When it comes to the pillars of health: nutrition, exercise, and sleep, how would you rank them? For example, if you’re looking to boost overall health, fitness, and longevity, which do you rank the most important? If you ranked sleep third, you’ve got the order wrong, says Dr. Kirk Parsley, M.D., a globally-recognized health-and-wellness authority and sleep expert. “Sleep literally affects every aspect of your physiology, psychology, or any other ‘-ology’ out there,” Dr. Parsley says.
A Good Night of Sleep: The Health & Wellness Payoffs
Dr. Parsley ticks the following benefits you get from plentiful, robust sleep:
- Immune function recovers and improves. Offense is the best defense when it comes to fighting off a bad cold, flu bug or worse.
- Diseases are fought. Chronic sleep loss is linked to heart disease, obesity, and chronic stress. Consistent quality sleep contributes to prevention.
- Sleep benefits memory. There’s a considerable amount of science describing the role sleep has in forming memories. Cognition as a whole benefits from good sleep. This could translate to a connection between only getting five hours of sleep a night and constantly losing your car keys.
- Hormones are rebalanced. If you work the night shift, you have probably encountered myriad issues related to metabolism and health. The same goes for chronic sleep loss or lack of quality sleep. Essentially, poor sleep undercuts hormonal regulation — hormones being the chemical messengers that coordinate complicated systems like growth, recovery, and energy.
- Muscles grow and tissues are repaired. Exercise and health food are a good combination to spur the growth of muscles and the healing of beat up joints. Sleep is where the bulk of this restoration is performed.
- Your “willpower” tank is filled. The Stanford School of Public Medicine is blunt about what poor sleep shreds your ability to fight off cravings and dig up the motivation you need to get in your daily workout. Lack of sleep impairs discipline and self-control: “Unchecked, the brain overreacts to ordinary, everyday stress and temptations. Studies show that the effects of sleep deprivation on your brain are equivalent to being a little bit drunk!”
In short, it’s during a good night of sleep that your body churns sound nutrition and exercise into health. Sleep also offers a plethora of benefits when it comes to your mental function. You’ll be more motivated, emotionally stable, better able to focus, and will make better decisions.
A Power Routine To Boost Sleep Benefits
To begin improving your sleep, treat yourself like you would a child: Establish a bedtime routine.
Set a time for lights out. Just like you were managing five-year-old. Pick a bedtime and work backward from there through the tips that follow. Stick to the same bedtime nightly for best results.
Just say no to screens. Avoid TV, your laptop, smartphone and the like for at least two hours prior to your bedtime. The blue light from digital media triggers brain chemistry that wakes you up. Think of it this way: We still have the wiring of our cavemen ancestors — who were not wired for much more than moonlight after sunset. Certainly not blue light from screens that stimulates the brain and inhibits the production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
Be sensible with the coffee. This tip borders on the obvious but if you struggle to fall asleep at night take a hard look at how late in the day you sip on coffee, cola, or black tea. The caffeine could easily be messing you up. Experiment with cutting back and cutting yourself off at noon or even before.
Make any evening exercise the low-key variety. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a potent way to improve your nightly dose of sleep. But here’s the rub: A butt-kicking workout in the evening is going to have you too wound up for anything resembling drowsiness. That said, soothing types of exercise like basic yoga can destress you in a sleep enhancing way.
No kidding around when it comes to lights out. Related to the previous tip about screens, make your bedroom dark — as in deep cave dark — for quality sleep. Shroud light-emitting clocks, watches and phones or better yet, stick them in a drawer. Check your curtains for incoming trickles of light. Blackout curtains are the serious investment here.
If you have the desire to slow the aging process with a health-and-wellness lifestyle, then making seven to nine hours a night of good sleep a routine is a must, says Dr. Parsley.
“In my clinical experience, much of what most people think of as normal aging is actually more tied to sleeping habits than one’s chronological age. Forgetting why you walked into a room, continually misplacing things, hurting when you stand-up, getting fatter, weaker, dumber, slower, and colder are the markers of hormonal changes caused by inadequate sleep. Your body isn’t counting years, it is responding to your metabolic and physiologic environment.”