As I get older, one of the things I appreciate more and more is sleep. Yes, sleep. Not just for the ability to completely relax and shut off my brain, although those are the primary reasons that I enjoy it. Sleep performs multiple other functions that lead to a more productive and fulfilling life.
Sleep helps with concentration. This is a no-brainer. If you’re at your desk during the day and you start to lose focus, daydream, or do the recognizable head-nod, it’s probably because you didn’t get enough good sleep during the night. Just like a fatigued body doesn’t perform as well as a rested one, a tired mind doesn’t think as well as a rested one. Getting enough quality sleep sharpens the mind so that daily tasks, even the tedious ones, stay crystal clear.
Sleep speeds up recovery after workouts and makes you a better athlete. That downtime of 8 hours at night requires nothing of the muscles. This means that blood full of oxygen and nutrients can flow uninhibited into worn out tissues. Sleep is shown to reduce inflammation and cool down an over-worked body. It’s a paradox, but as long as you’re sleeping, you’re working to repair and re-energize so that you can take on the next day. If you miss sleep, you’ll likely feel even more sore and tired after a hard day at the gym.
Sleep regulates your metabolism. Interestingly enough, the area of the brain that controls sleep also controls your metabolism. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, (Coach Emily is a good example), they tend to make unhealthy food choices. It’s kind of linked to the grumpy-tired mentality of, “Screw it, this is yummy.” Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, if the body doesn’t get enough rest, the metabolism gets wonky. It doesn’t burn at as high a rate as it could if the body was well rested. Just like tired muscles, a worn-out metabolism won’t perform. If you’re trying to lose those last 5 pounds that just keep hanging on, make it a priority to get quality sleep at night. Chances are, that weight will disappear more quickly than living on a treadmill.
Sleep makes you more creative. A refreshed mind is capable of more complex thought and critical thinking. Everyone has heard the wisdom of, “Go to bed. You’ll have an answer in the morning.” This isn’t just for advice or decision-making. Getting sleep allows a person to see problems from different angles, and thus makes them more capable of problem-solving instead of problem-dwelling. And let’s not forget dreams. Some of the most creative phenomena for mankind are dreams. A whole artistic movement was founded on the impact of dreams (surrealism).
Sleep reduces stress. Not just in the fact that everything is shut down when you’re sleeping. After taking that power nap, or even sleeping on something, a person is generally more willing to look at a situation with a level head instead of being overloaded with emotion. Stress is emotional and, as humans, we are slaves to our emotions whether we like it or not. Allowing ourselves a break from our emotions via sleeping calms us down, letting us see things more clearly.
With all these benefits of sleep combined, sleep can be credited with lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, and can reduce your risk of depression. Just to name a few. Sleep is the most basic natural-healing regimen.
To make the most out of a night of sleep, set up your bedroom specifically for sleep. Make sure it’s dark and quiet. If you need white noise, try a fan or sound-machine. Ensure that you will be comfortable. Get a good mattress, supportive pillows, maybe even weighted blankets. Stay away from screens for at least 30 minutes before sleepy-time. TV and cell phone usage immediately before bed stimulates brain activity, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Train your body to learn that your bed is for sleeping. When you hit the bed, you are going to sleep.
Sleep is the one thing that requires zero work but gives 100% return on investment. Get ready. Set. SLEEP!