The Secret to Better Metabolic Health and Physical Performance

The goal I had set for myself in 2017 was to sleep more.  I have never prioritized sleep in my life.  I am self prescribed type A workaholic night owl with a million things to do and not enough hours in the day.  As the years have progressed and as I’ve added on more children and responsibilities to my life, I’ve managed to subsist on six hours of sleep a night.  I honestly thought I was doing well by getting in six hours. WRONG.  

To be clear, I wasn’t the walking dead every day.  I drank a ton of coffee which would give me a lot of energy that would quickly fade away.  I also got a boost from exercising every day, but there was still a general haze that clouded over many days of my week.  This lifestyle of reduced sleep was becoming unsustainable.

I recently read two articles that have really given support to my sleep goals.  The first article, “The Science of Sleep: A Brief Guide on How to Sleep Better Every Night” by James Clear provided an in depth look at the science of sleep, how sleep works and how to sleep better.  I learned about many important purposes for sleep:

  1. Restoration- sleep rids your body of metabolic waste 2x faster in the sleep state than in the active state (when this waste accumulates in can lead to Alzheimer’s)

  2. Memory Consolidation

  3. Metabolic Health - decreased hours of sleep results in a lower fat burn and more from protein = fat gain and muscle loss.

  4. Physical Performance - slow wave sleep or deep sleep is when the pituitary gland releases growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair.  

“If you place heavy physical demands on your body, slow wave sleep is what helps you recover.”

Another takeaway from that article was that sleep deficits from sleeping six hours/night for two weeks felt the same as staying awake for 48 hours straight.  In addition, the idea of “catching up” on sleep on the weekends did not result in successful restoration of mental acuity.

The second article I just read on sleep, ‘The Sleep Cure: The Fountain of Youth May Be Closer Than You Ever Thought” by Alice Park  stated that people who sleep less are at higher risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety.

So, what to do?  Well, I’ll be honest.  It was very tough to shut down the computer and stop working or to turn off the tv to stop “decompressing.”  I had to prioritize sleep knowing all of the important things that actually occur during sleep.  I took baby steps and began by determining the absolute time I had to wake up then worked back 7 hours from that time.  I’m eventually going to work up to 8 hours (but I reiterate - baby steps!) An hour before my bedtime I begin giving myself cues to finish up what I am doing.  Recently, I added a new step of not looking at a screen 20 minutes before going to sleep. I started reading a book in bed with a night light which truthfully really helped me to fall asleep quickly!  

And the result?  I definitely feel more rested overall.  I still have days when I’m tired, but it is a resounding improvement from before.  My brain does feel sharper.  As an avid exercise enthusiast, I have really noticed a difference in my performance at the gym.  I have the energy to push myself harder and lift heavier than during my groggy days.  Lastly, I have had to learn how to manage my time better, prioritize tasks, and learn to let things go that aren’t really necessary.  These time management lessons have actually been a very surprising byproduct of this sleep adjustment that has made life easier to manage.  Every day is still a work in progress, but it’s getting easier the more I practice.  And with that, I must end this blog entry as you guessed it - it is my bedtime in 20 minutes!


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