Why sleep matters and 5 proven strategies to sleep smarter PictureSleep really is fundamental to health and performance. Sleep quality is just as important if not more so than diet and exercise combined. A recent study by the University of Chicago put a group of people on a calorie-restricted diet to see the impact on fat loss when their sleep-deprived or getting enough sleep. In one phase of the experiment, the group had 8 hours sleep then the next phase, the same group were sleep-deprived by sleeping 5 hours. The experiment found that when the individuals were well-rested, they burned 55% more body fat, just by getting more sleep.  What’s more, good quality sleep is not only crucial for fat loss but actually helps us to live longer. Telomeres Studies have found that people who sleep more efficiently tend to have longer telomeres. Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your cells and genes. When telomeres get short from ageing, (or a lifestyle that promotes ageing,), our cells cannot replenish, thus speeding up the gaining process. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep these caps long and happy. So, how exactly can we go about getting better sleep?

Exercise in the morning-Research shows that people who exercise in the morning spend more time in the deepest, most anabolic stages of sleep. What’s more these people actually slept longer and had a 25% greater drop in blood pressure at night, increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity (rest and digest) and decreasing sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activity.

Go to sleep earlier-Scientists have found that from the hours of 10 pm-2 pm there is an anabolic window where the highest levels of HGH (human growth hormone) is produced, which is muscle sparing and helps to keep you more youthful and energised. Also, this time, lines up with natural melatonin secretion, which helps us move through our sleep cycles more efficiently.

Create a sleep sanctuary-Make your bedroom your sleep sanctuary. If you want to optimise your sleep, your bed should not be for watching TV or going on your phone; instead, it should be for sleep alone. You also want your room to be dark and cold when you come to sleep as this helps your body produce more melatonin.

Avoid Blue light exposure-Blue light exposure from our favourite devices suppress melatonin substantially. Research has found for every hour you are on your device at night you suppress your melatonin production for 30minutes. This habit change is a difficult one for most of us but try to start by avoiding going on your devices for at least 30minutes before bed.

Avoid caffeine in the evening-Caffeine acts as an “adenosine receptor antagonist.” Adenosine is a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor to keep you from feeling sleepy. Caffeine begins to affect your body very quickly. It reaches a peak level in your blood within 30 to 60 minutes. It has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours. The half-life is the time it takes for your body to eliminate half of the drug. The remaining caffeine can stay in your body for a long time. As a general recommendation, try to avoid caffeine after 4 pm.

In summary, we can see how vital sleep is to our health, performance and body composition. So, before we get caught up in what fad diet you should try next, prioritise getting better sleep.