Are you getting enough?
In our private Mother Nature’s Diet Members Group this week, we’ve had some interesting discussions around the subject of sleep. One of our Members shared this interesting article from the news, reporting on scientists that have made new discoveries in how our circadian rhythms (which help to regulate sleep and hormone function and more) are linked to the movement of the sun - in humans and other species too.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to read the article, and this further article that is linked, which explains how we are suffering from society-wide sleep deprivation, which is contributing massively to all sorts of ill health, including cancer, and is costing the nation over £30bn per year in lost productivity.
We discuss the value of sleep regularly in our Mother Nature’s Diet Members Group, and ensuring you are getting adequate sleep is covered in Core Principle 10. Sleep is pretty much the best antidote to chronic stress, and in our Members Webinars we discuss the importance of getting enough good quality sleep. Your bedroom should be dark, cool, ventilated, calm and quiet. No electronic devices, no checking Facebook on your smartphone at three in the morning, and no night lights.
It is important to be asleep at night, in the dark, not awake, working or looking at your screen! Research is uncovering mechanisms that show how DNA repairhappens at night, while we sleep in the dark, and this may explain the link between working night shifts and higher mortality.
It seems pretty certain that sleep is important for many reasons - from stress reduction to combating cancer. There is growing evidence to suggest that depriving yourself of sleep through adult life is likely to leave that adult life, well, shortened.
In addition, another MND Member this week shared this fascinating blog post about a study that took a small group of overweight nonsmokers, and put them on a calorie restricted diet for two weeks, half the group getting adequate sleep, and half the group on reduced sleep. In short, the results showed that both groups lost weight, but most of the weight the sleep-deprived group lost was muscle mass and body water, whereas most of the weight the adequate-sleep group lost, was body fat. So, the lesson learned - if you are trying to lose fat weight, get plenty of sleep, and additionally, if you are training hard to gain muscle mass, don’t skimp on sleep, because if you do it seems likely it will totally kill your gains.
Importance of sleep for fat loss and for muscle gain
I remember reading Robb Wolf’s new book ‘Wired to Eat’ and he wrote an interesting line (apologies, I can’t quote exactly as I lent the book to a friend so I am working from memory) that was along the lines of “…sleep is so massively important…and so poorly ignored by so many…I would go as far as to say that it is virtually impossible to lose fat and/or build muscle if you are not getting at least 8 to 10 hours per night, consistently…especially as you get older [I.E. over 40]…”
I love Robb Wolf and I think he’s one of the best in the business, so I very rarely disagree with a word he writes, but I remember thinking “Ummm, I could tell you about 2006 when I lost 3 or 4 stones of fat, while starting to build muscle, while building my business, all while we had a new-born baby in the house, and a toddler, and my wife pregnant with the third one on the way. I lived on 4 or 5 hours per night all year!”
And “I remember 2012, when I fractured my spine. After I recovered, I was off running for a year and I added 3 inches to my chest measurement from 42″ to 45″ mainly from doing pull-ups and widening my back…all while running two businesses and never sleeping more than 6 hours per night average.”
And several other similar episodes.
So then I think, maybe we need what we need.
Maybe one size (8 hours) does not fit all, maybe we are all different.
A bit like how we all need a different number of calories to meet our BMR (basal metabolic rate) plus exercise and daily activities, and that BMR depends on height, gender, size, age, weight, and more; well perhaps we all need a different amount of sleep too.
Perhaps muscle mass, brain activity, emotions, stress, etc., all play different parts in the equation, and I’ll bet it varies through times in your life. I can’t explain a biological mechanism behind it, but I know that when my wife reaches due date with a pregnancy, my body just somehow knows that for the next six months I’m not going to get as much sleep as I’d like, but I just have to deal with it, shut up, don’t complain and get on with it. And we did that for five years and it was OK, we coped.
I know that when I am training for a marathon, doing loads of running, I really don’t need much sleep. Cardio seems to diminish my need for sleep.
Yet when I am lifting weights and trying to gain muscle, I just can’t get enough! It’s like nine hours per night minimum!! And I still want more!
So I think different people, in different situations, at different times in life, require different amounts. I am sure there are some times that some folks can get by quite well on six hours per night, and other times when some folks need nine or ten and would have even more if they could.
Long-term, I generally find six is not enough for my demanding life, seven is about average, and eight is a rare treat (though I wish I did the ‘eight hour treat’ a bit more often!)
I sometimes make a massive effort to get eight hours per night for a week or two, and after about a week I find I am so caught up that I am often just not tired enough, lying in bed at midnight to 2am with a busy brain, wide awake!
Rest is also important, eyes open or closed, but it’s important to understand the difference between time in bed, and time asleep. While time in bed is beneficial rest, it’s not as beneficial as time asleep. Only when we are asleep does our body go fully ‘into repair mode’ and do all those important things that make up the great health benefits of a good night’s sleep, such as hormone regulation, cellular repair and so on.
Generally, I think most of the nation probably don’t get enough, and we should all do less ‘screening’ in the evenings (computers, tablets, smartphones, TV) and all aim to increase our average by at least an hour - that’s going to bed an hour earlier, rather than lying in an hour later. And remember, our bedrooms should be dark, cool, ventilated, calm and quiet.
So the question is, are you getting enough?
If you groan when the alarm goes off, if you hit snooze five times, if you need found strong coffee’s to get going in the morning, then chances are you are not getting enough sleep. But if you lie awake in the middle of the night with a busy mind, not feeling tired or stressed, then maybe you are trying for too much.
To your good health!