For a long time sleep annoyed me.
I found it so boring and useless.
I felt like everyone I was asleep I was either missing out an exciting opportunity or wasting time that would be better spent on improving myself or my skills.
I hated going to bed early and I hated sleeping in.
And naps, well, naps just flat-out put me in a bad mood.
I think to some degree I had a natural aversion to sleep for some reason. Maybe it's because I've always had trouble getting to sleep and remaining of sleep that's never really been an enjoyable or refreshing experience.
But I think a lot of my attitude towards sleep stemmed from a cultural value that I identified with and internalized as my own early on.
And that is that sleep is for lazy people.
Sleep is for the unsuccessful, unproductive, and unambitious people.
Sleep takes time away from more virtuous activities.
In other words sleep is low on the priority list and it is simply allotted whatever time is left over in the day.
I think a lot of kids get this message growing up mainly from observing their parents, but definitely we all receive it as we age.
Not only our we told stories that glorify people who succeed with a lack of sleep, but we are told that sacrificing sleep is a prerequisite from success.
A picture is painted for us that the most successful people are those who are so busy there isn't even time left over in the day to sleep. As if business correlates to productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately success. It's a lie that continues to be perpetrated and lived out every single freaking day.
I mean just ask someone how their day is or what their week looks like and almost without fail you will receive something similar to the following:
"Oh my gosh this week is so full. I don't know where I will find the time."
And while they might not even realize they are doing it the truth is this kind of response is a "humble brag." It's a statement that is begging for everyone to take notice of how busy the individual is and how important they are. However in my opinion this glorification of busy, demonization of sleep, and using business to qualify ourselves for success is at the root of a lot of our individual and collective problems.
However that is for another post and time.
The point of all this is that a lot of us have internalized the values that sleep is expendable and unessential.
And because of this belief and value many of us place sleep way down on our priority list. Many times even below checking Facebook, answering emails, and watching Netflix.
My Story of Sleep Deprivation
Trust me I'm not calling you out on this as a holier-than-thou guru. I am telling you this as a reformed sleep-hater.
I carried the belief that sleep was expendable and unessential and largely for people who lacked ambition or the desire to be successful into my sophomore year of college.
My freshman of year of college I ran this stupidly ridiculous schedule at the gym five days a week were I would train clients throughout the entire day either in blocks or between running to campus to take classes starting at 7:00 am (which meant waking up at 5am or 6am) and ending at 8:00pm. Then at 8:00pm I'd clock on to close the gym from 8:00pm to 11:30pm. I'd then go home and work on college algebra and trigonometry or calculus homework till 1am the next day. I'd then proceed to sleep for a few hours, wake back up, and repeat the same thing again.
Then during my sophomore year I added a second job working as a scribe and for almost 32 weeks straight that year I spent the 48 hour period that was Tuesday and Wednesday of each week running on approximately 3 hours of sleep between 7am and 10am. And while part of me could argue the case that I did it out of necessity the truth is I didn't make an effort to truly get out of the routine because I felt it was just part of the territory that came with trying to be successful and uber productive. I'd literally come home on Wednesday evening and unknowingly pass out on the couch after sitting down with my dinner.
Not to mention that during all of that I was still training myself three to four days per week full out.
I don't tell you about either of these years to brag because the truth is I am not proud of it at all. Sure I made good money and did well in school and have a lot to show for the hard work, but it's not all good stuff. I look back and think how stupid I was to sacrifice something so essential to my physical and mental well-being as sleep.
And as I've mentioned in past blog posts I am still paying the price not prioritizing my sleep. I'm not really sure what exactly I did to myself because I am still working on sorting through it, but I definitely don't have the same wake up and go ability I use to. I think it has something to do with my adrenals and cortisol production, but that's something to discuss at another time.
Anyways as you can see I am not kidding you when I say I am sharing all of this from a deep place of experience.
However my attitude about sleep changed and largely because during my sophomore year of college my thirst for knowledge and self-improvement spilled over outside of books and into podcasts.
One of which was The Paleo Solution Podcast hosted by Robb Wolf and Greg Everett.
On one particular episode the interviewed a former Navy Seal and Doctor to other Navy Seals named Kirk Parsley.
He spoke about sleep and why it is an essential activity for performing your best mentally and physically and for taking care of your bodies internal health.
And as someone who values living the healthiest life I can it was a big wake up call that I was not as healthy as I thought and there was a lot of performance I was leaving on the table my spending most of my week sleep deprived.
It was the call to action I needed to realize that I wasn't living a life that was allowing me to make my fullest contribution to each of the roles I played and to each of the people in my life who I had built a relationship with.
