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Your Lack of Sleep Doesn't Determine Your Ability to Work Hard. It Only Slows You Down

May 31, 2022

One of my favorite things about running this business is that I get to absorb and apply information that I find addressed in to me every day. I love learning about recovery, health nutrition, exercise and how to tie all of those pieces together. Within the last year and a half of this journey, I have learned more about optimizing one’s health and wellness than I could imagine. And the more I learn, the more the content looks the same. 

The recurring theme comes up over and over in every topic that I research is just how important sleep is. I see this with the clients that I treat, as well. They will put up with a lot of pain and discomfort and reduced function and performance until it affects 1 of 2 things. 1. Their ability to lift and hold a coffee cup. 2. Their ability to sleep. 

I don’t think the importance of sleep is a surprise to anyone.  We’re bombarded by this information all of the time. However, there is a difference between understanding it and doing it. You can control the effort, but you can't control the results.

I frequently ask people what their sleeping habits look like, how many hours a day they get and how they would rate the quality of their sleep. Nearly every time I am completely underwhelmed by their answers. Or I can tell that they are fudging their answers to make the truth look less scary. We know that humans need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, but seldom are people willing to make the sacrifices that it takes to get there. Here are just a few examples of the countless reasons why we should be rushing to bed every night.

It can….

  • Decrease our chance for health problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes

  • Decrease our blood concentration of inflammatory proteins (less inflammation!)

  • Reduce stress/anxiety/depression and improve mood

  • Allow for better information recall and improved memory (you know those moments you walk into a room and can't recall why?)

  • Allow for improved physical performance and recovery (this means more weight on the bar, less time on our mile and less injury!)

If you are struggling with lack of performance, poor mental clarity, or pain, in all likelihood you are not getting enough sleep. Some people will tout their ability to get by on just 4 to 5 hours of sleep. While there is that very small 1% of people that can maintain this, you are probably not one of them. The data indicates that stringing together several nights in a row with less than 7 hours of sleep as the equivalent of driving under the influence of alcohol.

For me personally, understanding the value of sleep comes with certain sacrifices. I often take flak for going to bed at about 9 o'clock. It's no joke that many times as my kids are reading stories to me in my bed and they end up tucking me in. But the fact remains, my circadian rhythm is going to wake me up at 5 o'clock the next day for my workout. 

If I am not sleeping by 930 at the latest, I'm not going to get my 7 to 8 hours. Would I like to catch the extra episode of Silicon Valley, sure. The local news or late night talk shows? Maybe. Is that more important than my training, my mental clarity, and me having more patience of my kids? Absolutely not. 

But what measurable actions can we take to  improve our sleeping habits? Here’s a quick list of tips and tricks.

  • Naps - Cut down day time naps to a maximum of 30 minutes. Any longer than this and it can begin to effect our sleep cycle

  • Stimulants - Avoid caffeine later in the day and especially near bed time. A cup of coffee may help you finish some work, but it’s going to hurt in the long run.

  • Get outside - Exposure to natural light can help promote our body's natural circadian rhythm. Being outside probably means being active so it’s a win-win!

  • Blue light - The blue light from our phones is shown to decrease our body's release of melatonin before bed and cause sleep dysfunction. It’s best to turn off at least 2 hours before bed. All of those facebook posts will still be there in the morning.

  • Phones in bed - Having our phones in or near our bed triggers our brain to associate the two and decrease sleep function. It’s best to put the phone in a separate room overnight. If your phone is your alarm, analog and digital alarm clocks are still a thing.

  • Routine - Establishing a normal sleep schedule can help improve the quality of our sleep. There’s something to the old saying “we’re creatures of habit”.

  • Environment - It’s best to sleep in a comfortable, cool environment (60-70 degrees) with minimal light exposure. Ambient noise can help as well!

There’s a tendency to associate a lack of sleep with ones work ethic. “ I work so hard I only sleep 4 hours a night”. This is a dangerous cycle and will only drive your physical and mental performance into the dirt. So if you are struggling with sleep, take a really long hard look at your sleep hygiene, put your damn phones away 2 hours before bedtime, turn on your blue light filter, and make it your top priority.