Featured image courtesy of Sean MacEntee.
There are two versions of Graham Ballachey. It’s something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dichotomy. I can be either of the following: 1. A positive, energetic, intelligent, friendly, patient, and adaptable man who handles (most) stress with ease; or
2. A grumpy, irritable, anxious, slow-witted, anti-social primate who drags himself around barely handling, and dreading, the stressors that come his way. Needless to say, version 1 is my preferred mode of being. Version 2 has a way of rearing his ugly head occasionally, and sometimes more often than I would like. Often I’m in a grey area between the two, but always embodying one version over the other. A big goal in my life is to be close to version 1 as much as possible.
What determines which version I will take on? A key parameter, among others, is simply sleep. Although diet and exercise are extremely important factors in a healthy mental state, no matter how much good food and weight training I do, if I don’t get the sleep I need I’m a zombie. As I’ll explain in depth later, eating well and exercising appropriately can have a huge impact on your sleep quality. It all comes together, as they say, and robust health becomes not only possible, but seemingly easy.
Sleep deprivation has long been known to:
- Reduce alertness
- Reduce cognitive functioning
- Increase frequency and severity of negative moods
- Reduce immune system response
- Reduce insulin sensitivity (carbohydrate tolerance)
- Impact appetite regulation
- Increase the risk of cancer
- Increase the risk of type II diabetes
- Increase the risk of heart disease
- Increase the risk of premature death
Obviously sleeping well on a regular basis is of paramount concern to our health. However, it is not quite so simpleas just getting “enough sleep”. It turns out that all sleep is not created equal. I have found that several parameters can influence sleep quality, which is basically a way to measure “rest/hours asleep”. The importance of sleep quality cannot be overstated. A comparison of extremes could be the sleep quality you get from hitting the sack at 10:00 pm in a pitch-black room after a day out in the sun getting lots of exercise and healthy food vs. sleep that follows passing out in front of the TV at midnight preceded by gorging on junk food and booze after a sedentary but stressful day at the office . I think it’s obvious which situation will result in more bang-for-your-buck in terms of sleep quality.
So, this series is not about sleeping “X” hours a night. I have found that there is no magic number of hours in slumber required to feel my best. There are nights I get 6 hours and feel like I’m Superman the whole next day. On the flip side, I’ve at times gotten 8+ hours of sleep and felt groggy and version-2ish. It was frustratingly confusing to me for a long time. I wanted the ability to predict how I’d feel the next day, so I took it upon myself to really research the different factors involved, and these will be revealed throughout this series.
What is sleeping well?
I know I’m sleeping well when I wake up easily without an alarm and am energetic and alert all day. I still enjoy having a coffee, but I don’t need it. I feel positive about most things, and as I said above, I handle stress quite easily. I also don’t have wildly varying energy levels throughout the day and am overall much less emotional. In other words, I feel like myself. That’s what I want; I think most people feel the same.
According to an article in the New York Times, sleeping problems affect between 10-25% of people. I’m willing to bet there are a lot more tired people who may not be aware of having a “problem”, but are not sleeping well and thus not feeling their best due to bad sleeping habits. From my observations, these people typically don’t realize what feeling well rested is and just accept the symptoms as part of life. I have been there.
Plan for the Sleep Series:
My plan for the Sleep Series is to start with explaining the physiology of sleep as scientists understand it today (sleep architecture). After that will come a couple of posts on the hormones that affect your circadian rhythm, and thus your sleep quality. Once there’s an understanding of sleep, then will come tips for optimizing your sleep so you feel your best as much as possible. The last post will include my tips for coping with subpar sleep when you need to (and we all need to sometimes).
I’m going to shy away from talking about sleeping problems that result from rare medical conditions. To be honest, I don’t know much about them. I’m going to talk about maximizing rest for people that should feel good, but for some reason (there are a few potential reasons), don’t. Stay tuned!