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Sleep More. It’s Good for You.
If there’s one silver lining to being stuck at home, it’s having the perfect excuse to sleep more. Here’s why sleep and workouts go hand-in-hand.
Sure, answering client calls in your pajamas is fun; so is holding a business “meeting” while lying on your couch with Fido at your feet. But perhaps one of the biggest perks during periods of work-from-home is the ability to sleep later (no train to catch or traffic to battle), zonk out sooner and take naps with impunity. And while it may feel indulgent, actually it’s just plain healthy. Study after study has shown sleep is crucial—more sleep means greater health, improved cognitive functioning, sharper memory and even a better game of pickup basketball (yes, really). Here’s why it’s time to swap work hard, play hard with work hard, sleep hard.
Sleep Boosts Athletic Performance
NBA players take naps before games—and for good reason. In a multi-month experiment, scientists at Stanford University closely monitored the sprinting speeds, reaction times and shooting percentages of the men’s varsity basketball team. Then the team was put on a five-week “sleep extension” program, where players slept 10 hours per night and took naps whenever possible. Once again the players were monitored. The well-rested players showed major improvements in free throws (a 9 percent boost), three-pointer percentages (also up by 9 percent), quicker reaction times and faster sprints. The takeaway: It’s not about whether you should you sleep in or work out, it’s about doing both.
Sleep Deprivation Kills Brain Cells
Sounds dramatic but it’s true. During a study at the University of Pennsylvania, scientists examined the brains of sleep-deprived mice. They found that not only did the sleepy mice lose brain neurons—the connect-the-dots cells that help you think, reason and perform motor functions—but they lost them permanently, even when their sleep returned to normal. So for all those times you’re considering skimping on sleep during the week with the reasoning that you’ll make up for it on the weekend… nope.
You Eat Healthier When You Sleep More
Lack of sleep can change your behavior in sneaky ways. Consider this quirky experiment from scientists in Sweden: Researchers split volunteers into two groups, and kept one group up all night while letting the others sleep like normal. Then they gave the volunteers the equivalent of $50 and told them to spend it at the grocery store on whatever they wanted. The result: Sleep-deprived shoppers were more likely to choose junk food than their well-rested counterparts. Those foods were also, on average, 9 percent higher in calories.
Sleep Helps Regulate Appetite
Along similar lines, it turns out that too little sleep messes with the hormones that control your urge to eat. The hormone leptin, for example, sends signals to the brain that help determine whether you feel hungry or not. When you skimp on sleep, those signals get confused, and your brain is fooled into thinking you’re hungrier than you are.
“Short or poor quality sleep is linked to an increased risk of obesity by deregulating appetite, leading to increased energy consumption,” says Kristen Knutson, M.D., of the University of Chicago. That’s a problem since in the United States, 18 percent of adults get less than six hours of sleep a night (the recommended dose is seven to nine hours).
Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System
Always—but especially during times when you’re looking to shore up your body’s arsenal of disease-fighting weapons—sleep is everything. Your body’s T cells, which regulate the immune system, thrive with consistent quality zzz’s. But a study from the University of California, San Diego, found that even a modest drop in the amount you sleep causes a reduction of natural immune responses and T cell cytokine production, basically diminishing the tools you have to ward off illness.
Napping Makes Your Brain Sharper
In a landmark, classic sleep study, scientists at NASA once asked astronauts to test out 18 different napping routines to determine the optimal pattern for maximum mental performance. They found the ideal sweet spot was a 26-minute catnap, which boosted the pilots’ performance by 34 percent. Careful, though: Sleeping longer than 30 minutes but less than 90 minutes puts you in no man’s land, as a full REM cycle lasts an hour and a half. If you take a nap for, say, an hour, you’ll wake up mid-cycle feeling groggy (and cranky, too).
Sleep Helps You Make Better Decisions
Everyone has seen the guy at the bar who is clearly wasted but keeps announcing, “It’s okaaayyyy, I’m not drunkkkk!!” To the rest of the world, it’s obvious. But to this gentleman, not so much. A similar thing happens to your brain when you miss out on sleep. People who sleep six or less hours a night for two weeks experience a significant lag in reaction times and cognitive functions, even though they report feeling totally fine, according to research. Just like too much alcohol convinces you that you’re not drunk, too much sleep deprivation convinces you that you’re not sleep-deprived.
Of course, it’s easier to justify a midday nap or earlier bedtime when you feel like you’ve earned it. Take advantage of a WFH schedule and slip in a quick workout without your boss being any the wiser (check out these EMOM intervals, bodyweight programs and other equipment-free routines). Then stretch it out, take a bath and crawl under the covers. Remember, it’s all in the name of good health.