Goals that are hard to reach require planning, structure and discipline. 

Most people will track calories, weight lifted, distance ran and even water consumed in a day. When desired results are not achieved, they will push harder, research the most advanced training or turn to the current diet craze as they look for results. 

Sleep is hardly ever considered when trying to make body changes in speed, size or strength. Sleep is so important to the brain that all mammals, reptiles and fish have evolved to need sleep for some portion of the day. When we sleep, our brain and body is able to accomplish many essential body functions. Without sleep we are susceptible to many adverse effects on mental cognition, body functions and athletic performance.

Research on sleep has been ongoing for many years, but as a culture we tend to overlook what scientists have been trying to tell us for years. Americans on average get 6.8 hours of sleep per night. Adult athletes getting 8 to 10 or more hours of sleep have been shown to have better spring times, power production, decreased risk of injuries, faster reaction times and better technical sports skills compared to athletes who get less than 8 hours of sleep. 

When we sleep our body regenerates cells and removes waste products that have built up during exercise. Our brain and nervous systems are able to reinforce movement patterns and technical skills, but at a rate much faster than while we are awake. 

Catching more zzz’s might be the best way to keep your competitors from catching you. 

Weight loss can also be bogged down by a lack of sleep. Reduced sleep can result in increased hunger, but not for kale and zoodles. The brain craves calorie dense foods when being sleep deprived. Couple that with the lack of willpower that comes from being tired and it’s easy to fall for the quick pleasure of highly palatable snack foods that can put you over your calorie limit very quickly. The body cannot regulate hormones that affect hunger and metabolism (leptin, ghrelin, insulin) as well when proper rest is not acquired.

Chronic sleep deprivation will catch up to you in more ways that just in athletics. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that drowsy driving contributes to an estimated 6,000 deaths each year in automobile accidents. Young drivers (16-24 years old) are especially at risk due to chronic lack of sleep and lack of experience behind the wheel.

Developing brains need more sleep and show more significant negative ramifications due to lack of sleep, such as decreased ability to learn new information and remember stored information, irritability and poor food choices. The National Sleep Foundation recommended teens get 8-10 hours of sleep each night. 

Adults also suffer reduced mental cognition when not catching enough zzz’s. Productivity for workers drops as we collect a sleep debt. A decrease in alertness, creativity, problem solving and difficulty concentrating all affect workers that consistently get less than 7 hours of sleep. A 2016 RAND Corporation survey found sleep deprivation has an economic cost of $411 billion on U.S. companies. 

Bedtime routines have changed as technology has transformed our homes. First, with the invention of light bulbs, and more recently with the cellphone. Having a set routine to help mellow the mind and body can help you spend less time lying in bed awake at night as well as produce better quality sleep. 

Sleep experts recommend adapting a few of the following nighttime habits: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Try to avoid screens and bright lights the last hour before bed. If you cannot resist Netflix before bed, invest in a pair of blue light-blocking glasses. High levels of blue light is emitted from digital screens and is attributed to difficulty falling asleep. Try to keep a similar waking time and bedtime for all days of the week.

Finally, sleep with cellphones out of reach to reduce the risk of mindless browsing. 

Josh Klingenberg, NCSA, CPT, is the associate wellness director at the Walla Walla YMCA.

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