Health

How 8 hours of sleep will change your life for the better

If someone told you they had a pill that you could take daily that meant you felt happier, ate healthier, lost weight, reduced your risk of heart disease and cancer and meant you would live longer, would you buy it?

This premise has stuck with me after recently listening to Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker on Audible. Matthew says something similar in his audiobook that seriously made me stop and think.

Consistently getting a good nights sleep provides us with all of the aforementioned benefits yet an increasingly fewer number of us are actually giving ourselves 8 hours of sleep opportunity.

In this post I’m going to share the key take aways from Matthews book and how I’ve implemented some of his techniques to help me get a better quantity and quality of sleep.

If you’re looking to lose weight and I told you that you could do so by sleeping more would you believe me? I wouldn’t have believed this fact beforehand either but numerous scientific studies have shown how consistently getting enough sleep will help prevent weight gain and encourage weight loss.

So how does this magic work?

The myth that you burn more calories when sleeping and this is what causes the weight loss is just that, a myth. It’s true that you do burn a few more calories when sleeping but this alone isn’t significant enough to encourage weight loss.

Instead, a good nights sleep does a number of things that all add up to reduce your calorie intake. First of all, after a good nights sleep you are statistically more likely to choose a healthier food option versus a sleep deprived counterpart. This has been tested by providing a buffet of food and desserts to two groups of participants, one group who had slept 8 hours (measured in a sleep laboratory) and another who were only allowed 3 hours of sleep.

The 8 hour sleepers picked the healthier foods and consumed less of the snack foods and desserts. The 3 hour sleepers binged on the bad stuff. Why you ask? Because a sleep deprived brain has less capacity to utilise the areas of the brain for good decision making and will instead choose the easy and less effort foods like crisps (chips) and cakes.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

The second thing that happens after being sleep deprived is that your body actually feels like it needs to consume more calories. In a similar test to the one previously mentioned, portion sizes of the two groups of participants were measured and those who slept less ate larger portions of food.

This adds up to around an extra 300 calories a day for sleep deprived individuals .

This may not sound like much but will add up to around 5kg in weight a year. A slippery slope to obesity when added up over 5 or so years.

The point being that good nights sleep will make you eat less and allow better decision making around what you eat. The two studies mentioned looked at healthy and well slept individuals and the results were statistically significant even after just one bad night of sleep. Imagine what days of bad sleep are doing to us.

Has anyone ever defended their lack of sleep to you by claiming that they will sleep when they are dead? Turns out their bedtime may be coming sooner than they think, certainly quicker than those who regularly get 8 hours of sleep.

Studies in Greece have shown that as the siesta slowly started to phase out of cities the rates of death due to heart disease increased by nearly 40%. This remained true when studies controlled for other factors including an individuals health, weight and smoking habits.

Photo by micaela Marianthi on Unsplash

The island of Ikaria in Greece, well known for its long living residents has retained its siesta culture and men here live on average 4 times longer than the average American male. The afternoon nap, along with their diet and active lifestyle (both made more likely by good sleep) mean people on this island live long and well rested lives.

With all that I’ve learned so far, here are my top 5 tips that have helped me (measurably via FitBit sleep tracker) achieve better quality and longer sleep.

  1. Get into a routine. Go to bed and wake up at same time every day

Before this, I was getting around 7 hours of actual sleep per night and a FitBit sleep score average of 80/100 which wasn’t bad but there was room for improvement.

I now get between 7h45m and 8h15m per night (always in bed for at least 8 hours) and my sleep score average has grown to 84 in just 3 weeks. It isn’t unusual for me to get a 90+ score a couple of nights per week.

I hope this encourages you to look at sleep as serious as I do and start paying your body back for all its hard work.


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