Get Eight: Sleep, the Overlooked Component of Total Health

When it comes to health, exercise and healthy eating are fundamental to living a long and vital life. However, there is a key element that is often overlooked yet instrumental with respect to supporting a healthy lifestyle, repairing your body, and optimizing its functionality. What is it? Read further for the answer.

It takes more than sound nutrition, state of-the-art supplements, optimal protein levels, proper hydration, and varied workout programs to continually meet the physical demands placed on your body. Adequate sleep is an often-neglected aspect necessary for optimum muscle growth and tissue repair. The importance of quality sleep cannot be negated when trying to improve overall health. While you sleep, your body repairs and rebuilds muscles and tissues. Good sleep really is that important! Most adults dismiss the importance of sleep and its effect on rebuilding healthy muscle tissue. Oftentimes, as adults, we accept that sleep interruptions are “normal” and that only getting five to six hours of sleep is a part of the fast-paced, multitasking world we live in today. But if you don’t allow your body to rest, you have the potential to negate all of your efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Current scientific research indicates that consistent sleep interruptions can reduce your ability to cope with daily stressors, accelerate the aging process, and ultimately shorten your life expectancy. According to Dr. Michael Irwin, professor at UCLA, “Even a modest interruption to sleep cycles increases the inflammatory response in the body, which can inhibit the body’s ability to repair tissue.”

Experts suggest that you get seven to eight hours of good quality, deep sleep. Unfortunately, light sleeping—where you toss and turn or wake up throughout the night—prevents your body from reaching the deep stages of sleep where repair occurs. Eight hours of sleep is ideal. However, consistent deep sleep cycles are just as important as the number of hours, as relates to muscle recovery. The majority of all cellular regeneration and growth happens during deep sleep. Deep sleep is very important to the release of a growth hormone that our bodies use for tissue repair. According to Dr. John Zimmerman, PhD in biological psychology and neuroscience, “We release growth hormone from the pituitary gland into the bloodstream. Growth hormone has the beneficial effects of building up lean muscle mass and burning fat.” Without adequate hours of deep sleep, this process cannot take place. Quality of sleep must improve in order to meet the physical demands of daily life, work, relationships, and exercise.

Lack of good quality and consistent sleep habits will eventually catch up with you, causing serious health problems in the future. You may not always get the perfect night of sleep. However, creating an environment where you can get the best possible rest is a step in the right direction. Achieving quality, deep sleep can be different for everyone. Factors that contribute to a good night of sleep include:

Television, computers, and electronics: The light emitted by computers, TVs, and electronics may lead to insomnia. According to sleep experts, artificial direct light from electronics inhibits the body’s secretion of melatonin, which signals the brain that it is dark, and time for sleep. Remedy? Turn off the computer and TV an hour or more before bedtime.

Caffeine and decaffeinated drinks: Countless studies show that caffeine disrupts sleep, even if consumed early in the day. It is important to know that decaffeinated drinks are not caffeine-free. They contain roughly 15% of caffeine that, in many cases, is enough to disrupt sleep. Remedy? Discontinue or significantly reduce your caffeine intake, and consume caffeinated or decaffeinated beverages prior to lunch.

Pain, anxiety, and other medical conditions: A wide range of medical conditions can impact and disrupt sleep. Remedy? Consult your physician for advice on how to minimize physical discomfort while sleeping. Helpful ways to reduce anxiety/stress—such as journaling, breathing exercises, meditation, reading, hot bath, etc.—can be helpful in mitigating painful symptoms.

Light: Too much light at night can shift our internal clock and make restful sleep difficult to achieve. Remedy?Sleep in the darkest room possible.

Noise pollution: The TV on in the next room, the neighbor’s barking dog, or that annoying car alarm that always goes off right before you fall asleep can prevent peaceful sleep. Experts say indoor and outdoor noises affect our ability to fall asleep and remain so. Remedy? Wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to reduce the sounds that surround you.

Room temperature: Temperature extremes can affect our comfort when we sleep. Research shows that the ideal temperature range for sleeping varies widely among individuals. Therefore, there is no prescribed “best” room temperature that produces optimal sleep patterns for everybody. Remedy?Find a temperature that feels most comfortable to you, and stick with that year round.

In the end, what matters most is considering all components of a healthy lifestyle, including sleep. If you experience ongoing sleepless nights and find that you are not getting the quality of sleep you need, get creative and research ways that will help develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Remember, good sleep doesn’t always have to come from a pharmacy. You can maintain a healthy lifestyle and gain the benefits of your hard work with the help of a good night’s rest!

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