Hibernation: Adjusting to Darker and Shorter Days, Part I

This is our first post by Jessica Latham. Look for more to come!

Finding it harder to get out of bed lately? If so, you’re not alone. But if you, along with the many other victims think sheer snoozing is the biggest disaster to your day, think again. “Sleeping through your alarm, or falling asleep at the keyboard and knocking your coffee over on your desk, is not a major disaster facing the sleepless, it’s death. And we don’t mean a car crash. As a nation, we are sick because we don’t sleep. We are fat and diabetic because we don’t sleep. We are dying from cancer and heart disease because we don’t sleep.”

If you weren’t awake when you started reading this, are you awake now? These shocking statements come from the introduction of the bold and informative book Light’s Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival. Sleep is essential to performance, happiness, but most importantly survival. As the days gradually darken and our energy tends to slow, our constitution to hibernate in our homes is an instinctual pattern in the human race and must not be overlooked. A Harvard Medical Publication addressed six reasons to find time for sleep in the article, Importance of Sleep: Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep.

Learning and memory
Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.

What this means for you: Don’t let sleep deprivation hinder your athletic performance, concentration and ability to learn and enhance movements. More sleep could mean better muscle memory and mental focus.

Metabolism and weight
Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

What this means for you: All that hard work you spent losing weight over the summer will quickly fade away over the winter months if you don’t take the time to sleep at least 8 hours, preferably 9-10 hours a night when possible. Less sleep also causes poorer dietary choices, so sleep away and you’ll more likely wake up with a better decision on what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.

What this means for you: We love hitting personal records, but when it comes to injury and lack of form due to sleep deprivation, that extra ten pounds you added to the bar might not be worth it in the long run. Listen to your body and if you’re sleepy, focus on mastering form and safe movements to prevent injury.

Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.

What this means for you: We all have occasional bad days, but no one likes a constant complainer. As important as making a faster time, try noticing your attitude and set a goal to maintain positivity, encouragement and kindness to yourself and the community.

Additionally, several other studies show that people who less sleep tend to be more anxious. Do you find yourself anxious before a workout? If so, your lack of sleep might be contributing to un-needed stress. So relax and have fun with the workout.

Cardiovascular health
Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

What this means for you: Be sure to breath deeply during the warm-up, the WOD and when cooling down. Taking deep breaths will help lower your heart rate and maintain a steady performance. Once you notice the difference at the box, you’ll also see a difference at home. If you have a hard time falling asleep, use the same deep-breathing techniques to relax yourself and ensure a restful night of sleep.

Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

What this means for you: While we focus on performance, nutrition and conditioning, your internal health and immune system is paramount. Remember that each small choice you make results in a big difference in disease prevention in the long run.

If you’re wondering what you can do to encourage a healthful winter, stay tuned for Part II.