The Power of Sleep

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We try to pretend sleep isn’t a vital part of our function as humans. But just as breathing is required for survival, so too is sleep.

 

The more we uncover how to optimise our lives – our physical, mental, emotional and psychological selves - sleep, time and time again, is the absolute fundamental foundation we need to tune into, respect and improve in order to feel and be our best self.


We bio-hack, take nootropics, drink caffeine, take prescription drugs – both ones that make us more alert and ones that knock us into sleep, we down pre-workouts, teas, herbs, nutraceuticals, supplements, the list is endless of the amount of shit we do to try to get to sleep and have the energy to get through the days. Yet, despite all the research, self-exploration and hacks - real, unadulterated sleep is the MVP.

 

We’re wired and tired, stressed, anxious, we suffer insomnia, we don’t dream, don’t even enter that non-REM, deep sleep, we don’t give our brains the opportunity to clean themselves up, consolidate our memories, repair neural networks, enter the subconscious, brain dump the days external stimuli.

 

We don’t get to power down and recharge and relax.

And it’s showing.

It’s showing through how we communicate, how we go about our day, our mood, how we feel, how we interact, how we make decisions, how we spend our time, how we’re able to perform and experience the days. It impacts everything. The quality of our sleep is something us millennia’s need to wake the fuck up to it’s importance.

Pun intended.


We’ve grown up and exist in a society where burn out, partying all night, defying our circadian rhythms (sleep & wake patterns) are the norm and accepted. 

Blue light’s beaming at us all the time, we stare at our phones before we go to sleep, unable to fall asleep because we’ve pushed back our melatonin production. We’ve got outside light seeping through our windows, we’ve got the days and the next days to-do’s / has happeneds’ replaying in our minds.


But what we need to do, is pay sleep the respect and importance it deserves. We’re not night owls. We’re not nocturnal animals. We try to be, we pretend we are, we label ourselves as that – yet you probably feel like shit most days.

You’re tried, lethargic, brain fogged, moody, depressive, I’ve been this person, I know the days where I don’t get optimal sleep cycles I am that the next day. I feel fucked up. And all I’ve done is had a shit sleep. Yet it fucks my whole day up, and now we’re accruing “sleep debt”. And it fucking blows my mind to think that many of us live like this. Day in and day out. And wonder why we’re not healthy. Not energetic, not feeling dope. And we’re young as fuck. We’re meant to have vitality and feel amazing and awesome, and instead we’re throwing money at supplements and pills to try to hack ourselves out of these feels.


So step 1 is prioritising sleep.


 Wanting to lose weight?

Sleep deprivation is linked to cravings, as our brain sees a reduction in glucose uptake when we’re tired, and our willpower can’t overpower biology. Brain scans showing sleep deprived individuals to have more activity in their amygdala – our primitive fear response area in the brain, and we know when we’re tired our pre-frontal cortex goes offline.

And this equates to choosing to eat sugary, processed food, which in turn, fuels the unstable, unfavourable cycle of bad eating and bad lifestyle / sleeping habits. We’re always reaching for a “quick sugar fix” when we’re tried, because we’re in a survival mode.

Sleep deprivation also increases your insulin resistance and blood glucose levels, which is a bad thing. And causes obesity, inflammation and type 2 diabetes.

Not only that, but when we’re sleeping optimally, our appetite is regulated. We’re not running uphill against our hunger, with our willpower being tested to the max.

Also, stress fat is a thing. And it’s sitting on us, usually around our tummy, and we find it hard to move. Optimising sleep means re-regulating our cortisol pattern, and if you don’t know what cortisol is, stop living under a reality TV rock and go find out (I explain it here). Decreasing our chronic exposure of cortisol, will reduce the inflammatory effect, enabling us to be less stressed and able to shift the weight.

So, getting that good sleep will help us to make better choices and not feel bad about it the next day, and help decrease stress fat.  

Shawn Stevenson’s podcast “The Model Health Podcast” explores how sleep is the #1 factor to losing weight, and keeping it off. With its link to hormones, gut health and overall wellbeing, it may be the key handbreak that’s holding you back from getting the results you deserve.


