Sleep is a hugely overlooked aspect of leading a healthy, stress free life.

I'm sure we all recognise lack of sleep can influence our general mood and motivation. Beyond that though it can negatively influence managing your weight, training to your full potential and general cognitive performance (decision making suffers).

But did you know it can have a huge impact on how long you live and how likely or not you are to suffer from certain diseases such as Alzheimers disease, dementia, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity?

If you’re any way interested in the topic, and you should be, my best advice is to read the following book by sleep expert Matthew Walker. 

Alternatively, you can catch him on the Joe Rogan podcast. If you click on the image it’ll take you to the Youtube video. Joe usually has some pretty poor guest choices when it comes to nutrition and health matters, but Matthew is a great watch.

Reading the book changed how I look at sleep forever, and it’ll do the same for you.

Professor Walker runs through all the health implications,both physical and mental. I’m going to post some of his recommendations on having a good sleep routine but don’t take it as a summary of the book. There is MUCH more to it.

From my point of view as a nutrition coach if you analyse it in practical terms, someone who only gets 4 or 5 hours sleep per night is awake more hours in the day than someone who gets 7 to 9.  The person with less sleep has more time to take in extra calories daily, and we know that energy balance is the key to managing weight.

It seems like a pretty simple thing, but it’s a big thing, and I always like to point that out first.

Good and bad habits generally operate in clusters, and the example here is that someone who suffers from lack of sleep is also likely to be stressed. Someone who is tired and stressed is not going to make the best decisions of all time when it comes to food (and many other things).

I want to provide an example of the ‘habit cluster’ theory. Someone who doesn’t sleep as much as they should may do so because they consistently watch TV too late, or maybe they are out socialising across the weekend.

Whatever the case may be there are probably more calories coming in than there needs to be.

Things usually match up when you analyse a situation. Late nights + lots of Netflix + extra snacking = weight gain.

It’s also easier to skip a training session if you’re tired. ‘I’m wrecked, I’ll leave it until tomorrow’.

Aside from missing sessions, sleep has a huge part to play in recovery. Instead of looking for some supplement or small detail always evaluate your sleep if you feel you aren’t recovering properly.

Sleep to recover and progress in your training. Adaptation occurs in the time you are not training, and when you sleep.

There are implications when it comes to fat loss as well. Sleep curtailment when in a calorie deficit has been shown to result in a bigger loss of muscle mass than fat tissue. When you try and lose weight but don’t get enough sleep changes occur in your body because of the sleep restriction which result in you losing muscle mass instead of fat.

This is the opposite of what you’re aiming to do. You never, ever want this to happen.

You want to lose weight, but you definitely don’t want it be muscle mass, you want it to be fat mass.

How much sleep do you need? Based off the National Sleep Foundation guidelines as an adult under 65 you will aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and ideally this is done as one block.

That’s obviously tough for parents of small children, or people who work irregular shifts across day and night. It doesn’t change the fact that we need a certain amount of sleep and ideally it’s in a certain way.

Why does it need to be done in one block? Sleep occurs in stages and all of the stages are important.

You can see in the image below that an 8 hour stretch of sleep is structured into phases which all provide a host of physiological and psychological regenerative benefits.

If you get 6 hours sleep you may think ‘it’s fine, I’ll make it up tomorrow night or at the weekend’. You shouldn’t look at sleep in such a simplistic way as you can see the structure as a whole is incredibly important.

Those 2 missing hours mean cycle 5 is missed and a big chunk of  rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is removed. Again, I’d advise reading the book to get a full understanding on the huge importance of the entirety of a full sleep cycle.

Sleep debt is cumulative, trying to make up for lost sleep isn’t effective and generally people aren’t aware of their own poor functionality from long term sleep deprivation.

Aside from performance, fat loss, and the health implications associated with poor sleep, people are generally crabby when sleep deprived as well. I’ve never spent long periods of time with someone who was sleep deprived and thought it was wonderful!

