The Importance of Talking Sleep

Sleep deprivationWhen the going gets tough, often the tough give up sleep for more “important” things. But sleep deprivation can make doing everything else significantly more difficult.

Humans snooze for one third of their entire lives. Alex Black, a licensed nutritionist and Coach at CrossFit Boston, said that’s not something to challenge.

Adults are supposed to sleep 7 hours to 9 hours every night. For some, seven is enough. For others, 10 hours might be the right speed. What’s most important is waking up at the end of a REM cycle, when your body naturally rouses you for the day. “You know when you wake up and you don’t complete a REM cycle and your alarm goes off and you’re really groggy and you feel like you’re kind of walking through sand?” Black said. “You don’t want that to happen. You want to wake up at the end of a REM cycle.”

It makes sense when you think about it. The ways sleep deprivation can affect your daily life are numerous.

Black cited a study done several years ago that took brain scans of people after varying amounts of sleep. The study found that the pleasure center of the brain lit up more for people who slept less. That pleasure center also indicates cravings, meaning sleep deprived people crave high fat and high carb foods more often than people who get plenty of sleep.

To make it worse, sleep deprived people had changes in the frontal cortex, which made it more difficult to resist those foods. “It’s kind of this double whammy of you crave the worst foods and then you don’t have the same self-control that you would need to fight off that craving,” Black said. “Nobody is sleep deprived and is like, ‘Man, I would kill for an avocado and some almonds right now,’” she said. “It’s always like, ‘I need a Starbucks latte or I want a donut.’”

Sleep deprivation also affects motivation and it’s obvious through habits. Waking up for a 5 a.m. workout is far more likely to happen after 7 or 8 hours of sleep compared to five or six. “Say you didn’t sleep very well so you decide to go to the gym at night but by the end of the day perhaps you’ve craved the comfort foods and eaten them and you don’t feel as hot and you’re supposed to work out at night but you’re tired,” Black said. “It’s just this landslide of factors.”

And it doesn’t stop there. “If you’re sleeping less, you’re more likely to be stressed and stress can increase cortisol and cortisol stores body fat,” she said. “And it reduces your ability to learn fine points, which as a CrossFitter who’s just coming in to do some burpees, that may not be a big deal,” Black said. “But for an athlete who’s trying to train or trying to learn a new skill or someone who does a very technical skill such as a rower, would need to be on point with their motor skills and their focus.”

It’s difficult for Affiliates to address the issue for members. Sleep is such an intimate thing, and it rarely comes up in conversation at the Box. Paying close attention to super groggy members or those who switch from morning classes to night classes might be a sign that something is up with their sleeping habits.

Sleep specialist and former NASA scientist Mark Rosekind said it best: “People need to be as smart about sleep as they are about diet and exercise.”

Kayla Boyd is an intern for Peake Media. She can be reached at kayla@peakemedia.com.