With our busy schedules, we think we have to shorten our sleep time to fit everything in. Too often, this is the case for teachers doing outside-of-school lesson plan prep and endless grading.
Along with diet and exercise, sleep is one of the three foundational pillars of mental and physical health. Without adequate sleep, diet and exercise suffer and mental and physical health are impacted.
The Intertwined Three Pillars of Good Health
The energy consumption from exercise fatigues the body. Exercise also releases endorphins that help reduce stress. Both the physical and the mental aspects of exercise promote better sleep.
Eating nutritious food provides the nutrients required for good health. Reducing fats, sugars, and high acid foods promotes proper digestion to keep sleep disruption issues like gas and indigestion in check.
Sleep, in turn, restores the mind and body to enhance proper diet choices and increase mental cognition and physical fitness.
Effects of Sleep on Diet
Insufficient sleep may increase hunger hormones while decreasing satiety hormones. When you feel hungry, you eat more than is good for your health.
Effects of Sleep on Mental Performance
The mind processes information and forms memories during sleep. Numerous acute sleep studies show going a night without sleep negatively impacts working memory and information processing.
On the other hand, one study indicates working memory is improved with sleep after testing in a rotating 24-hour schedule. Participants trained in the evening and then tested after a full night's sleep performed almost 50% better than those trained in the morning and tested the same evening.
Our sleep habits accumulate over time. In a recent statement, the National Institute of Health warns getting less than six hours of sleep every night may increase the chance of developing dementia later in life by as much as thirty percent.
Effects of Sleep on Exercise Performance
Lack of sleep is tied to reduced insulin sensitivity. With reduced insulin sensitivity, muscle glycogen is not adequately replenished and the risk of developing type II diabetes is increased.
It is during sleep that muscle repair happens. Too little sleep decreases the body’s ability to repair exercise-induced microtears. In Stage 3 sleep, we build muscle.
Sleep Deprivation and Muscles Issues
Sleep deprivation affects overall fitness. Chronic lack of sleep increases catabolic rates and is associated with muscle mass loss. A study involving college-aged students found one night without sleep reduced muscle protein synthesis rates by up to 18%. Besides reduced protein synthesis, researchers noted decreased testosterone levels and increased stress-related cortisol levels.
Sleep Quality vs Quantity
How restorative sleep is, determines the sleep quality. Sleep quantity is simply the number of hours of sleep per night.
If you have restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or you’ve developed irregular sleep patterns due to shift work or anxiety, you may spend insufficient time in each of the four stages of sleep for optimal sleep quality.
The four stages of sleep include one REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage and three non-REM stages. Humans cycle through the four stages of sleep somewhere between four to six times a night.
Stage 1 – Non-REM (N1)
In Stage 1 sleep, you are nodding off. Stage 1 lasts for 1-5 minutes while the body and mind relax. Twitching is normal.
Stage 2 – Non-REM (N2)
Stage 2 sleep lasts 10-60 minutes per cycle. Heart rate and breathing slow, muscles relax, and temperature drops.
Stage 3- Deep Sleep or Non-REM (N3)
Deep sleep lasts only 20-40 minutes per cycle. Deep Sleep is the most restorative stage of sleep. Heart rate and breathing drop even further. Muscles are completely relaxed.
More time is spent in Deep Sleep during the earlier part of the night. During Deep Sleep human growth hormone is secreted, stimulating muscle growth.
Stage 4 – REM Sleep
REM sleep lasts 10-60 minutes per cycle. More time is spent in REM Sleep closer towards morning. In REM Sleep, the brain operates much like when it is awake which causes vivid dreams. However, almost all muscles are paralyzed or completely relaxed.
8Researchers believe REM sleep is when new material is processed, facts are committed to memory, and we remember how to do things (muscle memory).
How much sleep do you need?
For adults, the National Institute of Health recommends 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Improving your sleep will enhance your mental and physical performance.
10 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
- Develop a sleep schedule. Keep your schedule even on the weekends. Your body clock is thrown off if you stay up late on weekend nights.
- Follow a set sleep time routine. Do things to relax and clear your mind.
- A comfortable pillow and bed are worth the money.
- Associate bed with sleep. Do not use electronics, watch TV, or read in bed.
- Reduce noise and light as much as possible, including blue light. A white noise machine may be helpful.
- Sleep with the thermostat between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Reduce indigestion. Do not overeat.
- Limit caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
- Try Meditation. Meditating in the morning may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- If you still need help nodding off, try natural sleep aid supplements like melatonin and/or amino acids like GABA, L-theanine, or glycine.
Improve your health, cognitive efficiency, and teaching performance by regularly getting a good night's sleep. You will be amazed at how more productive you are when you sleep.
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Jae O. Haroldsen
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