Today, we just don’t enough sleep. Our modern high-tech society seems to be wreaking havoc on our sleep time (and quality), and ultimately health and performance. The average America adult gets only six and a half hours of sleep per night and alarmingly 33% of the population gets less than 6 hours of sleep per night. One of the most common question I get from clients to offset their sleep debt is “can I just sleep more on the weekends?” It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately the current research suggests no… you need to be consistent with your sleep to reap the health and performance benefits.Read More
To optimize performance gains, the conventional wisdom has always been that caffeine supplements are superior to coffee. That’s one of the reasons why pre-workout supplements are so popular, and for most people, highly effective for improving exercise performance. But, in the last few years there has been some interesting research coming out demonstrating that coffee can perform just as well as caffeine supplements when it comes to exercise. Thus, the narrative shifted to coffee is just as good as caffeine or pre-workout supplements. Until now.Read More
Today, over 33 percent of America gets less than 6 hours of sleep, which throws your blood sugar and insulin levels out of whack, ramps up cravings, and shoots your cortisol stress levels through the roof. No wonder you’re tired.
One of the most common complaints from clients is fatigue. Practicing in a busy downtown clinic in a major city means I see a lot of Type A clients constantly on the go from work and play.
Whether it’s trouble getting out of bed in the morning without hitting snooze three times, struggling through afternoon energy crashes or not getting to bed early enough, sleep has a major impact on mental and physical health (and performance).
We sleep less than our grandparents’ generation, and we’re constantly stimulated by connectivity. We’re overtaxed!
The average person today gets 1.5-2.0 hours less sleep than our grandparents’ generation, and when you combine that with the constant stimulation of mobile devices and connectivity, our brains and bodies are generally overtaxed and under-recovered. (1) Before you add more “siestas” into your day, you need to understand how sleep works to maximize your naps.
What Is a Sleep Cycle?
There are two main types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM), which are separated into four stages. You can think of REM as “active” sleep and non-REM as “quiet” sleep.
In Stage 1 (non-REM), you’re settling down to rest and you drift in and out of sleep. This period lasts 5-10 minutes, during which the brain produces theta waves that slow brain activity. It’s the period between wakefulness and sleep. (If someone woke you up at this point, you would probably say you weren’t even asleep.)
In Stage 2 (non-REM), your body temperature drops and your heart and breath rate become more regular. Ironically, your brain produces small bursts of activity in preparation for deeper sleep phases. You spend about 20 minutes in this phase.
Stage 3 (non-REM) is when slow delta brain waves kick in, your muscles relax, blood pressure drops, and you transition from light to deep sleep. This is your deepest sleep, when your body really starts repairing and rebuilding your muscles, memory, immunity, hormones, nervous system, etc. It’s like taking your car into the mechanic: deep sleep tunes-up the body so it’s running on all cylinders.
Stage 3 sleep is the deepest, restoring your body’s muscles, memory and immune system.
In Stage 4, you enter REM sleep and your body becomes extremely relaxed (in fact, paralyzed) and your brain more active. Rapid eye movement begins in this stage (thus the REM acronym), as well as your dreams. Most people spend about 20% of their sleep in REM.
Your body rolls through all of these stages every 90 minutes, but they don’t happen in sequence. You start off in stage 1, then progress to stages 2 and 3 before your body reverts back into stage 2. This cycle occurs multiple times before you hit REM sleep, about every 90 minutes.
Benefits of Napping
Adding naps into your routine can provide numerous health benefits. Remember, a nap is usually only light sleep (20-60 minutes in phase 1-3) or one sleep cycle (90 minutes), whereas in deep sleep overnight, your body will roll through multiple cycles. Check out the of benefits of napping below:
1. Naps Improve Brain Function
Napping is the ultimate brain-hack. Research shows even a 5-15 minute nap can significantly improve cognitive function for the next 1-3 hours, something most of us can really use during that afternoon slump. (2)
2. Naps Prevent Weight Gain
If you don’t get enough sleep time at night, you’re over 50% more likely to be obese. (3) That’s no joke. If you know you aren’t getting to bed early enough at night, make time to decompress during the day to maintain a healthy body composition. The extra sleep and recovery from a midday nap can help mitigate these effects.
3. Naps Support Athletic Performance
Not getting enough sleep is also a performance killer. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently found that sleep restriction reduced maximal aerobic power, energy expenditure and time to exhaustion in athletes. (4) It’s no wonder elite athletes nap so often!