Want to gain muscle?

Data from the journal of Brain Research found that sleep depravation reduced testosterone production in men, because testosterone is produced at night time. Also my theory why morning sex is so bomb haha.

And with testosterone being VERY helpful for building lean muscle and just looking good naked, makes sense to optimise it.   

Our body releases growth hormone during sleep, so when we’re sleeping adequately, we’re able to recover better. And thus we’re able to improve, adapt, mend our muscle fibres, and go in the next day and push even more, go further, go faster, hit positions you couldn’t previously and have better performance.

PS what do growing babies do lots of? Sleep. Coz we grow in our sleep.


Wanting to have more sex? (the answers always yes)

 Lack of sleep leads to a lowered libido in both men and women, probably due to the fact that testosterones lowered, we’re tired, in survival mode, stressed (probably why we’re not sleeping, in any form).

And if you didn’t know the benefits of having sex, then I’ll have to do an episode on it. COZ THERE’S SO MANY ITS SO GOOD.

Sleep deprivation is also linked to infertility, in both men and women. So to be fertile turtles for when we wanna pop out babies, sleeps important. And sleep and sex are like PB and a spoon. They go together so perfectly.


Wanting to have better skin and decrease ageing?

 Most of us have probably heard of telomeres? They’re essentially like the plastic ends of your shoelaces that stop them from unwravelling. But for our DNA. Shorter telomeres are associated with ageing. And guess what triggers accelerated loss of our telomere lengths? LACK OF SLEEP.

Your mum wasn’t lying about getting your beauty sleep. Sleep, along with diet, movement and decreasing stressors, can reverse telomere shortening and help preserve our juicy DNA.


Wanting to improve your mood?

We all know serotonin’s predominantly made in our gut, but guess what triggers the production of serotonin - is the amount of sunlight you get (along with diet and movements). When we get exposed to the early morning sun, serotonin is triggered to be produced via light receptors in our eyes, which sends a message to our pineal gland. And this not only makes us feel better, but also helps to regulate our sleep / wake cycle (circadian rhythm), and gets us into an optimal pattern of wakefulness and sleep.

Serotonin = contentment and relaxation.

And serotonin converts into melatonin – our sleep hormone (which blue light also blocks).

Sleep interferes with our dopamine levels, and dopamine = motivation & alertness.

Poor sleep and insomnia are also directly linked to anxiety and depression. Sleep yourself into mental wellness.


 Wanting to make better decisions?

Being sleep deprived actually sees a reduction in glucose uptake (12-14%) by the pre-frontal cortex and parietal lobe, both of which are in contro of making decisions, social control, ideas, and determining the difference between what’s right and wrong. This sees willpower and decision making abilities deteriorate.

A study shows that individuals who were sleep deprived took 14% longer to complete a tasks and made 20% more errors, when completing the same task after a good nights sleep.

Being sleep deprived depresses our brain function.

When we don’t get enough sleep, our brain cells irreversibly die. Meaning we’re not able to make connections, lose attention span, memory abilities,

Sleep almost doubles our ability to recall and remember previously recalled information and reorganises and strengthens connections between neurons.

We need sleep to make better decisions, have a stronger willpower and be able to ake judgement calls that will launch us forward, not backwards.


Wanting to have more energy?

 To be able to create more cellular, emotional and mental energy we need to recharge our batteries. Individuals who tend to have more energy, tend to look after themselves more, fuel themselves with better nutrients, have better lifestyle practices and ensure adequate sleep for optimal functioning. Sleep like a champion. Numerous GOAT’s praise sleep as an integral part of their performance, like Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, Usain Bolt and LeBron and Federer sleep for 12 hours a night. Sheesh.


Wanting to recover quicker?

 With HGH releasing when we’re asleep and the majority of our repair occurring when we’re resting, whether we’re wanting to recover from a night out, a gym session or a bug, sleeping is the secret sauce for that.

When energy isn’t used up doing digestion, taking in external stimulus, processing information, etc etc, it becomes available to clean up our body and repair what needs to be. Sleep better, feel better.


