Why is sleep important?
Sleep is essential for the proper functioning of many physical and mental processes that are required for optimal health and feelings of wellness. During rest, our bodies release hormones (namely erythropoietin, growth hormone, and testosterone) in larger amounts than during waking hours that contribute towards proper cell rejuvenation.
Red blood cell production, cell growth/reproduction, muscle and bone strength, decreasing fat tissue, immune system defence, energy levels, and a healthy sex drive are all factors that are influenced by these hormones, and are consequently governed by sleep. Our bodies still produce these hormones during waking hours, but not in amounts large enough for us to function at our best. In addition to these hormones, cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) is lowered, making sleep a prime factor for managing good mental health and cognitive ability.
How much sleep should you be getting?
Here are some general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:
0 - 3 months: 14 - 17 hours
4 - 11 months: 12 -15 hours
1 - 2 years: 11 - 14 hours
3 - 5 years: 10 - 13 hours
6 - 13 years: 9 - 11 hours
14 - 17 years: 8 - 10 hours
19 - 64 years: 7 - 9 hours
65+ years: 7 - 8 hours
Since everybody is different, the sufficient amount of sleep will differ by the person. Only you will really know how much sleep is best for you by observing how you feel through the day after sleeping for a number of hours and using that time as a personalised guideline.
So what are the things to be aware of?
Problems arise when people have difficulty sleeping and suffer from sleep deprivation; this is when someone is operating on well under the recommended amount of hours they need based on their age. This can occur from a number reasons, from short term periods of intense stress, illness, or a sleeping condition such as insomnia. As you can probably imagine, to suffer from sleep deprivation can be exhausting and being in a sleep deprived state means your body is not going to function as effectively as it is meant to, which essentially answers the opening question of this article - why sleep is sleep important.
What sleep deprivation means for athletes is only bad news. Consider how ineffective training in a sleep deprived state could be with these afflictions:
Lower growth hormone levels and testosterone levels: leading to loss in muscle strength, decreased endurance, more prone to injury and eventually an impaired recovery
Higher cortisol levels - low motivation, and training is going to feel harder than usual
Furthermore, a major problem for athletes is that our bodies inhibit glucose metabolism by 30 - 40% in a sleep deprived state, meaning carbohydrates will not be effectively metabolised and used as energy, so we’ll be trying to fuel a workout on less.
If you suffer from poor sleep, experience difficulties when attempting to fall asleep, find that you wake frequently in the night, or have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, there are adjustments you can make to aid in what is known as your sleep hygiene - these are habits or changes you can make to promote good sleep, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evenings, improving the quality of your mattress, include more exercise into your lifestyle, and limiting your exposure to light sources to allow your body to produce melatonin.
Additionally, supplements that are proven for improving sleep quality can also be utilised. Eden Health’s 5-htp and ZMA Max are formulas that work on regulating hormone activity, and 5-htp in particular increases serotonin production, which is a key hormone for inducing sleep.
Increasing relaxation with valerian root and lemon balm is an effective strategy and can be found in Eden Health’s Re-Lax formula. As a final note, chamomile tea is a great substitute for drinking caffeinated black tea in the evening;
chamomile is caffeine free, and due to it’s apigenin content, has a soothing/relaxing effect, making it perfect to have before bedtime.