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The Importance of Sleep

Did you know that the average person will spend roughly 1/3 of their entire life asleep! Without sufficient sleep we quite simply start to lose the ability to recover, revitalise and repair each day. Professional athletes often have a team of people behind them to offer advice and support (and to help monitor) their sleep routines and performance.

But there is absolutely no reason why you too can’t take advantage of that knowledge. In today’s blog we are going to be breaking down what sleep actually is, what good sleep looks like and how we can all get the most out of every night’s sleep from now on. And, we may end up debunking a few common sleep myths along the way too…

 

Here at U Perform we are all about recovery, and alongside nutrition, sleep is probably the next most (if not the most) important piece in the puzzle. Everybody trains, eats and sleeps differently, but no matter what we are confident that everyone can take a couple of very simple steps every day to maximise recovery, training adaptation as well as reduce the risk of injury and or overtraining.

Research also suggests that optimal and quality (yes that’s right, not quantity) sleep can also improve our mood and increase our energy levels. As well as enhance our ability to focus, make decisions, process information and reinforce new learnings.

Now before we go any further, let’s dial back to a controversial point we made reference to earlier regarding quantity of sleep hours. Getting enough sleep is obviously really important for our overall health and wellbeing and we all know that eight hours per night is the commonly acceptable goal that adults should aim for. But, quantity is not always better than quality.

This is because, time spent in bed doesn’t actually equate to hours of useful sleep. We actually sleep in cycles that last roughly 90 minutes and in and amongst those cycles it is entirely normal for minor body movements or ‘disturbances’ to actually leave us awake on average 10-20 times per night. Resulting in a loss of up to an hour of sleep in one night! So whilst we might be in bed for 8 hours, we are certainly not sleeping for the whole 8 hours.

 

So, what is sleep?

Sleep is a naturally occurring state of rest experienced by the body and mind where an individual is relatively physically inactive and has limited awareness of their surroundings. Sleep is triggered and controlled by a number of highly complex physiological processes and is affected both positively and negatively by everything we do prior to turning in for the night or day!

What is little known is that we actually sleep in things called ‘cycles’. And each cycle roughly lasts 90 minutes and is broken up into 4 key stages:

Light sleep – this is the stage of sleep that helps us transition into deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.

Deep or Slow Wave sleep (SWS) – this is the physically restorative stage of sleep where our body does all its best work recovering and repairing from the stress and strain of day to day life and any additional exercise too. In fact, your body produces 95% of its total daily supply of human growth hormone during SWS which is often why we recommend fuelling your sleep with quality sources of protein like collagen or casein proteins to optimise this restorative process. Remember, training adaptations only occur during recovery and not in the training sessions themselves.

REM sleep – this is the mentally restorative stage of sleep characterised by, you guessed it, rapid eye movements. This is also where you experienced your most vivid dreams.

Awake – that’s right, on average we experience 10-20 disturbances per night. Now, we aren’t actually aware that these are happening but you’ll know about it in the morning if you experienced a few!

Now before you start worrying, it is very common for us to be ‘awake’ at numerous times throughout the night, albeit we are not consciously aware of it at the time; but if we can minimise the frequency of these night time disturbances we can set our body and mind up for more efficient sleep cycles.

The concept of ‘healthy habits’ shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to you, after all it is something we very frequently talk about on the U Perform blog and across our social media channels. It takes roughly 21 days to form a habit (both good and bad I might add) and when it comes to improving sleep and reaping the benefits from improved sleep we’re playing a long game so habits are super important.

 

This is where sleep quality and consistency really comes into play and where sleep hygiene becomes your way of mastering the art of quality, restorative sleep every single night. Sleep hygiene as it’s called, is a set of really straightforward processes that each and every one of us can practice every day to set ourselves up for better sleep.

Great sleep hygiene means that your everyday routines and your bedtime environment all work together to promote healthy, consistent and most importantly uninterrupted sleep. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to sleep and sleep hygiene (sorry), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few tried and tested things that you can at least experiment with to find what works best for you.

After all, if we are to spend 1/3 asleep, we owe it to ourselves to make our sleep work for us! And the best thing is, improving our sleep and sleep hygiene practices is a virtually risk free activity and often costs absolutely nothing.

Our Sleep Hygiene TopTips:

  • Darkness is your friend. The darker your room, the better you will sleep, simple. Light has a massive influence over the quality of your sleep, so the darker the room, the longer your restorative stages of sleep will be.
  • Sleep is COOL. You actually sleep better in cooler temperatures with a good aim being around 20 degrees Celsius or 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Say no to tech! Blue light emitting devices are in our lives almost 24/7 but if we can aim to limit our screen time in the hours before we want to go to sleep, we can guarantee you will not only fall asleep quicker but also have a better night’s sleep too.
  • Cut out the caffeine. Just like blue light, caffeine is sleep’s worst nightmare and can have a lingering and nasty presence for up to 4 hours so it is worth taking that into consideration when planning your night time routine.
  • Routine is your friend. The last one is probably the most important factor to consider. Doing one thing right once, in isolation is great. But if we can consistently maintain healthy sleep habits we will start to gradually start to become a bit of a sleep hero. Maintaining consistent sleep and wake times as well as other healthy sleep hygiene habits is also really important to nurture a highly efficient circadian rhythm.

Sleep is quite possible the most effective recovery strategy out there and there are so many quick and easy ways for each and everyone one of us to start optimising our sleep performance. What’s your top sleep tip? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to share this with someone who you know would benefit from reading this too! The U Perform family loves sharing ideas and encouraging each other.

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