The Secret to Improving Your Immune Health, Athletic Performance, Cognition (and So Much More)

Brad Gilden, PT, DPT, CFMT, FAAOMPT, FFMT, CSCS

There is a direct correlation between sleep and human performance. Not only does consistent restorative sleep improve athletic performance, it also enhances your cognitive abilities for problem solving, boosts memory, increases the strength of your immune system, increases libido, improves mood, promotes weight loss, sharpens your balance and so much more. There are three primary objectives that humans require for survival. 1. Food, 2. Protection from predation 3. Reproduction Humans spend 1/3 of their life, roughly 20+ years horizontally in bed. During this time, we can’t forage or hunt for food, we can’t protect ourselves from would be attackers and we certainly are unable to search for a mate to produce offspring. If sleep weren’t vitally important for our survival, we would not risk being unprotected for so many hours every single night. This is not exclusive to humans, every living organism from mammals to insects and from fish to birds sleep every night. (Excluding college students during some point in their career).

So what do we know about sleep that is so vital to our health and performance?

We know that every night our body should cycle through 4 stages of sleep. It is absolutely imperative that we spend at least half our sleep in the deeper stages of sleep. NREM 3 and REM Sleep. NREM 3 also known as Slow Wave Sleep is when our body becomes paralyzed (yes you read that correctly, paralyzed) and we produce growth hormone. It is when children grow and develop and adults heal from injuries and just plain old wear and tear. REM Sleep is when our brain filters out harmful proteins that can cause neurogenic diseases such as Alzheimer’s in addition to dreaming which helps sort through memories, enhancing problem solving capabilities.

So how do I know if I’m getting restorative sleep?

Easy, when you wake up in the morning ask yourself this one question. Am I refreshed? If you wake (preferably without the need for an alarm), and you jump out of bed ready to tackle the day, your sleep has been restored. However, if you’ve been in bed “sleeping” for 10 hours yet feel exhausted and you have to drag yourself out of bed, your joints are achey and there are cobwebs blocking your brain from clear thoughts, your sleep has not been restorative. Chances are, your sleep was interrupted and you did not cycle through the deeper stages of sleep. You will feel lethargic, delayed cognitively, easily irritated and your performance across all aspects of life will be subpar.

 

So how do I maximize my potential to have restorative sleep?

1. Prioritize sleep, make sure you give yourself at least 8 hours in bed. If it takes you 1/2 hour to fall asleep, then give yourself 8.5 hours in bed.

2. Your bedroom should be used for two things. 1. Sleep 2. Sex – that is it. (Sorry, take the TV out of the room).

3. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool. (body temp needs to drop to fall asleep) 65-68 Fahrenheit area ideal temps

4. Eliminate night caps – Alcohol inhibits your ability to get into deeper stages of sleep.

5. Eliminate Blue Light (electronics screens) at least two hours before bed – this stops melatonin production which is important for falling and staying asleep.

6. Avoid eating at least 2 hours before bed – if your digesting food, your body temperature is not dropping and you stay awake.

7. Hydrate well throughout the day with water, but minimize late night water as this could wake you to use the bathroom.

8. If having difficulty falling asleep, consider starting a mindfulness meditation practice to help clear your mind and reduce stress/tension.

9. Exercise daily, but not 3 hours prior to bed. This will increase body temperature making it difficult to fall asleep.

10. Spend the time to research and find the perfect mattress and pillow – You spend 10x more time in bed then in your car. How much are you spending on your car?

 

If you follow these ten steps and are still having trouble getting quality sleep, there may be another underlying condition that is preventing you from achieving restorative sleep. I would recommend setting up a Sleep Evaluation at Elite Health Services to further investigate what is preventing you from living your best life.

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