This post was written by Dr. Tyler White. Co-Founder - Gestalt Performance, Chiropractor - Winchester Spine and Sport, former baseball player, biomechanics junkie, Adjunct Professor.
We say it all the time, “I don’t sleep enough” or “I feel like I get enough sleep, but I wake up feeling pretty tired”. We all know sleep is important, but how much? How do we know we got good sleep? How do we sleep better? What are the side effects of chronic poor sleep? Let’s dive in!
The National Sleep Foundation states that adults 18-65 should be sleeping 7-9 hours a night. The age group under 18 needs about an hour more of sleep a night and the age group over 65 needs about an hour less a night. The scary thing is that the average American gets less sleep than recommended and 40% get less than 6 hours a night. Do you get more than 6 hours a night? Let’s investigate why this is important.
Studies have shown that people that get less than 6 hours of sleep a night will have:
Increased risk of diabetes
Increased rate of heart disease
Increased risk of depression
Increased risk of cancer
So now you can see the importance of getting adequate sleep. This begs another question: What is adequate sleep?
Not all sleep is the same. Say you’re finally sleeping 7-8 hours a night, but you still don’t feel very rested, that tells you that you’re not getting into deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. As we sleep, we cycle in and out of 5 stages of sleep. Stages 1-4 are NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement). If our sleep environment is suboptimal, we may not achieve enough of that last stage of sleep, REM. It’s in REM sleep that a majority of the positive effects of sleep occur.
You’re probably starting to think “What about the individuals that you hear that sleep 3-5 hours a night and have no adverse side effects whatsoever?” Well, that is a good question and there is a decent probable answer for it. There’s a small percent of the population that has a mutation of the gene DEC2 which inhibits orexin which is a hormone that is involved in maintaining alertness. The DEC2 gene binds to and inhibits MyoD1 which is what stimulates orexin. The individuals with this gene mutation seem to show a weakness of the DEC2 to bind to the MyoD1 which keeps it stimulated and allows for a higher level of alertness. Again, we’re talking about a very small portion of the population.
A few of the positive effects from good sleep are:
Increased immune system
Decrease in beta-amyloid which is the protein linked to Alzheimer’s
Now we need to discuss why we’re getting lower quality of sleep. Consumption of blue light less than 2 hours before bed has shown to decrease REM sleep. Blue light is part of the light wavelength spectrum, and it’s shown to inhibit the secretion of melatonin which is the hormone that helps us sleep.
Blue light is present in any LED light such as your TV, smart phone, and computer. Research has shown that even the night mode that most phones have isn’t enough to block out the blue light. There are certain glasses that are sold that can block that blue light from entering your retina. I personally wear a pair a couple hours before bed. The company that makes them is called True Dark.
There are many more reasons for a poorer quality of sleep and some of them are:
Consumption of caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life, which means it’s only half out of your system by 8pm.
Consumption of more than 4 alcoholic drinks. It’s been shown to take almost a week to regulate your sleep back to its normal pattern after more than 4 drinks.
Lack of exercise
Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea
A warm sleeping environment
A room that has some light exposure
We now know the negative effects of bad sleep, the positive effects of good sleep, why we’re not getting good sleep, and lastly let’s talk about getting that good sleep.
You’re going to want to get your bedroom as dark as possible. That means no visible LED’s (not even the light from your TV, cell phone, or cable box.) You want a clock that’s specifically designed for sleep as well as black out shades or blinds so light doesn’t seep through. A sleep mask can help if all of that seems like too much.
Core body temperature is important for good sleep, so not using too many blankets and keeping your bedroom between 60-67 degrees will put you in the best environment for deep sleep. 8
Don’t hang out in your bedroom. It’s a common saying in sleep science that your bedroom should only be used for the 2 S’s, Sleep and s.. well you can figure that one out.
The room should stay as quiet as possible. Even some ambient noise can keep you from your deepest sleep.
Now let’s apply this to the baseball athlete. In travel ball you’ll have 2 maybe 3 games a day. That last game might end at 10:30, you might get to sleep by midnight and then you’re expected to be up and ready to play again by 8 or 9 the next day. You maybe got 6 hours of decent sleep assuming you weren’t decompressing on your phone absorbing all of that blue light right before bed. I bet you feel totally recovered for another game or 2, huh? What about the professional athlete that has a night game followed by an 8-hour bus ride that is a little noisy, warm, uncomfortable, and not very dark, and then is expected to compete at 7:15 that next night? These are situations where the athlete must do everything they can to maximize the quality of their sleep because that 10-15% increase or decrease in production due to sleep can make or break a season and can also make a massive impact on their financial future.
Knowledge of proper sleep is important, but actionable steps to start following this information is crucial to start getting better sleep. If you want to one up this even more, you can track this data. There are several sleep monitoring devices for both your phone and wearable devices. There’s still a ton of testing and research to validate these new technologies. The wearables have been shown to be more reliable than phone apps.
Some of these devices are:
The Oura ring has had some of the best early reviews for reliability, but they’re a little pricey. Like everything it’s important to do your research to see what works best for you. I hope this information helps you achieve better achieve your goals.
Dr. Tyler White