In the first part of this article topic, we discussed how our perspective of sleep has been skewed over the years. In this part, we will discuss what happens while we sleep, why sleep is important, and the ways that we can improve our sleeping habits.
Every 90 minutes while we are asleep, we cycle through a pattern of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. NREM is broken down into four different stages and is where we spend most of the 90-minute cycle. Stage 1 is light sleep, the time between being awake and falling asleep. Stage 2 is the onset of sleep when you become disengaged to your surroundings and your body temperature starts to decrease. Stages 3 and 4 are the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. In these stages, many physiological changes occur in the body, such as a decrease in blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing rate; muscles relax and their blood supply increases; tissue growth and repair occurs; and essential growth hormones are released into the bloodstream. From a CrossFit perspective, these are by far the most important stages. These stages are where the magic happens. In Stages 3 and 4, your body repairs all the damage that “Holleyman” and “Strung out, backwards, upside down Fran” caused. THIS IS WHEN YOU GET BETTER because you allow your body to recover from all of the pain you put it through. Otherwise, you just stay broke down and beat up.
REM sleep occurs for a short time after the first 90 minutes of sleep, and then lasts for a longer period of time later in the night. In this stage, your dreams occur and—you guessed it—your eyes dart back and forth rapidly. Your voluntary muscles are temporarily paralyzed so that you do not act out your dreams (Unfortunately for Coach Jordy, this means his rendezvous with Camille Leblanc-Bazinet will remain “in his dreams”). This REM stage is important for daytime performance; it provides energy to your brain and body. This stage is also important for consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories. So, for all of you student-athletes (yes, if you do CrossFit, you are an athlete), sleep helps you to remember all of that cramming you do the day before an exam. And as if all of that goodness isn’t enough to convince you of sleep’s importance, a full night’s sleep can also help to lose or maintain a healthy weight. Sleep deprivation, which is less than six CONSECUTIVE hours of sleep per night, leads to an imbalance in appetite-control hormones. Our body experiences a decrease in leptin, which is an appetite-suppressant, and an increase in ghrelin, which is the body’s appetite-stimulant. Do we see the blatantly obvious problem here? When we do not get an adequate amount of sleep, not only can we not suppress the urge to fill our bellies during the day, but we are also stimulated more than normal to do so. A longer and more consistent sleep pattern will help to balance out these crucial appetite hormones and lead to quicker weight loss and easier weight maintenance (and will also help to prevent those late-night trips to the pantry).
Now that we are all motivated to catch some Z’s, let’s talk about the most efficient way to go about doing just that (because efficiency is the name of the game, right?) You have probably heard of most of these tips, but just in case you haven’t, here they are: do not ingest caffeine or any other stimulants after 12-1pm. Although it may seem like having a mid-afternoon Chai tea has no effect on falling asleep and staying asleep, your quality of sleep will suffer and we are all about quality over quantity. I know this will be a tough one for most people but if you can stick it out for about a week, your healthier sleep pattern will lead to an energy boost that stimulants won’t be able to hold a candle to! The next tip is to turn off/dim any lights—including TVs, computers and cell-phones— at least an hour before bedtime. This will help to mimic our ancestor’s sleepiness at sun down. And last but not least, hammer your WoD at least three hours prior to bedtime.
There you have it, guys. I am giving you permission to sherm. HARD. Every night. For at least eight hours.