 Wanting to diminish brain fog?

 Brain fog occurs not only from eating refined carbs and sugars consistently, but also from a lack of sleep.

When we sleep, we mop up the toxins that can cause inflammation in the brain, along with the cellular by products that decrease our neuronal firing and circuitry. We all know how shit we cognitively feel when we haven’t gotten enough sleep. Its like you can’t think properly, cant speak properly, lose sentances, can’t focus, you’re like a big marshmellow. And that’s not optimal.


Wanting to not be fatigued and run down?

 Bodily and mental fatigue is usually a result of a wear down of our adrenals, our Jing’s leaking and we can end up with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia at the extreme. To paraphrase my fave, Brene Brown, in a culture that celebrates exhaustion, it takes courage to say yes to rest. It’s seen as lazy. Yet, I feel like the sleep revolution that’s brewing and has somewhat arrived, is shining light on the key importance of rest, recovery and play as key pillars to our health. So, cop the opinions of those who don’t understand the importance of sleep and do you boo boo.

I’d rather be called a little bitch and wake up feeling fresh af, ready to kill the day, than fatigued, tired and “just wanting to get through the day”. Coz that feel and behaviour accumulates and becomes your life. And to those of who reading this who ain’t woke, GET WOKE. Don’t be one of those “same shit different day” “I wish it was 5 already” people. FUCKING CHANGE YA LIFE.

 


Wanting to save money?

 Go to sleep haha. Don’t be sucked in by excellent marketing schemes selling you the newest super charged coffee alternative / mix / pre workout / whatever the fuck you need to get you up and a human throughout the day. This also includes supplements, on the opposite end of the spectrum, like phenibut, 5-HTP, and sleep formulas and herbs like kava and valerian. Why aren’t you sleeping? Lets address that. Sleep is natural, it comes naturally to us and the reasons for having interrupted or non-existent sleep is what you need be throwing your money at to address. Not a bandaid solution.


Wanting to not live for the weekend, holidays and sleep in’s?

 Sleep debt. Turns out it’s a thing. We rack up sleep debt each shitty night of sleep we have, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t get it back by sleeping in on the weekend. Once its gone, its gone. All we can do is set ourselves up to be sleeping winners for the next night.

Side note, having a sleep routine is the good shit. So aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each night, including weekends.


Wanting to not be a zombie until that caffeine hit?

I ain’t on no pedastool preaching, I’m fucking in the trenches with ya’ll. I LOVE COFFEE. I love how it tastes, I love how it smells, how it makes me feel, all of it. It’s so damn rich in antioxidants and polyphenols and yeah. I definitely, go through phases we’re I’m like “fuck me I need coffee”. I also go through phases where I don’t need it, at all, and just drink it because it tastes delicious and I love it.

I feel like we want to be the PT 2 of that story. Being PT1 is going to happen and come, but if we spend more time optimising sleep and being on the PT2, I feel we’ll be better people J


 Wanting to detox and move wastes out the body?

 This is a biggie. Our body makes so much endogenous (internal) toxins and wastes as by products of every day living. We team that with the exogenous toxins we face, pollution, plastics, additives, ingredients in cosmetics, shampoos, moisturisers, lubes, nail polishs, hair waxes, sprays, etc etc. And all that adds to our toxic load. When our toxic load is too overwhelming for our detoxification system, aka our liver, kidneys, skin and gut we suffer.

Sleep is a peak time for detoxification. We’re able to move things through the body, break down toxins and eliminate them or store them. Especially in our brains as I’ve talked about. So sleeping helps us to detox, hence why we get up in the morning and always need to pee or poop. Bye bye toxins.  


 Want to decrease the chances of developing Alzheimers, dementia or cancer?

Our glymphatic system (which runs through our brain) works when we sleep to clean up cellular and metabolic wastes, which are outputs of every day cognitive activities. When we don’t get enough good sleep, these wastes build up.

Our glymphatic system is 10x more active when we’re asleep then when we’re awake. When we sleep, our brain cells shrink, enabling the (my favourite word) cerebrospinal fluid, to flow through and clean up toxic wastes.

