If I could create a supplement that was scientifically proven to improve your memory, learning ability and creative problem solving skills all with no negative side effects… would you take it?
What about another that enhances your ability to build muscle and burn fat, and naturally increases your levels of human growth hormone?
Or perhaps you would prefer a third that strengthens your immune system, lowers your risk of cancer and even increases your life expectancy?
If I could bring any of these supplements to the market I’d become a billionaire overnight. The good news for you is that all of the benefits I have just mentioned are available to all of us, at any time, without spending a single penny.
Everything I have just listed is a scientifically proven benefit of a process known as sleep.
Backed by thousands of clinical studies conducted by the world’s most respected scientists, sleep is unequivocally the most effective physical and mental performance enhancer on the planet.
During sleep we store new information we’ve learned that day and create new neurological pathways with the information. This is why we are able to find new solutions to previously unsolvable problems after we sleep, or why a musician will master a new guitar chord that seemed impossible the previous day.
Sleep is also crucial for our hormonal balance, with just one night of reduced sleep enough to interfere with the production of some of our most important hormones. Some of the hormones affected by sleep deficiency include:
Cortisol: less sleep results in high levels of cortisol, our body’s stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels make us more likely to store body fat and less likely to build muscle. Long term, high cortisol puts us at greater risk of heart disease, obesity and cancer.
Serotonin: research from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has shown that lack of sleep gradually desensitizes our serotonin receptors, making us more prone to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Testosterone: lack of sleep reduces our testosterone levels. Men who sleep less than 6 hours per night have been shown to have testosterone levels equivalent to a man ten years their senior.
And then there’s our immune system. In his book Why We Sleep, Professor of Neuroscience Matthew Walker showed how just one night of sleep deprivation was enough to reduce immune system activity by up to 70%. Lack of sleep puts us at higher risk of a heart attack and stroke, and the World Health Organisation recently identified night shift work as a ‘possible carcinogen’ due to the interruption of our bodies’ natural sleep cycles.
This is just some of the evidence that shows how improving our sleep may be the single biggest thing we can do to improve our physical and mental health and performance.
And with that in mind…isn’t it about time you gave your sleep the priority it deserves?
Ideally we want to be aiming for a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. There are a few outliers who seem to get by on less, but the vast majority of us need at least this amount to see the full benefits.
Simply sleeping longer isn’t enough, though. As well as total sleep quantity we also want to look at our sleep quality too. And a quality night’s sleep starts by going to bed earlier.
You’ve probably heard the saying “an hour before midnight is worth two hours after.” It appears there is some truth to that. In the early hours of the night (10pm – 2am) the majority of our sleep cycles are composed of deep non-REM sleep where our physical and mental repair happens. In the second half of the night we typically see lighter and more REM dominant sleep cycles.
Setting a regular schedule for sleep helps too. When we go to bed and wake up at the same time each day we regulate our body’s internal clock, leading to deeper and more restful sleep cycles. A regular sleep schedule also helps with the production of important sleep hormones such as melatonin.
If you go to bed at the right time you should wake up naturally and feel well rested. If you rely on an alarm clock to wake up you may need to go to bed earlier.
Sunlight exposure during the day can also significantly improve your sleep quality. In a study by the University of Pittsburgh, subjects who exposed themselves to sunlight during daylight hours fell asleep faster and slept for an average of 46 minutes per night longer than those who didn’t.
Conversely, it is important to avoid bright light such as laptop and phone screens before bed. This ‘tricks’ your body into thinking it is daytime and interferes with our production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Regular exercise helps too, as those who partake in vigorous exercise 3-5x per week have been shown to sleep more deeply than those who don’t. However for best results try to finish your exercise at least a few hours before bedtime.
Lastly, I recommend an evening routine to help you wind down before bed. For me, it’s a hot cup of MAGIC and a good book. I also recommend sleeping in a cool room that is as dark as possible (ideally with blackout blinds and all electronics switched off). Oh, and please put your phone onto airplane mode so it doesn’t mess with your sleep cycles.
If you’re still sacrificing sleep for the sake of ‘productivity’ or ‘efficiency’ I promise you are engaging in a false economy. If you want to be the healthiest and highest performing version of yourself possible then good sleep should always be a non-negotiable.
And if you’re still not convinced…
…try sleeping on it.