What if I told you that there was a miracle drug that helps you live longer, improves your memory, boosts your creativity, and makes you more attractive. This miracle drug also keeps you lean while lowering those annoying food cravings.
It gets even better.
This miracle drug lowers the chances of getting the flu, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Using this drug effectively will lower the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. You’ll feel less depressed and anxious which creates room for more happiness in your life.
As icing on the cake, this miracle drug helps you create more energy so you can move and evolve at a faster pace in life.
What’s this miracle drug that is free of charge that I speak of?
Here’s the bad news, society isn’t taking advantage of this miracle drug.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 100 years ago, less than two percent of the population in the U.S. slept six hours or less a night. Now, in today’s society, 30 percent of adults are sleeping six hours or less a night. Sleep not only affects you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially—it also greatly affects you physically.
It’s not a coincidence that as society has slept less and less, obesity, stress, and chronic illnesses have become more prevalent.
When you routinely short-change your sleep, your immune system suffers. Blood sugar levels get disrupted after a mere week of insufficient sleep. Sleep also helps with maintaining a flourishing microbiome within your gut.
With that said, we live in a hustle-centric society where we celebrate people who exhaust themselves into the ground. These people are called high performers (at least according to the internet).
I merely call these people disillusioned and unorganized.
A true high performer realizes that to achieve peak performance requires rest and recovery so you can be ready to fire on all cylinders the next day. Before I start ranting, let’s define how sleep affects your daily energy levels and what it is.
What is sleep?
Besides being the “universal health care provider”, sleep is nutrition for your brain. High quality sleep in the proper amounts engineers a high performing body.
At night, your body is restocking itself with the right amount of hormones, processing and ridding itself of significant toxins, repairing damaged tissues, generating vital white blood cells for immunity, building defense walls against various illnesses, eliminating the effects of stress, and processing heavy emotions (and we all have tons of that).
Safe to say, sleep is complex and this doesn’t even get into the aspects of how it affects your weight and performance.
I repeatedly emphasize with clients in my coaching program that without optimizing sleep, the nutritional and training aspects won’t be as effective. With all of this said, sleep is a complex subject in which science is slowly learning more about its complex intricacies.
Why do we sleep?
Shockingly, science doesn't have a definitive answer for this. However, there are a handful of theories with these four being the most common:
- The inactivity theory — This is an adaptive method which is better suited for animals (including us humans) that states it’s better for us to be quiet during the time when we’re most at risk.
- The energy conservative theory — Sleeping decreases a persons energy metabolism and conserves it for when it's most needed.
- The restorative theory — Sleeping allows the body time to heal and grow. Research has shown that tissue repair, muscle growth, and the release of Growth Hormone occurs abundantly during sleep.
- The brain plasticity theory — Brain remodeling occurs during sleep which is why you hear the emphasis on sleep and children's brain development.
In summary, think of sleep being a priority so your brain and body can do its necessary housekeeping and maintenance work. For example, I don’t find it by chance that Alzheimer’s (some call it diabetes of the brain) is on the rise because the average person is sleeping less.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that is associated with the buildup of a toxic form of proteins called beta-amyloid, which aggregates in sticky clumps (i.e. plaques) within your brain. These places are poisonous to neurons since they kill the surrounding brain cells (in particular, they stick mostly around the middle part of the frontal lobe).
However, while we sleep, and only while we sleep, our brains are flushed with fluid to help remove waste products (i.e. plaques) that accumulate throughout the day. Other poisonous elements that are associated with Alzheimer’s are removed during the cleaning process which includes a protein called ‘tau’. Think of this as a stress molecule produced by neurons while combusting energy and oxygen throughout the day.
Your brain operates like a computer program that needs to be turned off and shut down for updates.
2 factors that govern sleep
We are hardwired and dependent on sleep through two big drivers.
1.Circadian rhythm — This is a biological process that typically operates over a 24-hour cycle. As you go through the day, you’ll experience fluctuations in appetite, blood pressure, body temperature, concentration levels, and fatigue levels. With that said, your circadian rhythm mostly operates and take its cue from light exposure.
Image originally appears on Wikipedia
The controlling clock the generates the 24-hour rhythm is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which sits in the middle of your brain located in the hypothalamus.
The SCN “samples” the light signal being sent from each eye along the optic nerves as they head toward the back of the brain for visual processing. The SCN then uses this information to produce a signal to keep the rest of the body on an approximate 24-hour schedule.
