The Power of Sleep
I rarely meet anyone who has not had an issue with falling asleep, staying asleep or that has poor sleep quality overall. "How can I improve my sleep?" is a commonly asked question so lets dive into the basics. Here is how a poor night's sleep can contribute to weight gain/obesity, diminished brain function and poor anabolic muscle response for those trying to get fit.
Everyone needs good, quality sleep around 7-9 hours nightly. And studies have shown repeatedly that sleep quality is directly correlated to cognitive function (1). In basic terms, the less sleep you get, the worse your brain functions. And that's not all. Poor sleep means you have a much higher risk of obesity (2). What than means is either the pounds will creep on over the years or, if you're trying to lose weight, you're going to come up against those "stubborn pounds" that you cant lose. If you have children who are up all night watching the blue light (i.e. TV, tablets, video games, etc), they also have a much more increased risk for obesity due to disrupted circadian rhythms and lack of good quality sleep (3). The studies correlating sleep and obesity/behavioral issues/learning issues with children are endless too. And more about the "blue light" in a moment.
And its not just weight gain and cognitive issues you have to worry about. Metabolic syndrome, stroke, or diabetes, including high triglycerides and cholesterol, hypertension, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance are all linked to those with either disrupted sleep patterns or lack of sleep (4).
One of the major contributors to that terrible night's sleep is the explosion of using electronics at night. Our body works in a circadian rhythm that is dependent on light cues. When the sun goes down, our body produces melatonin and we become sleepy. When the sun comes up, we wake up naturally and refreshed since our melatonin production has tapered off. This light cue is disrupted by the use "blue light" that is emitted from TV's, cell phones, tablets, etc. You can see how staring at a screen, no matter how small, can confuse your brain into thinking its time to get up. A simple fix is to turn off the screen an hour or two before bed. If you just have to use an electronic device, wear a pair of (sexy) colored safety glasses that can block out the blue rays. See link below for an affordable pair on Amazon.
And if you are trying to gain muscle, tone up or even just maintain what you have, you better be getting a good night's sleep. Research tells us that poor sleep (or "sleep debt") decreases protein synthesis pathways (i.e. muscle building) and increases the degradation pathways (i.e. loss of existing muscle). This is particularly important news for those suffering from recent injuries or the elderly, as muscle atrophy linked to lack of movement (5). This is called sarcopenia or cachexia. Think of the muscle shrinkage caused by a cast or those that can't move around like the elderly.
For more information on muscle wasting as it relates to fitness goals, bodybuilding.com has a great article right here.
One great tool that I have in my cabinet is an herbal extract that contains passionflower. Passionflower gets its sedative effect by increasing GABA in your brain, allowing your monkey mind to calm down so you can drift off to sleep. Its a cheap, effective herb to have. If you wake up in the middle of the night, take a dropper full of passionflower and go back to sleep. Before you know it, you'll be out. See the link below for the brand that I use.
1. Gildner, T., Liebert, M., Kowal, P., Chatterji, S., & Snodgrass, J. (2014). Associations between sleep duration, sleep quality, and cognitive test performance among older adults from six middle income countries: Results from the study on global Ageing and adult health (SAGE). Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine., 10(6), 613–21. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24932140
2. Gildner, T., Liebert, M., Kowal, P., Chatterji, S., & Snodgrass, J. (2014). Sleep duration, sleep quality, and obesity risk among older adults from six middle-income countries: Findings from the study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE). American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council., 26(6), 803–12. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25130760
3. Miller, A., Lumeng, J., & LeBourgeois, M. (2014). Sleep patterns and obesity in childhood. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity., 22(1), 41–7. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25517022
4. Spivey, A. (2010). Lose sleep, gain weight: Another piece of the obesity puzzle. , 118(1), . Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831987/
5. Dattilo, M., Antunes, H., Medeiros, A., Neto, M., Souza, H., Tufik, S., & Mello, de (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: Endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses., 77(2), 220–2. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21550729
6. A, 2013. (1997). Passionflower. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/passionflower