Extended version of my column Run&Bee in Hindustan Times
If you have been getting up tired after a long night’s sleep, your walking-running or gym performance are not doing justice to your hard work, putting on weight despite eating well, you’re feeling sleepy throughout the day, are experiencing irritability, not being able to focus, have body pain for long, and injures take forever to recover, you need to reconsider thinking only about that one odd hour of exercise or run. It’s time to reflect on something that you spend one-third of your life doing, i.e. sleep.
Most of those who give sleep importance, focus more on quantity than quality. We need to learn to move at the pace of nature. Rest included. Once we learn that, we will be running as close to our optimal best as possible. Requirement of length of sleep varies widely amongst animals. In the wild, giraffes do well with 3-4 bouts of 30 minutes sleep in a day, whereas tigers sleep for 15-16 hours. Nature has taught them the importance of rest and recovery to perform at their best to survive in the jungle.
There are four phases of sleep: stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 (slow wave sleep) and stage 4 (REM: rapid eye movement). Stage 1 is where you are drowsy and can be easily woken up. In stage 2 heart rate slows down, body temperature reduces, and muscles also relax further in this stage. Stage 3 is the deepest phase of sleep and it’s now difficult to wake someone from their slumber. This stage is the most restorative. Stage 4 is the dreaming stage. As you might have experienced yourself, when you are in middle of a dream and you are woken up, you feel groggy and sleepy for a while.
Normally a sleep cycle lasts 90-120 minutes and we have 4-5 cycles at night. But all 4 stages are important for a good quality sleep.
Besides getting a sleep study done and using the smart watches to track quality of sleep, there is a lot you can start of with basic lifestyle changes. Both Enjati and Van Someren agree that if one is overweight or obese, it needs to be addressed. Both exercise and diet will play an important role. 30-40 minutes of walk-run, 4-5 times a week with basic strength training will be helpful, combining it with being active throughout the day. As for food, cut down on excessive sugar and carbohydrates. Persistence is key.
There are other lifestyle changes you can adopt to get optimal sleep. Schedule your sleep such that you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. Restricting the use of phone and computer right before bed is crucial. Strictly stop having caffeine late in the day. Lying in bed, tossing around when not able to sleep, makes it even worse. Take a bath before going to bed to unwind. Read a book or do some skips, squats or push-ups, and you’ll soon feel ready for a sound sleep.
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