Sleep is one of the most underestimated keys to better health. In the pursuit of weight loss, increased energy, and better mood, the conversation almost always centers around diet and exercise

Should I eat low carb or high carb? Should I try intermittent fast? Should I do cardio or lift weights for weight loss? These are typically the questions we are asking. 

The questions we aren’t asking: 

How many hours of sleep should I be getting a night?  What is the quality of my sleep? How can I improve my sleep? 

Many clients blame themselves when they feel tired, sluggish, and lacking in motivation to exercise, socialize, cook healthy food, and tend to daily tasks. They think that it’s something psychological or some flaw in their makeup. The truth is that oftentimes it’s a very simple problem. They aren’t getting enough quality sleep. 

When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your whole body suffers. You struggle to stay alert and attentive. You will fight to stay awake and be productive during the day. You will have a harder time remembering small details and processing information. You may find yourself moody and more likely to have conflicts with others. 

If you are low on sleep, you will likely struggle to find the motivation to exercise, get in the kitchen and cook a healthy meal, or make other positive changes in your lifestyle. You will likely crave more sugar, processed carbs, and fatty foods. When you are fighting through fatigue, brain fog, and total lack of motivation, it isn’t easy.  

That’s why I always preach food first, then sleep. Because when you relieve your body from the burden of processing toxic food, excess sugar, and inflammatory ingredients, you will automatically feel better, lighter, and clear minded. And, when you get a good quality night’s sleep, you will also automatically feel better, lighter, and clear minded. 

And guess what happens when you do? 

You will have the energy to cook a healthy meal at night. You will enjoy taking an evening walk or attending an exercise class. Dialing in your nutrition and getting a quality night’s sleep always sets off a positive domino effect. 

So, let’s talk about sleep. 

First the simple question: Are you getting enough sleep? This question comes as no surprise. If you’re running on 4-5 hours of sleep per night, you’re not going to function well. It’s just how it works. Make sure the duration of your night’s sleep is at least 7-9 hours a night. The amount differs a bit from person to person. If you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum, needing 10-12 hours of sleep per night, it may be a sign that there is a deeper problem going on in the body. 

The second question: How is the quality of your sleep? 

When you close your eyes and fade into sleep land, your body kicks off a multi-step process that we refer to as the phases of sleep. Your body follows a sleep cycle divided into four stages. The first three stages are known as non-rapid eye movement sleep, and the last and final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

These four sleep stages repeat throughout the night until you wake up. For most people, the duration of the entire cycle lasts about 90-120 minutes. The first three stages make up about 75% to 80% of each cycle. You may also wake up briefly during the night but not remember the next day. 

Here’s the thing. If your sleep cycle process is interrupted by being woken up during the night, the process starts over again. As a result, when you experience interrupted sleep, you miss out on REM most of all. When this happens, you may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, reduced productivity, aches and pains, increased stress, memory problems, and poor mood. Most people aren’t even aware of how often they wake up each night. 

We tend to think of anything past the point of “nodding off” as sleep, but not all sleep is created equally. We need quality REM sleep to reset the brain, process memories and emotions, and prepare ourselves for productivity and alertness the following day. 

How do you know if you are getting quality sleep? 

One of the things I have found personally helpful is wearable sleep trackers. Sleep trackers utilize sensors that detect and track physical signs like heart rate and body movement to track your sleep patterns. What does a wearable sleep tracker do? It does not improve your sleep, but it does provide excellent feedback to inform you about it. This valuable information can help you understand why you may feel tired and exhausted all the time and will also help you know where to make improvements regarding your sleep habits. 

The device is designed to track the duration, quality, and restoration of your sleep. It takes this information and creates a “sleep score” so you can easily see what kind of sleep you got the night before in just a glance. 

With this information you can begin to make changes to your nighttime routine and habits and track the effectiveness of your efforts. 

What are the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep? 

Stay tuned for part 2!

As always, if you're looking to get to the root of an underlying issue, make positive changes to your diet, improve your gut health, mangage an autoimmune disorder, or find relief for digestive issues, I'd love to help. Click here to set up a free consultation.

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