In other words I realized that the value that I had internalized as a young kid wasn't actually true. Sleep is essential and isn't expendable.
I could finally see that sleep wasn't standing in the way of my success, but rather was a necessary component of it both personally and professionally.
If you want to get a quick introduction to Doc Parsley I recommend the video below:
Did you watch it?
Then you'll be getting to bed earlier!
That's alright I am going to talk about similar stuff next, but please bookmark it for later than or Instapaper it, but please watch it.
Sleep Is Important
Anyways ever since hearing that initial podcast episode I have become a fierce crusader for getting rid of the stigma that surrounds sleep as an unproductive and useless activity that only lazy and unsuccessful people make a priority.
I have begun to place such an emphasis on the importance of sleep that I don't really want to talk with clients about much else unless they get their sleep habits in order and are no longer chronically sleep deprived.
I am not an idiot though I mean I knew sleep was necessary at some level my entire life, but what I think a lot of us don't realize is how necessary it is and that there is a certain amount we need to be getting each day in order to keep our bodies operating properly and preventing the deterioration of our health.
There is a lot of argument however about how much sleep is necessary and at what amount the effects of sleep deprivation begin. I think like in most cases the truth has to be sought out on your own via your own trial and error, but if we take a lead from what the research shows it's rather clear that on average 7.5 hours of sleep should be the target for about 90% of the population and the rest somewhere within 30 minutes on either side.
What's also clear is that less than six hours of sleep whether it be just a single day or multiple in a row leads to some kind of negative impact to our health some of which are noticeable to us and others which we are rather oblivious to.
Thus in my own opinion and when working with clients if someone isn't getting at least six hours of sleep each night and ideally closer to 7 then I consider them or myself sleep deprived.
And from the research it's rather conclusive that sleep deprivation is linked to the following:
- decreased cognitive performance
- increased risk for chronic disease including heart disease and diabetes
- decreased insulin sensitivity
- increased appetite
- weight gain
- lack of sex drive
- poor learning retention
- judgement impairment
We can then infer from the list above that being sleep deprived is in no way a good thing for yourself or those around you.
The research is pretty straight-forward on this sleep deprivation is bad for you and I am sure that most of us will concur with this from our own personal experience by comparing times in our lives where sleep was hard to come by and another when time for sleep was plentiful.
I am sure a lot of you have probably heard some of this before. I mean it's 2015 and information is everywhere. It's kind of hard to escape it.
However I am willing to bet I am about ready to drop a knowledge bomb on you that may just be what you need to hear to start bumping sleep up on your priority list.
Why It's Even More Important
In 2012 research began emerging from Nedergaard Lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center that elucidated answers to a problem scientist have been exploring for many years.
Each of the cells in our body perform metabolic processes that use inputs to produce outputs which produces energy that the cells can then use to carry out their intra and inter cellular functions. This is a good thing because it keeps us alive, but some of the outputs produced during these processes can be damaging or potentially harmful to our cells and thus require our bodies to expel them.
This is why we have a lymphatic system, which can also be considered a part of the circulatory and immune systems, as it allows the removal of waste and debris from the body. It does this by collecting the debris and waste that the cells move to their external environment and into interstitial fluid which eventually collects in the lymphatic vessels and is then termed lymph fluid. This fluid is then moved along the vessel network through compression of these vessels either by intrinsic compression of the vessels or more often than not compression via external forces such as skeletal muscle contraction (another reason movement is so important. It helps get rid of waste.). The lymph fluids travel through the body the waste and debris products are removed and the rest of the lymph fluid is filtered back into our circulatory system.
This is how we keep waste and debris from building up inside and outside our cells and potentially impairing the cell's ability to function which ultimately leads to problems on a more macro scale.
Thus the more metabolically active our cells are and the more outputs they produce the more important the proper function of our lymphatic system is to our body.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active organs in our entire body. It's responsible for using up to 20% of our caloric intake each day while only accounting for 2% of our body mass.
This means that the brain is producing a lot of metabolic outputs, some of which are good and others not so good.
However the questions scientist have been stumped on for a long time is how the body deals with all of the waste that the brain generates through its metabolic activity.
You see the brain's vasculature lacks a lymphatic system.
That's where the Nedergaard Lab comes in. In 2012 they published their first paper showing evidence of a lymphatic-like system present in the brain and subsequently two more papers showing conclusive evidence that identifies a new series of vessels in the brain that has now been termed collectively the "Glymphatic System". The name, for all you physiology nerds, is based on the fact that the system relies on the glial cells performing in a lymphatic-like manner to clean the brain.
