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The most over looked way to improve your lifestyle

Among all countries in Western societies there is a continuing worrying trend. In every country we are getting less and less sleep. Search the web and you will find articles in every country about how more and more adults in the population are losing out on sleep. It is well documented that everyone should aim for 7-9 hours sleep per night, however in the UK the average is 6 hours 19 minutes and the US isn't much better. There is a mutation in the DOC2 protein which sees people who are completely healthy with 6 hours sleep per night (this mutation is so rare that i guarantee that if you think you have this mutation, I can tell you now with confidence, you don’t).  This is hardly surprising within our culture which emphasises the importance of hard work, grinding, and multi tasking 101 things at once. 


If we capable of getting the recommended sleep each night there is a wealth of benefits. The benefits can range from increased memory retention due to increased electrical activity within the hippocampus, reduced chance of developing diseases such as dementia and chronic heart disease, reduced chance of being part of a road incident and even making you look more attractive (there is a lengthy list of the benefits of sleep in “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker, which I personally highly recommend). And finally appropriate sleep will lead to increased progress in athletic performances and and increased performance the day following a good nights rest.


We sleep in several different phases which is the result of different electrical activity within the central nervous system.  All of these phases have different benefits and are all important for our health and performance. During stage 2 non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) K-complexes and sleep spindles occur (a certain type of electrical activity in the central nervous system). These act as replays of what has happened during your day almost. This means that the millions of moments and responses which occur whether successful or not. This means the connections which are formed in the brain during these moments are strengthened as they undergo more stage 2 NREM sleep leading to increased athletic performance.


In the gym you can become stronger in a movement by two ways; increased muscle size, increased central nervous system firing. During sleep the body is able to strengthen the firing patterns which has been used in the gym that day once again through the electrical activity seen in  stage 2 NREM sleep.


Increased sleep has been shown to be lead healthier levels of both Leptin and Ghrelin. These are two peptide hormones which are found within the blood and act within the hypothalamus to control our perceived levels of hunger. Leptin is released from adipose cells (fat cells) and sends a feeling of being full to the brain, whilst Ghrelin is released by cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract and sends a feeling a hunger to the brain.


Both Testosterone and Growth Hormone are hormones which are found in the bloodstream of all adults which are very anabolic. Both have been shown to decrease with poor quality and quantity of sleep. Therefore adequate sleep will lead to more muscular gains by the increase in these hormone levels.


Furthermore the cells within the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are the ones which are responsible for discipline and these cells are energetically expensive. This explains why we have a set level of discipline, if we try to become suddenly much more disciplined it becomes very energetically expensive for these cells and the brain starts to shut them down in order to save these cells from causing death by over over use. A lack of good quality sleep has been shown to reduce the bar at which our body automatically stops being able to be disciplined.


The takeaway message from this article is that good quality sleep will lead to increased performance due to:

  • Increased athletic performance from the result of more stage 2 NREM sleep
  • Increased gym performance due to increased central system firing
  • Increased motivation and therefore increased opportunity to release to go to the gym, train harder and adhere to diets
  • Healthier hormone levels making it easier to adhere to diets and as well as increased progress
  • A decreased likelihood of becoming ill and taking time out
  • A wealth of other benefits