It’s easy to overlook your sleep when you start on a health kick. Your focus naturally drifts towards planning out your diet and exercise as the two key aspects of your fitness routine, and clearly they are both very important. However, all the work you do in your waking hours can be undermined if you don’t pay any attention to your sleep, as keeping your mind and body well rested is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
Anyone who’s ever had a poor night’s sleep knows the physical, mental and emotional toll it can have on a person. Offices all over the world are full of people drifting through the day unable to concentrate on their work due to tossing and turning all night, but the effects of bad sleep can be far more drastic than feeling a little grouchy the next day.
Regular poor sleep raises the risk of suffering severe medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and shortens overall life expectancy. The impact of consistently poor sleep on your mental health can also be serious, as long-term sleep problems can lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
A lack of quality sleep can also very quickly put paid to your healthy lifestyle aspirations. Not only does the resulting tiredness make the prospect of hitting the gym or heading out for a run far less appealing, but it can ruin your meal plans as well. Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2016 that analysed 11 different sleep studies found that in the day following a night of limited sleep, people ate an extra 385 calories on average. Furthermore, those people also consumed more fat and less protein.
Previous studies have also found that people who sleep less than seven hours a night have a higher risk of becoming obese, perhaps because those who are sleep-deprived have reduced levels of leptin, a chemical that makes you feel full, and increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger.
So the importance of sleep is clear, but it’s not an easy thing to try and change. In fact, worrying about your lack of sleep is only likely to result in you lying in bed wide awake, stressing about the fact you’re not sleeping.
There are, however, things you can do. Top of the list is learning as much as you can about your own sleep, using a tracker like the Withings Activité Steel. The first thing to do is see if you are getting close to the eight hours sleep a night recommended for adults, but it’s not just about the amount of sleep you get, it needs to be good quality sleep.
When you sleep, you go through periods of deep and light sleep, and most people wake up for a couple of minutes a few times in the night. A good sleep pattern will involve moving between light and deep sleep several times in the night in sleep cycles that last around 90 minutes. A fine night’s rest will also obviously not feature too many restless periods where you wake up.
A tracker like the Activité Steel monitors light and deep sleep, as well as when you are awake, so you can then analyse your rest the next day. If you’ve hardly managed any deep sleep, and woke up several times in the night, it might explain why you still feel tired despite notching eight or more hours of rest in total.
Once you have collected this information over a few weeks, you can start to pick up on patterns, and work out what affects your sleep personally. You might not think that a late-afternoon coffee is a problem as you always manage to fall asleep in the evening anyway, but it could be resulting in restless, light sleep and stopping you hitting the deep zones.
Similarly, it’s easy to underestimate the affect of alcohol on your sleep, as most people drop off immediately after a night of drinking. The next day’s analysis will likely reveal that deep sleep has been in short supply after a session on the sauce. You can also keep tabs on how other common causes of poor sleep affect your rest, like a noisy or uncomfortably warm bedroom, or blue light leaking from the screens of electronic devices like smartphones.
All this knowledge will help you build up a picture of your sleep, and you can then avoid things that have negatively affected your rest in the past. After a while, you will be able to adjust your regime to give yourself the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep. Whether that’s always going to bed at the same time, banning coffee after 2pm, or installing a blue light filter on your smartphone that comes on in the evening.
One of the key benefits of using a sleep tracker is that you don’t just have to follow general advice, but you can really zero in on the factors that affect your sleep. That said, there is still some advice that everyone would be wise to consider when plotting their route to a better night’s rest. In particular, the link between regular exercise and better sleep is one that should not be ignored.
Hitting the 150 minutes of moderate exercise recommended for adults every week should help ensure you get good quality sleep consistently. In 2011, a US study on 2,600 people aged 18-85 found that those who managed 150 minutes of exercise every week benefitted from a 65 per cent improvement in sleep quality, and also felt more alert during the day.
Improving your diet, exercise and sleep can then be seen a self-supporting cycle. If you eat well and exercise you’re more likely to get better sleep, which is not only linked with a host of health benefits, but will also help you make better decisions with your diet and provide the rest required to support an active lifestyle.