Healthy Activity 1: Sleep

sleep-title How did your first week of the Healthy Activity Points Journal project go? Did you find yourself struggling to reach your points goal? Were there activities that felt especially relaxing, joyful, or empowering? Did you think of new activities to add to your menu of options? Take a moment to evaluate how this first week went for you.

Remember that I asked you to include the following four things on your list: exercise, stretching, water and sleep? I think of those four things as the foundation of good health.

Historically those things have been a struggle for me to incorporate into my own life. That was especially true in the year before I became a trainer and started working for Lean Body Lifestyles. I was under a ton of financial stress; I had a job that drained me and left me exhausted at the end of the day; I had no time or energy for exercise; I rarely got more than 5 hours of sleep a night; and I was gaining weight and couldn't stop.

I didn’t feel well.

I probably wasn’t very nice to other people.

I know I wasn’t very nice to myself.

I was overwhelmed by how far I was from how I wanted to feel—from my idea of what a healthy, balanced and happy life looked like. I didn’t know how to even begin to get there. But then…

…I went in to see my doctor. I told her how frustrated I was with how I felt and how much I weighed and how impossible it seemed to do the things I knew I needed to do to fix it. I told her all of the things I just told you. And I waited for her to say the doctor version of “suck it up.”

But she didn’t. You know what she told me to do?

Sleep. She told me my only job right now was to make sure I got 7-9 hours of sleep every night. That’s it. I didn’t need to worry about changing my diet. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise.

Just sleep.

And when I had done that consistently for a few weeks, I could add in one other healthy activity. Kind of like what we’re doing here with the journal project.

She gave me a tremendous gift in that moment—the permission to be kind to myself. I am telling you, when she said “just sleep” I felt like crying, I was so happy. And relieved.

Sleep? Sleep I could do. Take everything else off the list for now and just focus on sleep? Yes. Yes, please.

I had to trust that if I did that one thing, that I would know when I was ready to add more.

And I did. One day I woke up and felt like trying to exercise again.

I had to reset a couple of times. I tried to do too much, too fast. But I caught myself each time and went back to the basics. Back to sleep. Then adding one thing at a time.

There are good reasons why my doctor had me focus on sleep first. There is not a single function of the body that does not rely, in large or small part, upon getting adequate sleep. Here are just a few:

  • Sleep helps to regulate your hormones, including the hormone that generates feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and the one that gives you the signal of being satiated (leptin). If you don’t get enough sleep, the former goes up and the latter goes down. So, you feel hungry more often and have trouble feeling full, both of which can lead you to eat more.
  • Your body repairs itself during sleep. Your muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs use the time when you are asleep to fix damage and (in the case of your muscles) increase mass. If you exercise, sleep is when that microscopic damage you did to your muscles during your workout gets repaired and additional muscle fibers are generated.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to function at its optimal level. Inadequate rest leaves you vulnerable to infections like the common cold, but also to chronic disease. Studies have found a relationship between insufficient sleep and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Your ability to complete basic and complex tasks at work, school or at home is compromised. Things can take longer, and you are more prone to making mistakes when sleep deficient. The National Institutes of Health reports that, “after several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.” Your memory, athletic performance, creative powers and the ability to learn new things are all improved with adequate sleep.

Okay, so how much sleep is enough and how do we make sure we are consistently getting enough sleep? For adults ages 18-64, the National Sleep Foundation (yes, sleep is so important there are research foundations dedicated to it!), recommends between 7-9 hours per night. For adults 65 and older, the recommended range is 7-8 hours. They have a sleep duration recommendations chart, which you can access here.

The foundation also has tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep, including: sticking to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends); exercising regularly; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and using electronics in the hours before bedtime; and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too warm or too cold.

The healthy activity points task for this week is to find your ideal number of hours of sleep in that 7-9-hour range and make sure you are getting that much each night. Come up with your own bedtime ritual to follow. Maybe you light your favorite scented candle and read for an hour before sleep. Maybe you do some yoga (there are some great evening yoga dvds out there). Maybe you meditate, or journal or just sit and think about your day.

And let’s bump up our points goal to 25 this week. I know you can do it!!