Your SCN is composed of 20,000 brain cells (or neurons) and is super tiny compared to the brain being composed of approximately 100 billion neurons. With that said, this clock is the central conductor of life’s biological rhythm and thus controls a plethora of behaviors.
Your SCN communicates night and day to your brain and body using a messenger called melatonin.
2. Homeostatic drive — Think of this as your checks and balances with areas such as sleep, blood and tissue metabolism, body temperature, and blood pressure being affected.
Ever wondered why you get tired?
You owe this to the sleep pressure accumulating in the form of adenosine.
Picture your homeostatic drive as an hourglass with sand that slowly withers away to the bottom from the moment you wake up. As time gets closer to running out (i.e. sand accumulating at the bottom), your body receives stronger signals that it needs to sleep. Every hour that passes, the urge to sleep increases (i.e.sleep pressure builds up).
The 5 stages of sleep (or Sleep Architecture)
While there are five phases of sleep, they are classified into two distinct types: Non-Rem (around 75-80% of your sleep) and REM (around 20-25% of your sleep). Throughout the night, you’ll go through several sleep cycles with Stages 1-4 consisting of Non-Rem and Stage 5 being your REM cycle. The typical sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes.
I make it a goal for clients to get at minimum five full cycles nightly (7.5 hours of sleep). With each successive sleep cycle, you’ll experience longer periods of REM sleep.
Think of Non-Rem as your muscles being relaxed while gradually shifting into a deeper sleep. In REM, your brain will return to near waking levels while also increasing blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. With that said, let's further break down the stages.
1. Stage 1 (drowsy/light sleep) — In this stage, you’re awake but gradually transitioning to completely falling asleep. Your brain is producing slow brain waves called theta waves. Some people in this stage aren’t even aware that they have fallen asleep. This stage is easily interrupted.
2.Stage 2 (light sleep) —You’re disengaging from the environment and other outside stimuli. This stage of Non-Rem comprises the most of your nightly sleep. Eye movement slows, breathing and heart rate decreases along with temperature. Your brain is now producing two brain waves: sleep spindles and K-complexes which are unique to stage 2.
Think of sleep spindles as sharp, narrow brain waves that help you block out external noise. Your K-complexes are believed to help support the consolidation of memories.
3. Stage 3 (slow wave/start of deep sleep) — Your brain starts producing deeper, higher amplitude, and slower waves called delta waves. This stage is the mark from light to deep sleep.
4. Stage 4 (deep sleep) — You’re in a much deeper sleep with your delta waves building up. Your muscles are relaxed and are receiving an increased supply of blood. More importantly, many hormones that carry out important functions in your body are being released. One, in particular, is Growth Hormone, which plays a role in muscle development, overall body growth and development.
Your body is able to undergo healing, repair of tissue and joints, restoration, and refilling your energy levels for tomorrow. Unfortunately, interruption of this stage can inhibit the secretion of this hormone.
5. Stage 5 (REM—the most popular). A full cycle normally repeats about 4-6 times per night. REM cycles are shorter at the beginning of sleep and pick up in duration in the later cycles. Brain waves during this stage can be higher than those seen while awake. Beyond energy restoration of your body, dreaming along with various high-level mental activity occurs here. Your brain is going into overdrive during this stage.
2 big causes for you being tired
There will be more articles and resources down the road that goes into the specificities of fatigue. But for now, a general introduction is all that’s needed.
1. Sleep desynchronization — As mentioned earlier, our body has a natural circadian rhythm and homeostatic mechanism that it needs to stay on track with. However, when you force your body to stay awake (or asleep) at times that are out of synch with your normal rhythm and homeostatic mechanism, fatigue builds up. Examples of this are overnight shift work, pulling all-nighters, or jet lag to name a few.
2. Sleep deprivation — This is the most popular and familiar cause. This is simply not getting enough sleep usually due to a lack of self-control and discipline. Example: Jane is sleeping 6 hours instead of the recommended 7.5-9 hours. In this situation, let’s say that Jane needs 7.5 hours to feel fully rested but is only getting six. Therefore, each week she has a sleep debt of 10.5 hours due to losing 90 minutes each night.
Every facet of life in some form or fashion is highly dependent upon sleep. With that said, here's a chart created years ago listing the various effects of sleep deprivation.