Getting enough sleep each night may not seem very high up on your agenda for getting fit, losing body fat or building muscle.
However, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on all aspects of your life, including your bodybuilding goals.
Why We Need To Sleep
During sleep the body releases growth hormones.
These hormones are responsible for the growth and development of babies through to adolescent children.
They also help our bodies to repair and renew tissue.
The importance of good quality sleep is even more significant if we are exercising or lifting weights, as more tissue is broken down during physical activity.
Sleep and muscle growth go hand-in-hand.
Sleep also recharges our immune system, which explains why we often suffer from minor illnesses if we undergo periods of sleep deprivation.
The Four Stages of Sleep
Each night we follow a sleep cycle that involves 4 stages:
- Stage 1 – Light Sleep
This is when your body prepares for sleep. Your breathing becomes slower, your temperature drops slightly and your heart rate slows down.
At this stage of sleep you can be woken quite easily and accounts for around 5% of your nightly sleep.
- Stage 2 – Intermediate Sleep
This is the where you will spend the majority of your sleep. Your blood pressure comes down, your body completely relaxes and your brain is refreshed.
You can easily be woken up and accounts for roughly 50% of sleep.
- Stage 3 – Deep Sleep
This stage is the most important for those of us who undertake more strenuous physical activity during the day.
Deep sleep normally occurs after 20 minutes or so and enables our physical energy levels to be restored, tissue repair, and growth to take place.
It is more difficult to be woken up in this stage and accounts for approx 20% of your sleep.
- Stage 4 – Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
This is when our dreams take place and our eyes can be seen moving rapidly about under the eyelids.
It is also when the brain stores and files information gathered from the days activities.
You will be asleep at least an hour before this stage can take place.
Each REM stage will get progressively longer as the night continues, and it is when the important steroid hormone cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland.
Not as difficult to wake up and accounts for the remaining 25% of our sleep.
This cycle is repeated approximately 6 times throughout the night. Each sleep cycle can last around 75 to 90 minutes.
To ensure a good nights sleep we need to undergo at least 4 cycles.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
The funny things about sleep is that despite how vital it is in keeping us functioning, scientists still don’t fully understand that much about it.
We know what happens physically and mentally when we don’t get enough, but we are still unsure as to how sleep gives us such regenerative powers.
The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night for optimal functioning.
A small percentage of the population can get by with as little as 5 or 6 hours and likewise a small percentage will need 9+ hours.
Unfortunately it has been researched that at least 60% the adult population does not get anything like as much as 7 to 9 hours a night.
This is largely due to the ever-busy lifestyles we lead and the higher demands placed upon us at work.
The quality of sleep is also a growing problem. An increasing proportion of adults who do get the optimum 8 hours sleep a night are reporting tiredness the following day that affects their mental and physical performance.
Again, this can be attributed much to the modern lifestyle.
Warning Signs that You May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep
- Your immune system is weak and you seem to be catching every bug going around, especially in the winter months.
- You struggle to wake when your alarm goes off.
- You suffer from late afternoon fatigue.
- You feel exhausted even after a small amount of physical activity.
- You drink more tea or coffee during the day.
- Forgetting things become much more noticeable.
- You struggle to concentrate for even short periods of time and feel generally lethargic.
There are 3 levels of sleep deprivation that will immediately affect our health and wellbeing:
This is the occasional night where we may over indulge on a boozy late night, travelling or perhaps a late night at work.
Not getting enough sleep for a couple of nights a week will only result in mild symptoms of discomfort and irritability.
Most of us can cope easily enough and can ‘catch up’ on lost sleep with a couple of early nights.
Level 2 is known as acute insomnia and occurs because of short-term sleep deprivation.
This may arise as a result of a particular stressful situation or incident in your life such as a divorce, a death in the family, an injury or illness or financial worries.
Such sleep loss may result in mood swings, impairment of your judgment and concentration and a weaker immune system leaving you susceptible to whatever bugs and bacteria are going around.
As long as you are aware of the symptoms and what is causing the loss of sleep, you shouldn’t have any long-lasting consequences.
It is not always possible to eradicate the cause of your stress, but you can do things to try to aid your sleep as much as possible. (see my 10 Tips for a Better Nights Sleep).
After acute insomnia comes chronic insomnia.
Although it sounds much worse, it simply covers any type of impaired sleep that last for more than a few weeks.
The symptoms of acute insomnia are pretty much the same as chronic insomnia but will become progressively worse over time.
The problem with acute insomnia and the ill effects it has on the mind and body, is that over time the body begins to accept this state as the new ‘norm’ and the sufferer doesn’t believe anything to be wrong.
If you recognize the symptoms of sleep deprivation then try and go to bed earlier, every night for a week, and aim for 8 hours sleep.
If you feel a lot better after a week, then alter your sleeping routine accordingly.
If it has made no difference at all, then there may be something else wrong and you should go and see your doctor.
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