Whether you're a top athlete chasing the next personal record, or like most of us are simply trying to stay a little more focused in our day-to-day work, there's a good chance you're doing your best to get there achieve, except for perhaps the most important element – getting enough sleep.
With World Sleep Day observed on March 17th, our need for quality sleep is a never-ending daily affair, so M&F spoke to Louisa Nicola, a former triathlete and director of Neuro Athletics, to get the slimming sleep-eye.
Nicola was involved in a serious car accident that threatened to end her sporting career all too soon, but she was able to speed up her recovery by supplementing her physical rehabilitation with brain training. Since then, Nicola has helped countless athletes and individuals use neuroscience to reach their potential and says sleep is one of the most overlooked yet crucial factors in firing from all cylinders.
Let's take a closer look at what this means for all of us:
What actually is sleep?
With our increasingly busy lifestyles, where our brains seem to be constantly connected to one device or another, many of us have lost track of what sleep actually is. Sure, for some people it's that part of the night or day when we need to put down our tools and take a break from the various stimuli around us, but what many of us have forgotten is that a good rest is for that Functioning is essential properly over the duration of our everyday life.
"Sleep is a natural biological process that all mammals go through, in which the brain is 'turned off' for a period of time," says Nicola, who notes that there's more to it than just checking a box. Those with a good fitness tracker may already know that sleep generally has four stages and a good night's sleep should normally be broken down into 20-25% for REM (rapid eye movement sleep where dreams occur) and 13 -20% deep sleep (where brainwaves are slowest), but percentages other than these may not realize how important a good night's sleep is to our overall health.
The importance of good sleep
While all stages are important, deep sleep brings physiological and mental benefits; Release of growth hormone and repair of muscles and bones. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and emotional processing. So it stands to reason that if we don't spend enough time in these stages, we'll run into trouble. "For example, some of the symptoms are waking up with brain fog," says Nicola. "Or you have a cloudy mind or cloudy brain, you wake up just knowing you probably didn't have the best night's sleep. You feel irritable, you realize you have a short fuse, you realize you might cry or you don't have good emotional regularity."
Nicola adds that the purpose of sleep is to give us energy for the day ahead, and a lack of rest not only negatively affects mood, but also a lack of physical recovery for the tasks at hand. Then there are some very serious issues to consider. "Eventually you're speeding up neurological diseases like Alzheimer's disease and other types of neurodegenerative diseases," Nicola says of not getting adequate rest.
What can sabotage your sleep?
“Light exposure, so looking at a screen before bed,” says Nicola. Other factors, she says, are "alcohol, food, temperature, all those things that don't help us get a good night's sleep."
The timing of caffeine intake is also very important. There is a hormone called adenosine that builds up throughout the day. This will make us sleepy at the end. Caffeine is an adenosine blocker and keeps us awake and alert. The problem with caffeine isn't so much how much you have, but when you have it. Just like drugs, caffeine has a half-life, usually around 12 hours. So if you have it at 3pm it will keep you up for 12 hours after that. You should make sure you caffeine before noon each day so that you can then relax and fall asleep.
Other drugs that affect you are not only illegal drugs, but also psychotropic drugs. An SSRI for example; Antidepressants of any kind throws you out of REM sleep. "People drink alcohol and think it will help them sleep, but that's not the case," says Nicola. "It just sedates them."
Then there are naps. While a nap can help us reduce our sleep deficit, it also throws off our natural rhythms. "Having naps throughout the day takes away your sleep pressure," says Nicola. “So throughout the day you build up adenosine. This builds up sleep pressure to the point where you just feel tired. And that's where the pressure comes in. But when you nap, you take away the pressure of sleep. If you take naps during the day, you won't be as tired at night."
What is the right amount for adults?
"Sleep needs to be activated regularly for at least eight hours a night," says Nicola, pointing out that this is the time necessary for the brain, nervous system, immune system, and various other processes to do their jobs. She refers to studies conducted in which sleep deprivation was analyzed at 5.7 hours of sleep. It turned out that negative consequences occur in our genes that make them more susceptible to tumors and diseases. "The sweet spot is eight hours, because that's how long it takes you to cycle through the sleep cycles—light, deep, and REM sleep," she says.
How to assess your sleep
Nicola says that one of the easiest ways to gauge your sleep performance is to simply ask yourself how you're feeling. “You should be content as to; You are not overly energetic, but you are not lethargic either. You just feel great,” says Nicola. “Where your mind is working, your mind is clear, you are on a path, you are motivated. you are excited And you're like, 'Okay, I can conquer the day!'”
If you want to monitor sleep stages on a more technical level, there are a plethora of fitness bracelets, watches and rings that will give you a score based on your performance each morning.
This is the best way to optimize your sleep
"Well, I generally say if you want to be a sleep champion, go to bed by 9:30 p.m.," advises Nicola. "If you're having trouble falling asleep, you want to work on ways to decompress your mind and become more relaxed and relieve stress. You can do this through meditation or by journaling to get all the bad thoughts out of your head.”
When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, Nicola says failing to plan is like planning to fail. "The very first thing you should do is establish a consistent sleep schedule, which means making sure you're getting at least eight hours of sleep every day," she says. "So that's a consistent effort and a consistent approach to sleep, just like brushing your teeth every day." And then it's about, well, when should I consistently go to sleep (to get 8 hours)? We have to take into account shift workers, doctors and people who are up all night. But if we sleep consistently, then it's ok. Ask yourself, “When should I sleep?” With consistency, you will perform much better the next day and sleep much better the following night. So first it's the consistency and then the timing of sleep.”
Of course, many of us have trouble switching off, so Nicola's advice on switching off is very important, and she also says that magnesium and warm baths are a big help in getting us moving in the right direction. Cooling down prepares our bodies for sleep. "Accounting for temperature, minimizing exposure to light after 8 p.m. so you can tell your brain to switch off and not eat three hours before bed" are important in the pursuit of a good night's sleep," she says.