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Sleep on It, Part I

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by Geoff Rand


Sleep.  It’s just as essential to life as food and water.  We might be able to go for longer periods of time without adequate sleep, but eventually it will catch up with us, and there will be a price to pay for it.  We all live busy lives, but it’s important to make time for sufficient hours and quality of sleep.  In this series of articles on sleep, we will look at why the body needs sleep, the dangers of failing to get enough sleep, and ways to diagnose and mitigate sleep disorders.

The body uses sleep to restore energy supplies and perform critical maintenance to keep its systems functioning properly.  During these rest periods, muscle damage and connecting tissue is repaired, and certain hormones are released that assist in recovery and building and repair of muscles.

If you are crushing it in the gym and just don’t seem to see the results you think you should be seeing, take a look at your sleep.  Exercise without adequate recovery time in the form of quality sleep will not produce results.

So what is adequate sleep?  The general guideline for all adults is 7-9 hours of sleep.  Research has shown that those who are engaged in physically demanding work need more sleep than those performing intellectual work.  It is important to stick to a sleep routine as much as possible, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day (even on days off).  This helps the body establish natural recovery and activity patterns.

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The environment you create to sleep in is just as important as the number of hours you devote to sleeping.  Your sleeping area should be quiet and dark.  Studies have shown that even small amounts of light, like those from an alarm clock, can be enough to disrupt sleep.  Put your phone or other electronics in a different room where they won’t disturb you or tempt you to answer or use them.  You want your sleep area to be clear of children and pets if at all possible.  Use thick curtains to block out light if you are forced to sleep during non-standard hours due to things like shift work.

What happens if I don’t get adequate sleep?  This is somewhat tough to answer completely because we don’t yet know all the effects sleep deprivation has on the body.  We do know that lack of sleep causes high blood pressure, obesity, and an increased risk of development of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and some cancers.  Lack of sleep can also cause you to be more susceptible to illness and take longer for you to recover from being sick.  You are also more likely to injure yourself and you will take longer to recover from the injury without adequate rest.


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Studies have shown that after being awake for just 17 hours your actions and reactions are akin to those of someone with a 0.05 blood alcohol content.  States like New Jersey have enacted laws making it illegal to knowingly drive while tired.  Numerous studies with military personnel showed rapidly decreasing ability to make sound decisions and to be effective on the battlefield as sleep deprivation increases and lack of adequate recovery and sleep time decreases.

Lack of sleep impacts your ability to remember things, can make you feel more negative, and can make you less productive and act less ethically at work.

With all this evidence, you may be convinced that you need to sleep more, but what about those who try to sleep but have physical impairments like sleep apnea that prevent them from getting quality sleep?  In part two of this topic, I will detail my own experiences with sleep apnea and why it is so important to get checked out and treat it if you think you may have it.

But for now, rest up and we’ll tackle that topic next week.