08 Sep The Health Benefits Of Sleep
Far too often, sleep is viewed incorrectly and I believe this to be the case for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a large percentage of the population where sleep and prioritizing it is looked at as being lazy or unproductive. Particularly in the corporate world, much of the mindset still revolves around rewarding those up late on email and up early working. The other way in which sleep is perceived the wrong way is in being solely looked at as a time of rest or break. In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of sleep, and various, simple strategies you can implement into your routine to help improve your overall sleep health!
The Reality of Sleep Health: Why Is It So Important?
The reality is that sleep is far from an inactive break for the body and is very much something every single person should be prioritizing for their health, well-being, and success. Every single physiological system of your body is being balanced, enhanced, and fine-tuned during sleep. Every single cell reaps some sort of benefit from a restful night of quality sleep.
“We have not been able to find one single system of the body that is not affected by sleep, either positively when we get it or negatively when we don’t”- Dr. Matthew Walker
Why: The Case for Sleep Prioritization
As we can see from the graphic here, sleep should be viewed as the ultimate life enhancer, due to its’ wide-reaching impacts on many facets of our life. Whether it’s through the lens of health, performance, cognition, successful relationships, aesthetics, or rehabilitation, sleep plays a pivotal role. We could make this entire blog about the associations sleep has, but we’ll be focusing on 3 main buckets: health, performance/exercise, and rehabilitation.
Health Benefits of Sleep: Impact on Entirety of The Human Body
Sleep has the ability to impact our health in a multitude of ways due to the fact that as we mentioned, it has touchpoints with every single system of the body. Whether it’s cardiovascular efficiency, endocrine balance, metabolic flexibility and regulation, or neurological enhancement – we can see sleep’s influence.
- Sleep And Mortality: The first element to link between sleep and our health lies in the correlations we see between sleep and mortality. Even when we control for other variables, we see a direct association between sleep and mortality, where the lowest risk lies in the range of 7-8 hours of sleep (part of where these duration recommendations come from).
- Sleep and Correlation of Chronic Diseases: Next, we can look into the association that we see between sleep and the risk for the major chronic diseases we deal with in modern society (i.e. Cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Cancer). We also see higher incidences of obesity and depression in those individuals not getting good sleep quality and duration.
- Sleep and Immune System Function: Sleep plays a vital role in multiple elements of our immune system. Firstly, sleep impacts our adaptive immunity which is essentially your ability to fight off pathogens. For example, those getting less sleep are 3x more likely to succumb to the common cold. The other way in which sleep impacts the immune response is our innate immunity, the actual immune response to something we’re actively fighting. As a demonstration of this, there is research that shows our antibody response to a flu vaccination to be much less when we are sleep deprived.
Correlation Between Sleep And Health
Health Benefits of Sleep: Performance
The next element of the correlations for sleep is the ties into performance (both physical and mental). Performance is relative to every individual and does not mean only athletics. We’re talking about performance in work, life, and relationships as well. Sleep is very much an underestimated impactor of our ability to perform at our best – so let’s dive into some of the ways it plays a role. First through the lens of the mental performance that sets the foundation.
Motivation, focus, and discipline are strongly influenced by sleep quantity and sleep quality. Our ability to get in the right mindset in order to perform will be impacted by the sleep from the night before. Intuitively this is something we can all relate to where we don’t have the same mental edge when we’re not sleeping well.
Motor learning and the ability to learn new movement tasks are directly influenced by sleep quality. The ability to produce force and power as well as maximum strength output is also impacted by our shut-eye. Lastly, our capacity in terms of time to fatigue has been shown to be correlated as well.
The moral of the story is that sleep is the foundation for both mental and physical performance with day-to-day and ongoing tasks!
