Sleep is big talking point at the moment thanks to a certain guy name Joe Rogan, who’s podcast with sleep expert Matthew Walker reached millions of people earlier this year. Go check that podcast out if you’ve not listened!
I wrote the below article two years ago when I guest wrote for a fitness website in the UK and was really happy to hear sleep was finally getting the attention it deserves!
As you’ll read below, I briefly explain what we know about the effect of poor sleep, some quick fixes and hopefully a longer-term fix.
For more info though read Matthew Walkers book Why We Sleep.
The sleep goal of 7 – 8 hours is suggested to be the sweet spot! Reason being is less than 6 hours per night for 4 or more consecutive nights has been shown to impair cognitive performance and mood, glucose metabolism, appetite regulation and immune function (1).
The idea behind catching up on sleep during weekends may not be the saving grace either. One study (2), looking at sleep debt had participants keep a 7-day sleep diary from which a weekday sleep debt was calculated. Obesity status (via height and weight), central adiposity (stomach fat) and fasting blood samples were measured at baseline. The study showed at baseline that those who had a weekday sleep debt were 72% more likely to be obese than those who had no weekday sleep debt, by 6 months, weekday sleep debt was significantly associated with obesity and insulin resistance and by 12 months, for every 30 minutes of weekday sleep debt at baseline, the risk of obesity was increased to 17% and insulin resistance was significantly increased by 39%.
Now this doesn’t tell us everything and having a week of poor sleep isn’t going to instantly make you obese, it also doesn’t explain whether it is the lack of sleep causing obesity and insulin resistance, it may be that factors effecting poor sleep also influence weight gain and insulin resistance. Factors such as poor diet, environment, late night TV and computer viewing…
Fixing the problem.
A touchy subject as always, I will keep diet advise for sleeping brief. The evidence from studies around diet including timing and sleep isn’t clear and seems very much to be down to the individual. Due to this it’s clear there is no one set way or diet to aid sleep. However, stating the obvious here that having a nutrient rich diet with little to no synthetic sugars and chemicals in is beneficial for all round life, which will help you sleep… I would urge you to read a little further into benefits of having ‘eating windows’ which Dr Rhonda Patrick has recently opened my eyes too. The basis of which we, as in humans, are designed to search for and eat food when it is light outside and use the nutrients from the food we have eaten in the day to repair metabolic damage when resting or sleeping/fasting when it is dark (3).
This cycle of light and dark to the body is known as circadian rhythm which anticipates and adapts to daily environmental changes to optimise behaviour according to time of day and temporally partitions incompatible physiological processes.
Melatonin is a hormone released from the pineal gland that transmits information regarding the light–dark cycle and has a sleep promoting effect. Retinal light exposure results in a suppression of melatonin, which in the morning is fine as we want to be awake, but in the night suppressing melatonin through a particularly stimulating light called blue light emitted from TV’s, computers, phones and most artificial lights can influence the sleep–wake cycle. Therefore, reducing or eliminating blue light before bed is a good idea! You can buy blue light blocking glasses (go for 90% blue light blocking lenses or higher), red LED bulbs and utilise blue light reducing apps.
Something else to try is a 5-HTP supplement, which is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin controls most brain functions and can control sleep patterns because it is an intermediary product in the production of melatonin (4).
Magnesium bisglycinate can also be a big hitter for individuals who struggle to stay asleep (5,6), especially when deficient in the mineral which is more common than you may think, especially if you exercise (6) or lack it in your diet. Any magnesium won’t do though and unfortunately a lot of bad products sit on the shelves, magnesium bisglycinate is a highly absorbable form of a mineral due to buffering effect of glycine allowing greater uptake.
Developing a sleep inducing routine is an excellent way of telling your body it’s time to sleep. From the information you have now gained it’s easy to do! It may need tweaking over a few days or so and you may not have to or be able to use it every night, but if getting off to and maintaining deep sleep is something you struggle with it’s worth having. I wrote an article on my routine called The first and last 30 which you can find here.
Little extras to help!
- Room temperature 18-20°C
- Drop of Lavender oil on your pillow.
- Ear plugs if living in a noisy area to minimise noise.
- Black out blinds to stop external light.
By: Tom Walker, Endurance Coach
- Halson S. Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Medicine. 2014;44(S1):13-23.
- Losing 30 minutes of sleep per day may promote weight gain and adversely affect blood sugar control [Internet]. ScienceDaily. 2017 [cited 8 March 2017]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150306082541.htm
- Potter GDM, Cade JE, Grant PJ, Hardie LJ. Nutrition and the circadian system. British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press; 2016;116(3):434–42.
- Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutrition Research. 2012;32(5):309-319
- Behnood Abbasi B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial [Internet]. PubMed Central (PMC). 2017 [cited 8 March 2017]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/#ref56
- McDonald RKeen C. Iron, Zinc and Magnesium Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Sports Medicine. 1988;5(3):171-184.