Essentially what the researchers were able to do was by using radiographic tracers injected into the cerebrospinal fluid and vasculature identify a separate network of vessels that run parallel to the vasculature which function to clean the waste products from the brain.
You see cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid that fills the space around our brain, but what these researchers identified was this separate network of vessels running along with the vasculature of the brain allow the cerebrospinal fluid to flow deep within the spaces of the brain tissue and exchange fluid with the interstitial fluid of the brain. This exchange of fluid allows waste products to be removed from the brain tissue, moved into the cerebrospinal fluid, and carried about of the brain.
Pretty cool right? I mean we had no idea this system existed 5 years ago!
And if the brain didn't have this specialized network of vessels for clearing out the waste produced by the brain the waste would build up and impair the brain's ability to do it's job and I think we can all agree that the brain has some very, very important jobs.
I know for some I've lost you at this point, but there is a reason why I am telling you about this discovery.
The reason is that the "Glymphatic System" only functions while we are asleep. Waste clearance from the brain does not occur during our waking hours.
You see further research carried out on this system has shown that while we are asleep the cells of our brain reduce their size which opens up space between the cells and allows the cerebrospinal fluid to flow into this specialized network of vessels and thus allow for the clearance of waste from the tissues of the brain.
This is one of the reasons why sleep is so restorative and has a huge impact on our cognitive performance. Sleep is our brains way of cleaning itself after a long hard day of thinking, processing information, and coordinating the inner workings of our body.
When we with hold sleep from our body we withhold the ability for our brain to clean itself of the waste produced from the previous day and thus we impair our brains ability to function properly and coordinate our bodily processes efficiently.
That's a pretty good fucking reason to sleep, isn't it?
The impact of this discovery is huge and places a whole new significance on sleep. In fact this research has led to further investigation into the interplay between sleep and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease which is the sixth leading cause of deaths in the U.S.
You see one of the primary hallmarks of the development of Alzheimer's Disease is the formation of plaques within the network of the brain made up of amyloid beta proteins. You see amyloid beta is a protein the brain produces all the time as a by-product and is not harmful when cleared. However amyloid beta is most efficiently cleared from the brain during our sleeping hours as compared to our waking hours. Thus there is a whole new field of research exploring the link between sleep deprivation, amyloid beta protein, and the increasing incidence of Alzheimer's Disease.
I know a lot of that you all might not care about, but the point is sleep is utterly important and essential to our well-being physically and mentally both for internal and external parts of our body.
The science continues to return to this conclusion no matter what and most of us come to it on our own without reading the research.
We have to use this information and our own experiences to start changing the way we think about sleep and the way we portray it's important to our kids and peers.
In order to overcome our country-wide state of sleep deprivation we will need to change the narrative we have created between sleep and success.
Getting More and Better Sleep
If you are already convinced as I am then I want you to start taking action on improving your sleep and getting more of it right away.
The truth is everyone is different and it is going to take you some experimentation to find the best ways to optimize your sleep and get yourself to bed on time.
But I will share with you how I go about making sleep a priority for myself.
First and foremost I write it on my calendar. I purposely block off time each day to sleep for at least six hours and most of the time 7. This allows me to commit to sleep and eliminate the excuse of I don't have time for it.
Second I spend the last 15 minutes of my work day organizing the next days work. I write out my to-do. I a lot my time on my calendar for those tasks the next day. I write in my gratitude journal about 5 things I accomplished. This routine allows me to get all the worry and anxiety I might have about tomorrow out of my head and on to paper. Seeing the next day organized and knowing I have prepared for it allows me to turn off my work and not spend time at night before bed thinking on it.
Second I try and make my bed time and wake up time the same on each day of the week.
Third I create very specific routines before going to sleep and after waking up so that I am creating clear psychological and physical triggers to inform my body that it is time to start gearing down for rest and recovery.
And lastly I always try to engage in something that turns down the analytical side of my brain. For me this usually takes the form of reading a book and usually I try to make it fiction as non-fiction books usually get my wheels spinning about business. Or I also play on my Nintendo DS. I know there is some good evidence for not using electronic screens before bed, but I the DS seems to really help me get to sleep so for now I am using it.
I hope this helps you understand that first you aren't alone in viewing sleep as unessential or annoying and second that it convinces you otherwise.
That it gives you permission to start prioritizing sleep.
Because the truth is if you really want to perform your best, kick ass at life, and bring your fullest self into everyday and each interaction you have then you need to be sleeping at 6 to 8 hours a night on average.
Get off the laptop, phone, or tablet and go to bed!
Happy moving and heavy lifting
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training