Health Benefits of Sleep: Rehabilitation
The last category of associations I want to talk about with respect to sleep is the one that gets discussed the least and that is the impact on the world of rehabilitation. Having worked in the rehabilitative space for many years, I saw time and time again the bidirectional relationship sleep had with many components of what makes up a successful rehab process. Meaning that sleep strongly influences these variables and vice versa. As many clinicians will tell you, there are variables that go beyond the musculoskeletal world that dictate injury, breakdown, and recovery with sleep being one of those variables.We’ve already discussed some of the mental and physical elements that will certainly play a role in this process (i.e. motivation, compliance, time to fatigue, motor learning, etc). One of the more powerful relationships surrounding sleep is that with sleep duration and injury risk. This is a story that has been worked out time and time again where less sleep significantly increases the rate of injury and re-injury.
Just as interesting of a topic and correlation is the relationship between sleep and pain. This bidirectional and multifaceted relationship continues to fascinate me. The way in which pain can impact sleep is much more obvious in the inability to get comfortable and relaxed. The existence of the reverse relationship surprises many but we do see that sleep influences pain intensity and perception. It seems that the quality of sleep and efficiency (percentage of time being asleep relative to being in bed) have the greatest influence here.
Sleep Quality, Efficiency, And Duration
Health Benefits of Sleep: Prevalence of Issues Surrounding Sleep
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with sleep or has had issues in the past, you are most certainly not alone. Depending on the source, there are estimations that anywhere from ⅓ to ½ of the population struggles with sleep in some capacity. Whether that is falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking feeling fully rested.
In my opinion and experience, this number can be even higher if we loosen the criteria and account for those who are just “getting by” with their sleep. What I mean by this is that I very often find that many people might not say they have a sleep issue per se, but need caffeine or naps to fuel the day. They have a new “norm” or baseline that is set with less energy and focus.
Sleep Prevalence of Issues
This study done by consumer reports shows 80% of people admitting to having sleep problems at least once a week. Even more important is the fact that of those struggling, 31% are using some type of sleeping pill or aid.
Health Benefits of Sleep: The Case for Sleep Coaching
The next thing we’re going to be discussing is a concept that’s a little more foreign and that is the idea of sleep coaching. The thought that sleep coaches should be much more prevalent and are a huge piece of the equation when it comes to helping the many people struggling with sleep issues. The reasons for this are shown in the graphic below.
Let’s break each of these down a bit more. As I’ve already mentioned, there are so many individuals who are currently struggling with sleep. By struggling, we’re not just talking about full-blown sleep issues, but also those who are getting less than 100% optimal sleep.
If we look at this study in particular done by consumer reports, 80% of adults admitted to struggling with sleep at least 1 night a week. Of those adults, 30% are using sleep pills which we have already discussed.
Here is a survey that was done this year by the National Sleep Foundation, we see that nearly half of the population is feeling sleepy at least 2-4 days a week while 28% experience this sleepiness 5-7 days out of the week. We can begin to imagine the ways in which this will impact their day to day life!
Here we see just some of those impacts wherein those individuals dealing with sleepiness 5+ days a week, over half are irritable and more than 1 in 3 feel generally unwell. Some of the other day to day impacts noted were: overall mood, social interaction, likeliness to exercise, productivity, work performance, and relationships.
The next case for sleep coaching lies in just how few practical options are available for individuals who are dealing with sleep issues. Typically the go-to solutions are sleeping pills which come with adverse health risks we’ve reviewed, sleep hygiene lists without context or individuality, or an over-reliance on products that promise the world and don’t address the root cause.
While much of the information contained on the sleep tips and hygiene lists are accurate and helpful, they’re missing the boat if we’re really trying to make a dent in sleep issues. The reason is that there is no hierarchy of prioritization and content to what that person actually needs. Of course, these lists do not take into account the elements of changing behavior and how difficult that can often be. I always liken it to the example of exercise. We would never as a coach have someone come to us for exercise and just provide them with a list of exercises and expect success. We would actually coach them through each one and through the overall process. The same approach must be applied to sleep.
The wide availability of sleep products, aids, supplements, apps, and quick fixes more often than not miss addressing the root cause. The root causes which we’ll discover next are usually perceptions, beliefs, habits, and overall aspects of behavior.
