Updated: Jan 21
Sleep is underrated and many of us are in a state of chronic sleep deprivation, for anyone who doesn’t know, this is bad.
Arianna Huffington is a huge advocate for sleep and believes this will be the next heath frontier. Jeff Bezos insists on getting 8 hours of sleep a night and schedules his important meetings at 10am (A time we are more alert due to our internal S process that we will discuss later). I have to say I agree and if you’ve seen the tweets coming from the sleep deprived Elon Musk and Donald Trump I would dare say you do too.
Lack of sleep doesn't just affect our mental state, our physical state is also affected - positively and negatively depending on your sleep patterns.
As you can image we see a lot of runners and triathletes who have full time jobs and gruelling exercise regimes, they simply cannot get enough sleep with their schedules. Sleep is for the whole body - we build protein in our sleep, we make lipids and membranes. Sleep helps us to regenerate the cells we use during the day. Exercise uses and damages more of these cells so sleep is critically important to help in the rebuild process.
So we recommend to all our sporting clients to get on top of their sleep; 7-8 hours of sleep is thought to be optimal, but the more we exercise the more sleep we will need. To the triathletes and ultra runners out there, you need to be aiming for at least 8-9 hours. Improve your sleep and watch your athletic and intellectual performance improve!
If you’d like to understand the more technical side of sleep deprivation read on...
There is a highly recommended podcast by Joe Rogan with Matthew Walker, but be warned you may spend the next few nights so worried about sleep that you probably won’t be able to sleep. Catch-22!
It is said that 19 percent of Australians are suffering from excessive sleepiness, but what does this mean for us? What happens in our sleep that means when we miss it we do harm to ourselves and have the potential to cause harm to others?
There are two fundamental processes that dictate sleep, the circadian rhythm (C) and the sleep promotion system (S).
Process C works close to a twenty four hour basis, it is our inner clock, this occurs in every cell in out body, even our organs function differently in the day to the night. It is believed that there is a clock orchestra - a master clock in the brain and hypothalamus, and a system of clocks throughout the body. They synchronise with each other, with the cells oscillating and working together.
The C process is dictated by the light dark cycle we experience in a day. There is a direct pathway from the retina to the hypothalamic clock, the light received through this pathway goes straight to the hypothalamic clock and controls our circadian rhythms. Interestingly, this is a different pathway to our vision, people with a vision impairment are still sensitive to the light and dark cycle through a pigment called melanopsin, which senses the light signals and communicates to the hypothalamus. Melanopsin specifically picks up blue light, which is why there are tools to promote or block blue light to help us manage our circadian rhythm. We actually have a blog post on blue light blocking glasses you may want to check out here.
Process S works by promoting sleepiness as the day goes by, this is achieved by sleep promoting molecules that increase the longer we stay awake. One of these molecules is called adenesine, caffeine is an antagonist of adenesine hence helping us to feel awake. In the morning process S will put us into a state of alertness, but as the day goes by this will change and process S will begin to increase our drive for sleep, this interacts with our circadian rhythm, food intake and temperature to ascertain what state of sleepiness we should be in.
The timing is not the same for everyone, there is research that shows some people will do better rising earlier than others, commonly referred to as Larks, and others who are better at staying up at night, referred to as Owls. When we force our bodies to go against these rhythms we can cause these clocks to desynchronise and cause metabolic abnormalities.
This is often seen in shift workers who are working against the circadian process, or night owls who are forced to join the world and get to work early, going against their inner clock.
All these processes are programmed to keep us awake for roughly sixteen hours, the longer we stay awake past these 16 hours, the worse our performance becomes, when we reach 20 hours or more of awakeness our performance shows an obvious decline.
So why does sleep require such an intricate process? One of the things that happens in sleep is that we consolidate memories. It has been shown that this improves task function, if we learn something one day we are likely to improve at that task after a sleep. This links to the synaptic homeostasis theory; this is the idea that in wakefulness we are forming new connections in neurons and at night we are ‘pruning’ these connections.
As we sleep we go through 90 minute cycles including REM and DREM (deep sleep), when we wake in the morning we are normally coming out of REM sleep as our bodies slowly wake us. You definitely know it when you are woken from DREM sleep!
Short term sleep loss results in poor productivity and with more than 30 hours of wakefulness we become severely impaired, microsleeps become a problem at this stage, especially if you are doing something like driving. Do not drive with more than 30 hours of wakefulness, in fact, don’t drive with more than 16 hours of wakefulness.
Long term sleep loss however is something that can accumulate over time, we can create a sleep debt which can trigger a host of health problems. We do not adjust to cumulative lack of sleep, we simply become more and more impaired, we may no longer feel sleepy, but objectively our performance is deteriorating and so is our health, we raise the risk of type II diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
There is research that states you can catch up on sleep but you can’t ‘bank’ it! If you are in sleep debt due to a big event or training program, you can start to pay this back. The research says, the best way to do this is to grab an extra hour or two a day, rather than sleeping for a few days in an attempt to pay it back quickly. If you are interested, reach this article by Molly Webster in Scientific American
So the final word, plan your sleep, track your sleep and ensure you are getting quantity and quality to be your best!