fronken et. Al. (2010). Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Oct 26;107(43).

(4) Drake et. Al. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Nov 15;9(11):1195-2000.

(5) McDevitt. E.A., Alaynick. W.A., & Mednick. S.C. (2012). The effect of nap frequency on daytime sleep architecture. Physiological Behavior.Aug 20; 107(1):40-4.

(6) Issa. F.G., & Sullivan. C.E. (1982). Alcohol, snoring and sleep apnea. Journal of Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. Apr; 45(4):353-9.

(7) Ekman . A.C., Et. Al. (1993). Ethanol inhibits melatonin secretion in healthy volunteers in a dose-dependent randomized double blind cross-over study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Sep; 77(3):780-3.