There are many factors that lead to a healthy and fit lifestyle, and a healthy and fit body. There are no end to tips, tricks, approaches and strategies to achieving the body you want. But science is showing that one of the most important and also one of the most overlooked aspects of health and fitness might be something that is done away from the gym and away from the kitchen.
It’s sleep. As research mounts, what is becoming abundantly clear is that society is facing a sleep deprivation crisis of epidemic proportions, and the consequences of this are promising to be catastrophic.
Recent research suggests that two out of three people are getting less than the necessary eight hours sleep a night that experts recommend, with seven hours being the minimum requirement. Thereare many reasons for this. There is a lot more light in our evenings than ever before, from street lights to electronic devices and more. We’re working all the time now. We no longer switch off — we’re always engaged, people are working longer hours, and getting no sleep these days is worn like a badge of honour. Millionaires and famous entrepreneurs are constantly telling us to work hard and sleep less. Even bodybuilding and fitness icon Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said that if you want to be successful in life, get used to sleeping only six hours a night, and in that extra time you’re awake, work harder.
This is proving to be terrible advice. Sleep deprivation is inextricably linked to such health problems as obesity, mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, increased appetite, increased level of the stress hormone cortisol, diabetes, impaired memory and cognitive performance, reduced immunity and susceptibility to colds and flu, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, increased risk of cancer… the list grows.
Although the mechanisms around why sleep depravation causes all of these things is still being uncovered, what is certain is if you’re getting shorter sleep than you need, you can expect a shorter lifespan. It really is that serious.
From a fitness standpoint, the advice is that getting eight hours of sleep a night really should be as strict a rule as getting four or five workouts a week. And if the science is anything to go by, getting eight hours a night will only improve your exercise outlook. Imagine how much better your training and diet will be if you suddenly had a boost in mental and physical energy, if you were feeling more motivated, if you weren’t feeling down and depressed all of the time, if your appetite wasn’t insatiable all day and if you were no longer craving sugars and calorie dense foods. For many, these outcomes feel like a dream. Ironically, these outcomes are tied up in our dreams. And it starts tonight, by getting to bed early and giving yourself the chance for a solid eight hours of sleep.
- Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, Sleep, Volume 38, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 843–844.