Lately, we’ve been talking about the kick-ass benefits of waking up early, and how to do it.
In the last article, I mentioned “Get enough sleep”. But just how much sleep do we actually need?
My opinion has always been something along the lines of “I’ll have time to sleep when I’m dead”. “Sleep is a waste of time.”
But then I did some digging into some athlete’s sleep schedules and came across this article.
Take a look at how much sleep this lot get;
Usain Bolt: 8-10 hours
Kevin Durant (NBA MVP): 8 hours
Michelle Wie (golfer): “I don’t feel very good if I get less than 10.”
Rafael Nadal (tennis) : 8-9 hours.
Lebron James (NBA): 12 hours.
Steve Nash (NBA): Naps as long as he can on game days.
Derrick Rose(NBA): 3 hour nap every game night.
Andy Murray: 12 hours a night at Wimbledon.
Roger Federer: “If I don’t sleep 11-12 hours a day, it’s not right”
Basically, these athletes sleep for absolute ages. 12 hours a day?! What?!
This got me thinking… if it works for them, why not us?
Whenever we watch motivational videos, it’s always “What will you give up sleep for?”
Well if guys like Lebron James are sleeping 12 hours a night, then clearly these vids have got something wrong.
In the hectic modern day world, sleep is seen as a luxury. Food = essential. Exercise = important. But sleep? It’s always an after-thought. (Even though we’re asleep for a 1/3 of our life times…)
People, let’s talk sleep. Let’s talk getting more sleep.
What is sleep? And what super-powers can we get simply by catching more zzz’s?
Sleep: The Low-down.
What actually is sleep? What happens when we drift off into dreamland? Good questions. Very good questions.
The folks at the University of Rochester have revealed something interesting;
During the day, when our brain cells are doing their thing, they create waste. Throughout the day, all this brain junk accumulates, and when it reaches a certain level, our body is like “Woah! This place needs a clean. Time to get some shut-eye.”
Then you doze off, and mental street-cleaners come out and clean up all the brain junk. Of course, that’s a simplification, but let’s not go into cerebrospinal fluids and all that jazz. Mental street-cleaners keep it cool.
So that “foggy” brain feeling you get when you haven’t slept?
That’s cos there’s tons of junk just lying around up there. Clogging things up. Interesting huh?
Ok, mental street cleaners. But what else happens?
Well, sleep isn’t just an on-off kinda deal. It’s a process, made from 4 stages. These are N1, N2, N3 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
So, picture it. Your brain junk has built up, and your body clock starts giving you the signal that it’s time to go to sleep. Thus starts the N1 stage. You start to feel a little drowsy and you can feel you’re going under. Your muscles start to relax, leading to annoying mid-lecture head jerks. Your body starts reducing in core temperature, and kicks out hormones to help you drift off.
If someone doesn’t jab you awake, you’ll enter stage N2, when you’re awareness of the environment disappears. You’re now unconscious and well under-way to dream land.
Next is N3, the deep, “slow brainwave sleep”. There’s no going back know. You’re muscles are completely relaxed.
For good measure, the brain throws in another N2 stage, before finally reaching REM sleep. By this stage, consider yourself officially in dream land. Your mental street cleaners get to work.
After REM, the cycle will repeat from N1 again. The whole cycle takes roughly 1 hour and a half (which is why you should try and sleep in blocks of 90 minutes. E.x 7 hours OR 8 ½ hours. )
Ok, great. We know what’s going on. But what’s it to us?
Super-Powers of Sleep
- Become a learning beast.
Once those street cleaners have done their thing, your mind is now clutter-free. You have space to think. Thus, you can pay attention with laser-beam focus. Exactly the same as tidying your desk helps you concentrate on working.
So, say you’re in a lecture. Or a classroom. With your laser-beam focus, you can sponge up more information than ever before. Just because you’re paying attention and concentrating.
More sleep = more information sponging. But that’s not all.
Not only do you sponge up more information, but by sleeping more, you retain and understand all that sponged-up stuff.
