Sleep: The Power of One More Hour
Earlier this month many of us enjoyed a rare and luxurious extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time ending. Aside from feeling more rested the next morning, studies have found significant health benefits associated with adding just one extra hour of sleep to your regularly hectic life. The Huffington Post released an article November 3 highlighting several advantages.
“The key to training may be more sleep, not more practice,” the HP reported. Research has found that adding just one hour of sleep can “boost your athletic performance—and an extra hour on a regular basis is even better.”
Learning and Memory
Experts recommend getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This allows for adequate REM sleep (or rapid eye movement), which is the “phase of slumber most closely linked to learning and memory,” HP reported.
Regular, sufficient sleep may also aid muscle memory. This is important for those athletes learning a new skill or task.
Blood Pressure and Hypertension
If you’re starting to think that a little extra shut-eye sounds like a good investment in your training, you are right. A 2008 study showed us that adults who slept for the recommended amount had a “33 percent lower chance of having calcium deposits build up in their arteries than adults who slept for only six hours a night,” HP shared.
This boost to your heart health can be compared to dropping your systolic blood pressure by 16 points. Wow! Another study the HP article included reported that short-sleeping people with hypertension or prehypertension who then enjoyed an extra hour of sleep “significantly decreased their blood pressure levels.”
One intriguing experiment divided a small pool of volunteers into two groups. Over the following seven days one group slept for just six and a half hours. The other group enjoyed seven and a half hours of sleep. The second week of the study, the two groups switched schedules and researchers administered blood tests and a number of cognitive tasks.
“The blood tests revealed that around 500 genes were switched on or off by that additional hour of shut-eye—for the better. The changes in genetic expression due to extra sleep helped protect against diabetes, cancer, inflammation and stress,” HP reported.
From the time we are young, sleep is sacrificed for productivity, entertainment, education, and a host of other priorities. We embrace the habit of late night hangouts with friends, early morning practices, all-nighters cramming for college exams, and then stress-induced insomnia as we navigate through our careers.
When it comes to training physically for an upcoming race or competition, it is common sense for players and coaches to know the importance of good sleep—but so many times it is the first thing sacrificed. Study author Cheri Mah explained, “Healthy and adequate sleep hasn’t had the same focus as other areas of training for peak performance.”
While an extra hour of sleep can help boost your performance, aid muscle memory, improve learning, decrease hypertension, and unlock cancer-fighting genetics—losing sleep has an even longer list of disadvantages.
Writer Florence Cardinal explored sleep deprivation and its specific effects on athletes.
She found that an athlete’s glucose metabolism can be slowed by 30 to 40 percent. This leads to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to “memory impairment, age-related insulin resistance, and impaired recovery in athletes,” Cardinal reported.
She referenced a finding that after losing just one week of adequate sleep, glucose levels in young healthy males were no longer normal. In fact, they showed a “rapid deterioration of the body’s functions” comparative to glucose management found in the elderly. “Glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the main sources of energy for athletes. Being able to store glucose in muscle and the liver is particularly important for endurance athletes.”
Tissue Repair and Growth
Cardinal cautioned athletes: “Elevated levels of cortisol may interfere with tissue repair and growth. Over time, this could prevent an athlete from responding to heavy training and lead to overtraining and injury.”
Sleep deprivation certainly has some scary effects on an athlete’s performance. But what about other aspects of our lives? In an article titled “Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think” by Michael J. Breus, PhD, we learn that “Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%,” Breus reported.
One study found that “reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease.” With more than 85 sleep disorders identified by the American Sleep Disorders Association, we learn that as many as 70 million Americans are affected. “Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol,” Breus said.
Weight Gain and Fatigue
The Mayo Clinic released an article titled “Sleep deprivation: Know the Risks”. They explained that sleeping less than five hours a night also seriously affects your physical performance. Hormones that regulate hunger and stimulate appetite are influenced by sleep deprivation and can lead to weight gain and fatigue.
Sleep deprivation can also impair memory and cognitive processing—essentially your ability to think and process information is seriously debilitated. This excessive sleepiness is responsible for a “twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.” And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that every year “drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities,” Breus reported.
The Mayo Clinic also included research showing that inadequate sleep can lead to irritability, decreased libido, poor judgment, and decreased performance of complex mental tasks.
And I’m sure it goes without saying that insufficient sleep can wreck havoc on your immune system. You’re much more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus. And your recovery time is much longer if you do get sick.
Long term untreated sleep disorders can also lead to serious medical illnesses like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems, Attention Deficit Disorder, fetal and childhood growth retardation, and mental impairment, the Mayo Clinic reported.
Ok, ok. You may be thinking an earlier bedtime is definitely in order. We’ve taken a quick glance at the benefits of increasing your sleep time—even if it’s just one extra hour a day. We also looked at the significant disadvantages of losing sleep. Luckily, the Mayo Clinic offers some advice for overcoming fatigue caused by sleep deprivation.
Start with sleeping in until you wake up on your own. Do this for several days in a row to get a better idea of how much sleep your body wants and needs.
Another option is to take strategic short naps that are less than 30 minutes. And if you know you have a late night coming up, grab some extra pillow time beforehand to help combat the negative impact on your alertness and performance.
Many of us are tempted to cope with caffeine, prescription medications, or physical activity. But it is important to realize “there’s no substitute for getting enough quality sleep.”
So whether you are an athlete trying to get the edge on performance, or a regular Joe trying to increase productivity in your life, make a plan to get some extra hibernation time as we move toward shorter daylight hours. It is so worth it.