What happens when you sleep? 

There are 2 different stages of sleep, one is Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (Non-REM Sleep) and the other is REM Sleep, which is also known as dream sleep. Non-REM sleep is further divided in 4 different stages, conveniently called stages 1 – 4, it is in the deep stages of 3 and 4 or REM sleep is where the majority of the body replenishment takes place, which is great for the cardiovascular system, metabolism and all of those good things that affect your health and weight.

The most impressive parts of sleep is it is not just about quantity, but it is also about quality, and quality can be as detrimental if you don’t get it as a reduction of total quality of sleep, but having both are still essential. All stages of sleep are important, sleep serves as an absolutely vital function, we wouldn’t be put into different stages of sleep if they weren’t necessary.

What is happening to your body during sleep? 

Once you’re in REM sleep, your cardiovascular system does something strange, it goes through periods of dramatic acceleration and deceleration, and even paralyses your body so that your mind can dream safely. Have you ever kicked or jolted when you were dreaming? If your body has gone through physical activity or performance during the day and that you needed to remember or rehearse an activity, instead of saving them like a hard drive to your mind, you actually sculpt out those memories and improve on them during your sleep, ever heard on the saying “just sleep on it”? Well, it actually works!

Studies have also been done on motor skill learning and that it is critical for physical performance, practice does not necessarily make perfect, but it is practice in light of sleep that makes perfect, because you come back the next day and you’re 20-30% better in terms of your performance, on where you were last in your practice session the day before. So technically, sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting to realise, and is not just performance enhancing, but also improves skill learning, memory and the recuperation aspects of the body.

How would the lack of sleep affect my physical performance?

You could also flip the coin, and say if you had less sleep than the recommended amount, it would be detrimental to your physical exhaustion and cognitive functions, lactic acid builds up much quicker the less you sleep and your ability of your lungs to expire carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen decreases are among some of the things that are affected with less and less sleep.

How does the lack of sleep affect your weight? 

The lack of sleep also affects your eating habits, there’s a process in the body that raises the blood level of a lipid hormone, also known as the hunger hormone, which acts on the brain, making the act of eating more enjoyable, you get hungrier more often and increases your cravings for specific types of food (mostly of the junk variety).

“Sleep deprivation also affects your body’s ability to properly metabolise carbohydrates. As a result, you’ll experience higher blood sugar levels, leading to increased insulin (the hormone that regulates your body’s ability to process food into energy)  and cortisol (the hormone that activates upon waking and conserves energy as fat reserves to use as fuel) production. As your insulin resistance grows, your body doesn’t process fat and sugars as well, instead storing more of it as fat, resulting in weight gain.” [1]

How much sleep should you get?

Somewhere between 7 to 9 hours, once you get below 7 hours of sleep, you can feel objective impairments in your brain and body. You can noticeably see and feel the difference physiologically and correlate with the amount of sleep you have, “individuals who slept less than 5 hours per night were likelier to consume more calories, less water and more carbohydrates overall” [2], and are even at a higher risk of injury. Studies have been taken where athletes across a sports season have been measured based on how much sleep they’ve had against their risk of injury, and has been proven that the less sleep you have, the higher your probability of injury risk. Things like your stability and the basic act of balancing deteriorate with the lack of sleep, it can even affect your mental and emotional condition.

Does the amount of sleep affect you emotionally?

As well as sleep affecting your learning, memory, alertness and your concentration, it especially affects your emotional regulation, sleep is critical for emotional first aid and mental health. “People who are stressed, depressed or anxious have a tougher time falling asleep at night…emotional condition can be alleviated by avoiding high caloric intake and snacking at night, sticking to a strict bedtime and wake schedule, and incorporating relaxation techniques before bed” [3]

So, you see, the power of sleep is incredible for your body and mind! All you have to do is get 7 to 9 hours a day, and you will see your gains in no time!

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1-3: Diet, Sleep And Weight Gain – https://www.tuck.com/dieting-and-sleep
Motor Skill Learning And Performance – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/41038425_Motor_skill_learning_and_performance_A_review_of_influential_factors
Optimizing Sleep To Maximize Performance: Implications And Recommendations For Elite Athletes – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/sms.12703
Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer – https://hbr.org/2006/10/sleep-deficit-the-performance-killer
Sleep Should Be Prescribed: What Those Late Nights Out Could Be Costing You – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/24/why-lack-of-sleep-health-worst-enemy-matthew-walker-why-we-sleep
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