Sleep – The Basics

If you’re getting anything less than 6-8hrs of slumber per night, you’re doing yourself a great disservice! Research has been piling up showing the detrimental effects of inadequate amounts of sleep.

Fact is, the average person gets less than 6 hours of sleep, and we simply need more! Sleep is crucial for so many things – from hormonal balance to muscle recovery, and even muscle *growth*. Not allowing our body the time it needs to optimally go through its recuperative processes is going to stunt your progress.

Recently an ESPN article was published that shed light on the horrendous schedules that NBA players have to abide by and the impact that a) sleeping so little, b) changing time zones so frequently, and c) having to perform to an Elite level multiple times per week, that ultimately ends up with compounding negative effects.

In fact, in acknowledgement of this / a bid to combat the effects, some players take their sleep very seriously, and so, have come up with regimented routines to prioritize this very aspect of their recovery.

Rest & recovery isn’t just for “athletes” though; anyone whose body goes through varying degrees of stress throughout the day (physical and/or mental) is going to need time to recharge, and this should be *daily*.

One of the things we should understand is something called the Circadian Rhythm.

The basic premise of Circadian Rhythms is that they are *90*-minute cycles that your body goes through as you sleep. Throughout the hour and a half your body goes from an awake state, to being asleep, then [ideally] into deep sleep – approximately midway through the cycle, then you go back to a “standard” sleep, and finally back to near waking. (If “charted”, it would look like an inverted bell curve, with the top end representing your most “awake” state, and the bottom end being the “deep sleep” range).

Your body will undulate between these various stages throughout the night, and should repeat this cycle multiple times; though often sleep-deprived individuals may struggle to reach the deep sleep stage.

These cycles are directly linked to your hormone levels, and as melatonin is at its highest, so too should your sleep be at its “deepest”; conversely, low levels of melatonin will leave you in a state that is more readily woken up.

This is why we end up so groggy when we get woken up in the middle of a deep sleep phase – our melatonin is still elevated, and so, our body still wants to sleep, but now we’re awake and the body has to calibrate its hormone levels and adjust accordingly, and this “adjustment” can feel very energy-sapping! It’s like you’re zipping up the highway doing 80mph and suddenly pull a handbrake turn and whip through a 180 and start battling back through traffic… (Okay, not quite, but you get the idea!).

So, what have we learned?

The body likes to operate in sleep cycles known as Circadian Rhythms, and these last approximately 90mins.

Optimal sleep should involve a level of sleep known as “deep sleep” – this can be reached with adequate levels of melatonin and a good sleep environment; by this I mean the literal space within which you sleep, but also, your routine when winding down for the night (which I’ll come back to shortly).

We should therefore, aim to “time” our sleep so as to allow our body to complete a certain number of these *cycles*; therefore, if you were to aim for 5 “cycles”, you’d be looking at 5 x 90mins = 7.5hrs.

You ought to also consider how long it take you to actually *fall asleep* – the reason why it’s often recommended that we shoot for *8* hours of sleep is because it takes the average person 15-20mins to fall asleep, so add that to 7.5hrs of sleep, and you’re at 7 hours and 50ish minutes, therefore, they round it up to 8 hours.

This is also why some people swear by *9* hours… and even just *6*.

See, what they really mean is: nine hours [plus 15ish minutes to fall asleep] / six hours [plus time to fall asleep].

It makes total sense because they’ve allowed their bodies to go through either an additional cycle (in the case of 9hrs sleep), or simply cut short by one cycle (in the case of 6).

Fact is, any multiple of this 90min cycle will yield an ideal/optimal amount of sleep to allow your hormones to regulate/calibrate to the right level so as to re-awaken. You just want at least 4-5 cycles to also allow your body to recover/repair/recuperate from the battering you put it through each day!

Now, just getting back to that “sleep environment” part that I mentioned before…

We’ll get into this more in the future, but for the moment, consider adjusting your “settings” when it comes to how you go to bed. Think: low-stress, devoid of bright lights, clean air (better air/oxygen quality will help improve sleep), and perhaps even think of keeping something pleasant-smelling and soothing/calming by your bedside (essential oils can be beneficial here!).

Anyhow, I hope that’s helped you rethink your sleeping habits and/or perhaps provided a realisation as to *why* you seem to feel better or worse when waking – likely it’s linked to a complete/incomplete Circadian rhythm.

That’s it for today, but we’ll dip back into this topic again soon! In the meantime, remember to take your Rest & Recovery as seriously as you take your Training, and Champion Your Body!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Personal Trainer @ Apex Performance Wellness & Rehab

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