How important is sleep
*This will be the first of a 4 part series covering the nitty gritty of all aspects of sleep, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any info.
You’ve got some serious goals. Some are fitness related, some aren’t. You know what you want to do, and you might even know how to do it… but you don’t quite feel like tackling it right now. Carpe Diem Cras—seize the day tomorrow. That’s what they say, right?
It’s not just you. It’s actually pretty normal to feel too tired to take on new challenges. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says women between the ages of 18 and 44 are nearly twice as likely as men to report feeling very tired or exhausted.
In another survey taken at a women’s health symposium, fatigue was rated as the number one and most common health concern. When asked why they thought they were tired, the five most common responses in order were: working both at home and at work, poor sleep, lack of time for themselves, lack of exercise, and financial worries (among a ton of other reasons).
Maybe you’ve got something in common with the women above, feeling overworked and like you haven’t had a decent sleep in weeks. Or perhaps you already feel amazing (right on!) and want to get even more out of your life.
Unfortunately, those “5 quick tips for an instant energy boost” articles likely won’t help with your energy woes. That’s just click-bait, not a solution that properly addresses the root of the issue.
We’re going to cover the three best research-backed ways to actually improve your own energy, wakefulness, alertness, and performance in the short and long-term. They might not be the sexiest or simplest solutions out there, but they’re very thorough, healthy, effective, and long lasting.
…but for fun, we’ll also share a few juicy sizzling-hot-but-still-evidence-based quick-action tips at the end of the article that actually work.
Chickity-Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
We aren’t doctors, nor do we pretend to be on the internet. If you’re feeling overly or chronically tired, that could signal an underlying health concern. For example, the World Health Organization writes that iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and this deficiency is especially common among long distance runners and vegetarians/vegans. An iron deficiency can cause anaemia, and anaemia can cause fatigue (study, study, study).
If you’re now thinking, “I’m a vegathon runner. That must be it. I should take iron pills.”—not so fast! We’re trying to say that issues like this can only be properly diagnosed by visiting a doctor. It’s not a good idea to blindly take supplements, which is expensive and potentially dangerous if no deficiency is present.
We could give you scarier examples of rarer health problems that could cause fatigue, but we aren’t trying to give you a panic attack. If you’re looking to boost your anxiety we recommend the experts: WebMD.
If you’re feeling healthy though—and keep in mind that low energy is the most common health concern among healthy women—onwards and upwards!
Energy-Boost #1: Fine Tuning Your Sleep & Biological Clock
Why You Should Try to Improve Your Sleep
Getting a great night’s sleep is one of the best ways to feel energized. Before you can berate me for making the most obvious statement of the year, first let me explain. Even if you think you’re sleeping really well—which is pretty uncommon in this stressful world—you’re probably not even close to sleeping and waking as well as you could be.*
(Doc’s notice number two: getting quality sleep can be very complicated for some people—childhood factors, behavioural traits, neurological/medical/psychiatric disorders, neurobiological disorders, family variables, medications being taken, and primary sleep disorders can impact getting a decent night’s sleep (article). Visit your doctor if you feel like you have an unusually rough time sleeping.)
While we don’t fully understand why we sleep, we have a good idea of what sleep can affect. We all know that not sleeping well will mean feeling tired and low energy the next day, but that’s just the beginning:
- You’ll have a harder time building muscle (study).
- You’ll gain fat more quickly (study, study, study)
- You’ll have less willpower to make good decisions and to manage your mood. (Willpower, 2012)
- Your skin will age faster (study), and you’ll look worse (study).
- You’ll be less morally aware (study).
- You won’t be able to learn new things as well. (article, study, study)
- You’ll be less creative. (study, article)
- Your risk increases for a ton of diseases, such as: strokes, obesity, heart attacks, and cancer. (study, study)
- Your immune system will be weakened. (study, study)
Now that you’re a bit more motivated to get some quality zzz’s, what exactly does it mean to get a good sleep? Experts define good sleep as when you fall asleep easily, do not fully wake up during the night, do not wake up too early, and feel fully refreshed in the morning (article).
Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true?
Most of us could improve our sleeping routine to either help fall asleep better or wake up better—or both. But first, we should understand how our natural sleep rhythm works. You’ll often hear people simplify this wakefulness/sleepiness cycle down to just our circadian rhythm, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
There are two systems that work together to control our wakefulness: our sleep drive and our biological clock. While we go about our day our sleep drive accumulates, while we sleep it depletes. If this system existed on its own, we’d gradually become less alert over the course of the day. However, we’re typically quite alert in the evening—even after being awake for a dozen hours. This is because our second system, the biological clock, counterbalances our sleep drive. At certain points of the day it pumps us full of alertness. This biological clock and the systems it runs (including our circadian rhythm) allows us to feel alert even as the day wears on (article).
Now let’s run a few scenarios. When you stay up late Sunday night and need to wake up early Monday morning for work, your body doesn’t get the sleep it requires, so your sleep drive isn’t fully depleted. Since you’ve still got some lingering sleep drive right when you wake up, this makes you feel sleepy all day. Your biological clock will still send out alertness signals, but because your sleep drive will be stronger than normal, the alerting signals can’t fully counterbalance it making you feel lower energy and tired.
After a long exhausting week, the kind where it feels like you just can’t quite catch up, you’ll sleep in Saturday and Sunday morning to fully clear your sleep drive. But sleeping in will delay your biological clock, and the alerting signals that make you feel awake won’t start firing until later in the day. If this system doesn’t start early enough, it’ll be hard to feel fully awake during the day… and by the time you do feel awake, you should really be getting to sleep so you can sleep long enough for the next day. Since you’re not tired, you stay up late, rob yourself of sleep, and curse the alarm clock at 6:30 a.m.
Then the cycle repeats.
When it comes to sleep, you can feel tired in the morning for a couple of reasons:
- Lingering sleep drive. Not getting enough quality sleep that your body requires.
- Mistimed bioclock signals. Not waking up fully because the alerting signals from your biological clock aren’t in-sync with the day.
Why does all this matter? Because it’ll help you figure out how to adjust your sleep habits, to improve your energy levels and quality of life. So without getting to wordy we will close this portion of the sleep topic but we will continue it in a later blog.
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