When you sleep, your brain shuffles around memories, thoughts and ideas, so that they’re stored efficiently. Think of your brain like an office desk. During the day, you learn things and get ideas. These all go into your desk’s in-tray.
When you sleep, your brain takes everything in the in-tray, sorts through it, looks over it, and stores it in a filing cabinet for future reference. This process helps you understand what you’ve sponged up during the day, and makes it easier to remember.
So by sleeping more, not only can you get more stuff into your in-tray, but then you understand and remember it too.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but if you want to get more work done, then do less work and sleep more.
Now how good does that sound.
And this works for any learned skill; learning Spanish, learning tennis serves, maths….
Learning goes into beast mode with more sleep.
- Your brain is ready to kick-ass the next day.
A study looked at the effect of sleep on brain activity, after the subjects had been taught a new skill.
One group were given only a little sleep after learning, while the other group enjoyed a full night’s shut-eye.
Both groups were then brain-scanned the following day.
It turns out that the regions for brain speed and memory recall in the rested brains were buzzing with activity, whereas the sleep-deprived subjects showed very little activity.
So in the group who’d slept, their brains were already geared up for learning. By getting more sleep, they’d set up their day for success.
Not too shabby.
- Unleash your creative juices.
Going back to the filing cabinet analogy.
During the day, your in-tray gets filled with a lot of seemingly unrelated stuff. Physics, basketball, cooking, James Bond movies, a good book….
And as you sleep, your brain starts filing these things away. Chances are, it’ll pick up 2 seemingly unrelated thoughts, and notice “Hey, these are actually pretty similar!” Then it’ll store them in the same place.
And just like that, you’ve made a link between two completely different topics.
Then you’ll you wake up, look back at your notes, and get that classic “ah-ha!” moment. Metaphorical lightbulbs aplenty.
By linking abstract things together, you’ll be able to think “outside the box” , and become a more creative person.
This’ll come in handy in any area of your life. When you’re stuck in a tricky situation, you’ll be able to come up with ingenious solutions that you previously wouldn’t have though of.
Which leads on nicely to…
- Makes Decisions More Easily
That aforementioned creativity means you’ll come up with better solutions to a problem, which can make decisions easier.
But also, by sleeping more, there’s less “stuff” clogging up your brain, so there’s less flotsam to cloud your judgement.
Pros and cons will become clearer. What you want becomes more apparent. What’s important to you becomes obvious with more sleep.
So it’s easier to decide go to the gym, to write that article, to put off procrastination, to eat healthier, to face your fears… just by catching more zzz’s.
- Rebuild your body like Wolverine.
During the sleep cycle, the body pumps out a dose of human growth hormone, which repairs muscles, and boosts muscle mass. More sleep = more muscle/better athletic performance.
When you exercise, or lift a weight, fibres in your muscles tear. And when you sleep, your muscles have the chance to repair these tears, and grow back even stronger. It’s not actually the workout that makes you stronger, it’s resting afterwards.
So is it a surprise that Lebron James and Andy Murray are total machines? Well, with 12 hours of sleep, not really. Their bodies are getting the maximum time to repair itself and grow stronger from their brutal training.
Stanford University looked at the effect of sleep on several of their sports teams. By adding 2 hours of extra sleep to their routine, the basketball squad increased their sprint times by 5% and their free throw accuracy by 9%.
The swimming and football teams also boasted performance boosts.
So if you want to break a physical plateau, or remain injury-free, try getting a few extra hours of kip.
- Immune to Illness.
The Hydra. Greek mythical monster. When you cut off its head, it grows 2 back. What doesn’t kill it only makes it stronger. That’s like your immune system with more sleep.
The immune system relies on sleep. The more shut-eye you get, the greater your ability to destroy illness attacks. The less sleep you get, well…
In a study done by the University of Chicago, student volunteers slept for only 4 hours a day for 6 days, and afterwards tested for blood pressure, stress, and antibody response to a flu vaccination.
After only 6 days, they were completely stressed out, they’d developed high blood pressure, and their bodies produced only half the normal number of antibodies when given the flu vaccination.
