Ah, sleep. We need it, we love it, we crave it, we promise ourselves that we’ll get more of it, and yet quality sleep remains out of reach for so many of us these days. Some do it to themselves, staying up late to watch bad TV (or great TV, which is more understandable) and browse blogs (health blogs that, ironically enough, often write about the importance of sleep). There, the answer is simple: stop staying up. Resisting technology’s allure might be difficult, but at least it’s completely within your power to do so. Others have it tougher. Shift workers, for example, can’t just up and switch careers or get a new schedule after reading a blog. Since this is not the “original affluent society,” we have to work to pay for food, shelter, and other basic necessities, and we have to take what we can get.
Have you defeated the fearsome sleep beast that plagues so many of your countrymen?
You might think you have – after all, you installed blackout curtains in the bedroom, disconnected every LED-light before hitting the sack, peer through slitted eyes at a F.lux-altered computer screen, get seven to nine hours a night, and make getting to bed early a priority – but if you’re still waking up groggy, foggy-headed, and in desperate, immediate need of a caffeine infusion… is the beast really slain or has it merely assumed another form? You could even be displaying zero outward signs of sleep deprivation, like insulin resistance, fat gain, or a zombie-like disposition at midday, instead continuing to lean out and enjoy steady energy throughout the workday (once you snap out of the morning doldrums), but that waking grogginess cannot be ignored. It’s annoying and it’s ruining what should be a serene moment of quiet energy before the madness of the day descends. You don’t want to be stumbling through the kitchen for the coffee maker; you want to spring out of bed and greet the morning like the dear old friend it should be.
Okay, so how do you do it? How do you really defeat the sleep beast once and for all?
Ah, sleep. Nothing like a good dose of the stuff, right? Losing even a single wink of your usual forty (or an hour, as the case may be) is enough to throw off an entire day.
But do you know who might love sleep more than anyone or anything? Our livers.
Yes, livers. Those fleshy multivitamins with an apparent propensity for fat accumulation function best on a good night’s sleep. New research is revealing exactly why shift workers and other chronically sleep deprived members of mankind tend to have problems with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and all the other popular features of metabolic syndrome: their livers aren’t processing fat efficiently, instead allowing fat to accumulate.
Conventional Wisdom always gets an eyebrow raise from me. I can’t help it. Eventually, I take an honest look at whatever the experts are saying, but skepticism gets first dibs. I’d call it an instinct if it weren’t learned behavior from years of being burned. For example, I once took to task the most pervasive “truth” around: that everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water a day or risk kidney failure, toxin buildup, bladder cancer, and debilitating constipation. It was pretty easy to do.
But it’s not all BS. Smoking is bad for you, for example. See? I can admit when they’re right!
Like last week’s stress post, I’m not going to delve deeply into why sleep is so important. I’ve done it before, and doing so again would simply take up valuable space that’s better used for action items – for actual sleep hacks that you can put into effect immediately. Just rest assured that it’s crucial to health, longevity, immunity, recovery from training, cognition, aptitude while operating vehicles and/or machinery, insulin sensitivity and, well, do I need to go on? If you want to enjoy your limited time on the planet, you better get your Zs.
Despite the long list of health benefits, sleep is one of those things that people skimp on, whether by necessity (work, traffic, kids, busy schedules) or because they figure they can simply “power through it”. The supposed ability to lower our sleep requirements through sheer will is pervasive. “Tough it out” is a popular slogan, as are “Sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Then there’s Virgil’s “Death’s brother, Sleep” (or, alternately, Nas’ “Sleep is the cousin of death” – thanks, Worker Bee). What we end up with, then, is a nation of overworked, overly fatigued men, women, students, and even children shambling through days dotted with Starbucks Ventis and ridiculous energy drinks. If you count yourself among their numbers, or perhaps you just want better sleep, read on for some tips and tricks:
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