Factors That Contribute To Sleep Issues
When we look at how sleep issues actually occur (outside of the consideration for medical conditions and sleep disorders that adversely affect sleep), we have 3 categories we can call the “3 Ps”
- Predisposing Factors are anything that makes an individual more likely to deal with sleep issues. These factors can include age, higher levels of anxiety, lower distress tolerance, hyperarousal, etc.
- Precipitating Factors are the things that set forth a period of interrupted sleep and diminished quality of sleep. Factors that we all experience in varying degrees such as periods of stress, a loss, trauma, jet lag, a new job, etc.
- Perpetuating Factors are where individuals really get stuck and where acute sleep issues turn into chronic ones. This is the behavior element of sleep issues and why coaching must be a part of the equation. This is when the previous 2 P’s or factors turn into fundamental changes in beliefs, perceptions, emotions, and the resulting behaviors. This is where the majority of chronic sleep issues stem from and where we can make the most influence via coaching
Health Benefits of Sleep: Conditioned Arousal
If we map this out a little differently in a progressive ladder and add an additional factor, it becomes even more relatable to which many individuals experience. This is when the perpetuating factors we discussed turn into conditioned arousal where an individual has formed a learned association and expectation to be in bed awake. Their bed, bedroom, and bedtime have all become triggers and associations for wakefulness as opposed to sleep. Have you ever fallen asleep on the couch feeling exhausted only to get into bed and be wide awake? This is conditioned arousal and may be something you yourself or a client can very much resonate with. The feeling of being “dead tired and wide awake”
One thing in the industry that has always struck me as strange is seeing representations like the one above, depicting sleep, exercise, and nutrition as the 3 equal pillars of health. I say strange because of the associated percentage of focus sleep gets in our coaching and process relative to exercise or nutrition. Despite the fact that sleep has an impact on EVERY single goal clients will have in health and performance. Not to mention that quality sleep sets the foundation for success in exercise and nutrition interventions. Take the graphic below as an example:
Here we see exactly how sleep promotes the best possible results in health, rehabilitation, and performance. Sleep fosters optimal recovery, recovery breeds adaptation, and adaptation breeds results. Adaptation creating results does NOT happen without optimal sleep.
Health Benefits of Sleep: Hierarchy to Sleep Optimization
The last thing I want to discuss and leave you with is something that creates the foundation for sleep coaching. That is a hierarchy system with regards to improving sleep. We can’t truly help individuals in anything unless we have principles and know where to start and then where to progress.
While I won’t break this entire pyramid down, we see that behaviors are at the foundation. This where the greatest impact is made in promoting long term sleep health. Even though lifestyle interventions and hacks are certainly a part of the optimization process, they are only successful once the foundations are in place. These foundations come from good quality sleep coaching.
The Online Sleep Coach Course
I’m excited to announce that I am releasing a comprehensive course on sleep and recovery coaching that will ensure you check this pivotal box in health and performance. It will cover everything from anatomy and physiology to assessment and refer out points to specific step by step coaching strategies. It will also feature 12 content expert contributions offering different perspectives, which are backed by a clinical board of advisors. If interested in learning everything you need to learn on sleep and recovery, click HERE! Also, to gain access to a discount (20% off the course), click this link!
Posture [P]Rehab Program
About The Author
Nick Lambe – Sleep Coach
Nick Lambe has been a coach for the last 8 years. He has always aimed to and prided himself on being different in his approach to working with clients. He is a massage therapist, strength coach, sleep coach and health coach but envisions himself firstly as a healthcare practitioner. He believes exercise and lifestyle interventions can be some of the most powerful medicine, especially proactively for our health. Nick has done certification work in many other aspects of health and wellness such as sleep, nutrition, behavioral psychology, heart rate variability, brain health, stress management and more. Most notably in these lifestyle interventions, he has taken a deep dive into sleep. He believes that sleep is the foundation for health and well being, despite being often under-appreciated and undervalued.