With toxic build up being directly linked and associated with Alzheimers disease, sleeping can prevent developing such a horrible disease, and prevent us from losing our memories.

A lack of sleep’s been shown to change the expression of our genes that turn on inflammation. These changes were shown to happen just after 1 week of not getting enough sleep. Even though we’re a few decades off even have to consider Alzheimers, brain degeneration occurs even when we’re young. And the brain cells we kill, cant regenerate. And tech may evolve and biotech to build them, or something awesome and crazy we’ll discover or make to grow new ones, but until then, prevention is the best medicine.


Want to not get sick all the time?

What’s the one thing we’re compelled to do by our bodies when we’re sick? REST. We stay in bed. We sleep, nap, chill. That’s how we heal. That’s how we fight, and reboot our system. Bed is medicine. It’s like a computer, when it has a bug, we hold down those buttons and reset it. Give it a few seconds to rest and regather itself and then off we go. Our bodies are similar.

For those millennials who have a compromised immune system, meaning you’re always feeling under the weather, sniffles, get the flu/cold every year, we need to strengthen your immune system. And as much as I am a huge supporter and fan of immune boosting herbs, foods and vitamins, sleep is the foundation. No amount of zinc or vitamin C can do what sleep can do for our immune system.

Sleepiness is a symptom of sickness for a reason. Like our bodies smarter than we are. Codral isn’t the answer. Sleep is. Fuck work off and go home and rest.


Want to be more creative?

Sleeping and dreaming helps us to connect to our subconscious, and escape our real life world for a few hours. Which is awesome. And magical. And fun. Dreams and lucid dreaming in particular, have the power to change our lives, receive guidance, answers, give us ideas, stir up feelings and encourage us to take action in the conscious world. Enriching the human experience even further.


Want to have better ideas and better execution?

 Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity, its not dead space or a time of nothing. Although, that is part of its power, like meditation, the conscious mind gets to go on cruise control and not be in charge.

What better than to prepare yourself for a presentation or event, or exam or whatever, than by visualising it and playing it out in your head? I know before me exams or if I have a talk, before I go to sleep, I just run over things in my mind, and end up falling asleep, and then magically through the conscious /subconscious link, I wake up and go into it and like those ideas / lines / answers are so visibly in my mind, I can easily just access them and live them into fruition.


Our brain cells have created the entire world as we know it. So we need to take care of them.

Implementing sleep optimising principles and actions are important for us millennials because we’re fucked. We’ve got junk and blue light always beaming at us, we’ve got toxins and environmental pollutants inescapeable, we’ve eaten inflammatory shit foods for the past 20 years that have hurt us, we’re insomniacs and I’m like um hello can we celebrate sleep and make it cool and sexy?

Sleeps a natural state we’ve evolved to need, and for good fucking reason. So get off your high horse, of “no sleep” and realise all you’re doing is decreasing your efficiency and legendary-ness.

We need to change the way we see sleep, rather than a burden or an obstacle of something we need to hack, see it as a treat. And learn to love and look forward to sleep. Congratulate yourself for crawling into bed and giving yourself the sleep you NEED to be your best.

 

Whether that’s 4 sleep cycles a night (a sleep cycle = 90 minutes, so that’s 6 hours) or if you feel and be your best at 5-6 sleep cycles (7.5-9 hours).

If you’re wanting to shift your sleep cycle, whether extending or decreasing, do it in 30 min increments. Extend or decrease by 30 minutes for a few nights, then another 30 etc etc, until you’re at the space you want to be.

 

Super charging and optimising our sleep starts with personal sustainability. We’re the only ones who are able to put in place action to optimise our sleep.

 


Stevenson, S 2016, Sleep Smarter, 1st ed, Rodale Books, Pennsylvania.

Huffington, A 2017, The Sleep Revolution, Penguin Random House. 

Huffington Post 2014, "These famous athletes rely on sleep for peak performance", https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/these-famous-athletes-rely-on-sleep_n_5659345#gallery/359368/1