Half the number of antibodies after only 6 days. That’s pretty scary.
But all these effects were completely reversible when they caught up on sleep.
So – sleep more, and beast up your immune system!
Pesky winter colds? No more. Sniffly noses? Purrleaaase.
- Control Hunger
Two hormones control hunger; ghrelin and leptin. And both can only be regulated properly with sleep.
When you go down the insomniac tunnel, your body pumps out too much ghrelin, which makes you, feel hungrier, while the satiety hormone, leptin, is reduced, so you don’t feel full.
Thus, you’re way more likely to stuff your face the next day. Not because you lack the discipline to eat healthily, but because your sleep-deprived body is telling you that you need to eat, even though you don’t.
Sleep more, and you’ll want to eat less.
- Become more like-able.
When we’re sleep-deprived, we’re grumpy. We get pretty snappy and our tempers become perilously short. Really, we’re just one friendly-joke away from killing someone.
Why? When we’re deprived of sleep, the region of the brain in charge of reasoning takes a back seat to our “lizard” brain. So unless your friend’s offering food, water or sex, you’re not going to be too pleased.
Sleep puts reason back in the driving seat. We can see things from different perspectives, engage in conversations and generally be a more personable person.
Ok, so that’s why we should be considering getting more shut-eye. But what happens if we don’t get enough kip?
The Perils of Sleep Debt
Every hour of sleep that you miss accumulates into a “sleep debt”. And with each hour in dreamland missed, more brain junk accumulates in your noggin.
Let’s say you’ve got a tough project at uni. Or a business assignment. Maybe you sleep 2 hours less during weekdays, but you lie in an extra 2 hours on the weekend to catch up.
I’ve caught up. I feel fine. It’s all good right?
Well, no. You’ve still missed 6 hours. That’s almost a whole night’s sleep. And that’s 6 hour’s worth of junk clogging up your brain to start the week.
And what if you miss 6 hours every week?
Hmm, that’s a lot of crap floating about up there. NOT GOOD. We’re talking short/long term memory loss, weakened immune system, obesity, stress, high blood pressure, brain fog, impaired decision making, crabbit…
You get the picture.
If you know you’ve got a sleep debt, but you feel pretty good after a decent night’s sleep, then imagine how awesome you’d feel if you completely caught up on your sleep.
Invest in yourself. Sleep more!
Call to Action: Get More Sleep!
Well, we all know how awesome waking up early is. So let’s leave that alone.
That means we’ll have to go to bed earlier.
So, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I challenge you, for the next month, to get at least half an hour extra sleep every night.
How do we go about it?
First, work out what time you need to be asleep by. Say 10:30.
Next, pick a time, like half an hour before, that you NEED to be in bed by, say 10:00.
At 10:00, just read a book until 10:30. Something fictional that’ll get you lost in the drama. Why?
- You’re sectioning off a time every day to read, so you’ll learn more.
- Reading is tiring. Your brain has to work, meaning that you’ll be sleepy when your head hits the pillow.
- You have an exquisite taste in books, so you’ll look forward to going to bed earlier.
So try it. Challenge yourself, and sleep a little bit more. Could there be a superhuman-you just waiting to be unleashed?
Takeaway: The Super-Powers of Sleep.
- Makes you an awesome learner. More stuff for the in-tray AND file it while asleep.
- Gets the creative juices flowing. Linking un-related topics = lightbulb moments.
- Decision Making easier. Less brain junk, more clarity.
- Muscle repair and growth like Wolverine.
- Immune system on all cylinders.
- Better in social situations.
- Feel less hungry.
Monday. A new week. I challenge YOU to get a little bit more sleep every night.
Make a time at night that you must be in bed by, then read until your allotted “go-to-sleep” time. And of course, combine with waking up early for the most kick-ass day.
After a month, see how you feel.
Unleash your super-powers within.
So that’s it folks.
How much sleep do YOU need? Have you experimented? Noticed any kick-ass benefits? Drop us a comment by joining the Dreambigstartsmall community on facebook here.
Dream Big start small!