Getting to sleep at an appropriate time can be a problem for many people due to many factors – stress with work/life in general, handheld devices/social media and not properly winding down before going to bed.

The 12 Recommendations From ‘Why We Sleep’ To Aid Getting A Regular Sleep Routine.

Sleeping tablets are NOT recommended as while they do put you to sleep, the form of sleep is NOT the same as a natural cycle therefore you don’t receive any of the benefits.

1 – Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit, people have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up on Monday morning. Set an alarm for bedtime.

Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go asleep. If there is only one piece of advice you remember and take from these tips, this should be it.

2 – Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than 2-3 hours before your bedtime.

3 – Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its affects can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully.

Therefore, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly. In addition, smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal.

4 – Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. Heavy alcohol ingestion may also contribute to impairment of breathing at night.

You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.

5 – Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.

6 – If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies can disrupt sleep patterns.

If you have trouble sleeping talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to see whether any drugs you’re taking might be contributing to your insomnia and ask whether they can be taken at other times during the day or early in the evening.

7 – Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

8 – Relax before bed. Don’t over schedule your day so no that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.

9 – Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleep, and the bath can help you slow down so you’re more ready to sleep.

10 – Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget free bedroom. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures.

You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. A TV, cell phone, or computer in can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Having a comfortable mattress and pillow can promote a good night’s sleep.

Individuals who have insomnia often watch the clock. Turn the clock’s face out so you don’t have to worry about the time while trying to fall asleep.

11 – Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is the key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.

12 – Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more that 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.

Some Extras From Me...

Here are some of the recommendations I give my clients from my own experience I believe may help as well.

  • Make your bed every morning. It’s always a productive start to the day and you are setting yourself up to get a good night’s sleep.
  • At least 30 minutes before you intend to sleep make sure you are off all social media/laptops/phones.
  • Have a notepad on your bedside locker and write anything down that may stop you from relaxing. This has been huge for me, the less you have on your mind the easier you will find it to drift off. Plus lots of good ideas get documented.
  • The room where you sleep should be a relaxing area, if possible keep any office/working area separate.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and regularly change your bed linen.
  • Be organised for the following morning, if you’re trying to sleep but know you are already disorganised for the next day it’s not conducive to sleeping well.
  • Don’t drink coffee or take on anything with caffeine late in the evening. The half life of caffeine is 4-6 hours, so 50% is still in your system 4-6 hours AFTER ingestion.
  • Routine, routine, routine – it’s the same with nutrition. A chaotic style of living is much, much harder to find any kind of consistency with food, training and sleep than it is with regular patterns.

Using A Sleep App

I have recently started using a sleep app on my phone.

Some reasons why it has worked really well for me;

  • It makes you accountable/sleep aware. You get to bed on time.
  • It keeps track of data and gives you a bigger picture view if you use it over time.
  • Once you start recording  your nights sleep you have to leave your phone down – it can’t be interrupted.

Are you sleep accountable?

Using a sleep app may be the solution if you are struggling to make the necessary change.

Power Naps

If you do have a poor night’s sleep but have the time then a 20 minute power nap is a useful strategy.

Keep it before 3 p.m. to prevent it affecting you getting to sleep that night (anything after can negatively impact night sleep). If you’re a coffee drinker an option is to have a cup right before your nap – the caffeine will kick in after you wake and help with alertness and cognition.

I hope this helps in some way, remember – sleep feeds in to everything else in the healthy lifestyle habit cluster – food, stress, training, relationships, fat loss and performance.

Prioritise sleep, it has significant implications for your day to day mood and function, and it also plays a hugely important role in long term health. You’ll also train better, recover better, and you’ll lose fat as opposed to muscle when dropping weight.

Adequate sleep is part of the ‘good habit cluster’ we are looking to form to help succeed at reaching our goals. You can use the tracking sheet to see how you compare with the recommended guidelines and to stay accountable.