I remember half-complaining and half-bragging to my friends about how I would pull all-nighters to study for big exams in college. Fueled by energy drinks and Jimmy John’s sandwiches, I was proud of my ability to function on little to no sleep. Looking back, I’m confused as to why I wanted to brag about my lack of sleep because today, I feel quite the opposite.

Looking back, I was moody and dazed, constantly depending on caffeine and sugar to get me through the days of little to no sleep. What functional meant to be back has a whole new meaning today. Our society has created a stigma and image that those who sleep the least are working the most – if you’re sleeping, you’re wasting time.

Through this month’s All Day Fit challenge, it’s become clear that sleep is one of the most important gift that we can give ourselves. A good night’s rest allows me to mediate stress and successfully handle everything thrown my way, efficiently.

What I thought was me functioning for a couple days following those all-nighters was actually a moody and dazed ghost of myself who relied on copious amounts of caffeine and sugar to get through the day. For some reason, modern Western society has created the stigma that sleep is only for our lazy friends who don’t have anything better to do than stay in bed. It is imperative that we change the way that we look at sleep because in reality, it is the SINGLE most important gift that we can give ourselves! It should not be the first activity dropped when our lives get busy. In fact, when life is at its craziest, carving out time for a good night’s sleep is what allows us to mediate stress and successfully handle everything being thrown our way!

Why is sleep so important?

If you spend any time in the gym, or have fitness goals, then it’s essential that you get enough sleep. During slumber your muscles have the best chance to recover, repair, and grow. Only in adequate cycles of deep sleep do levels of human growth hormone (HGH) increase, which allows damaged muscle cells to regenerate.

Important note: if you drink alcohol before bed, you put yourself in a semi-state of sedation, this hormone increase does not occur, and your muscles will not repair effectively.

Sleep is also essential for brain functioning and mental clarity, and there are many theories as to why this is. We know that memory consolidation (for both facts and skills, including the muscle memory for those Kettlebell swings you just mastered in the gym) occurs while you are asleep. It’s also likely that toxins are flushed from your brain at night, which allows for more efficient brain function during the day. Without ample sleep, not only will your thoughts feel sluggish, but you are much more likely to be irritable and stressed. Sleep is intimately connected to your mood and your ability to deal with potential triggers for sadness, stress, and anxiety. It also helps to regulate your hormone cycles by normalizing your body’s Circadian Rhythm.

A sleep schedule that allows for enough sleep and includes a regular bedtime and wake time is necessary in order to keep hormone levels including cortisol (think: stress), melatonin (think: sleepiness), thyroid-stimulating hormone (think: metabolism), leptin (think: appetite) and the previously mentioned growth hormone (think: gains) at optimal levels.

How much sleep is enough sleep?

The answer is: it depends. The amount of sleep that each person needs is highly individualized. You’ll know you’re getting enough sleep if you’re able to get up without snoozing your alarm, without the use of caffeine, and you feel energized throughout your entire day.

Listen to your body. If you wake up feeling groggy and unwell, chances are you need more sleep. If you rely on stimulants to get you past an afternoon slump, chances are you need more sleep. Typically, adults require no less than 7 hours of sleep each night and may require as many as 9 hours of sleep. The best way to make sure you’re getting enough sleep is to plan for it. For those of us who pre-make our breakfasts or meal prep on Sundays, we know that success is planned for. If you know you’ll be waking up for an early meeting or training session, plan your bedtime beforehand and stick to it!

Here are some tips to having a good night’s sleep:
  • Make sure that your bedroom is cool (around 65*F or 18*C) and as dark as possible.
  • Minimize screen time a few hours before bed. By staring at our TVs, computers, and phones, we inundate our eyes with blue LED light, which actually stimulates the brain, suppressing the release of melatonin, and keeping us awake.
  • If you’re really ready to go all-in, try changing over to candlelight once the sun goes down (including in the bathroom), and you will be amazed at how fast you fall asleep once your head hits the pillow.
  • Staying away from caffeine and other stimulants, especially in the afternoon and evening, and avoiding food 2-3 hours before bed will also improve the quality of your sleep.

Try implementing a few of these strategies, and commit to getting at least seven hours of sleep every night for a few weeks, and you’ll be shocked at your ability to live your best, happiest, and fittest life!

Happy snoozing everyone!

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