4. Naps Improve Immune Defenses
If you get less than six hours of sleep nightly, you’re at 4.5x greater risk of catching a cold or flu. (5) This is one of the reasons why you get sick when you’re trying to hit a deadline and burning the midnight oil (at the expense of sleep) or when you’re a new parent who is constantly waking up throughout the night to comfort or feed your baby. Napping can help offset this effect and increase immune function.
5. Naps Can Boost Your Memory
Pre-school kids do this as part of their daily routine, and now the research shows it helps to improve memory consolidation. That’s right, a 30-minute nap within four hours of a learning task significantly improves memory; increasing this to 45-60 minutes for adults could make your memory five times more effective. (6) We always think doing “more” is the answer, but this research highlights that taking the time to rest will increase your efficiency.
6. Naps Improve Resiliency from Travel
If you travel for work and fly across multiple time zones, it deeply impacts your body’s circadian hormone output, significantly raising cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones and reducing sleep quality. (7) Naps help build resiliency by increasing the amount of time you spend in parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode.
7. Naps Lower Blood Pressure
If you’re always on the go, regularly drinking caffeine, or in poor health, you may have high blood pressure. Studies show that taking a regular afternoon nap is inversely associated with heart attacks. (8) Another great reason to make time for a siesta.
How Long Should You Nap?
Your body runs on a 24-hour biological clock, known as your circadian rhythm. This rhythm peaks in the morning (to wake you up) and falls in the evening (to prepare you for sleep). It also bottoms out a little in the afternoon, one of the reasons we all feel a little fatigue around then. During this 24-hour cycle, we have two periods of intense dips: one between 2am to 4am, and the other approximately 10 hours later. If you wake up earlier, this afternoon dip will be more towards 1-2pm, while if you start your day a bit later, it may be anytime between 2-4 pm. It’s important not to nap too close to bedtime, as this will shift your circadian rhythm and you’ll struggle to fall asleep.
The early afternoon is the best time to nap. If you sleep too close to bedtime, it’ll shift your circadian rhythm.
The duration and timing of your nap are important factors to consider. If the timing of your nap is off, you’ll likely wake up tired, groggy and disoriented (not the effects you were likely aiming for). Below are three napping strategies that can help boost your mental and physical performance. Use the one that works best for you.
The Desk Worker’s Nap
If you work at a desk all day, it’s not easy to carve out 60 or 90 minutes to nap during the day. The “desk worker’s” nap is only 15-20 minutes in stage 2 sleep, but helps to quickly recharge your brain to boost cognitive function. Aim for anytime between 2pm and 4pm.
The Entrepreneur’s Nap
If you work for yourself or set your own hours, it’s possible to carve out a longer stretch for napping during the day. Business owners usually work really long days, so getting a full 60 minutes allows you to get into stage 3 sleep and consolidate better memory. Again, aim for between 2pm and 4pm.
The Athlete’s Nap
If you’re training intensely, your body will benefit from a full 90-minute sleep cycle (with REM sleep) to maximize recovery from training. This type of sleep enhances nervous system and muscular repair, as well as boosting creativity (for the artist types who want to take advantage too!). Athletes normally perform two-a-day training, so the nap may be a bit earlier, between 1pm and 2pm, to allow time before the afternoon training session.
We are busier today that we’ve ever been, and sleep usually takes a back seat when you’re pressed for time. Reboot your mental and physical performance by adding a daily nap into your routine. It’s an incredible health hack that can supercharge your brain and body so they can keep up with your hectic pace.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Want to learn more? Listen Dr. Amy Bender PhD talk naps and sleep on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...
Check out more articles in the SLEEP SERIES...
For almost three decades, we’ve been told by doctors and health practitioners to limit our sun exposure. Just like eggs yolks and cholesterol, a fear of too much sun and the risk of skin cancer was instilled in the general population. Unfortunately, more sunscreen and less sunshine hasn’t improved our health. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
Something that likely started with good intentions eventually morphed into a completely excessive use of sunscreens to protect ourselves from skin cancer.
New research is highlighting that NOT getting enough sun exposure can be just as bad for you as smoking! (1) That’s a powerful statement, so let’s take a closer look at the studies and find out what the right dose of sunshine is for you.
Doesn’t the Sun Cause Skin Cancer?
There is no doubt that if you continually and significantly overexpose yourself to the sun (think sunburns), then you increase your risk of melanoma and skin cancer. However, the skin cancer scare of the 1990s was a little misleading.
Recently, the British Journal of Dermatology concluded that the marked rise in cases of skin cancer in the 1990s had less to do with sun exposure—and more to do with changes in the diagnosis of skin cancer. Researchers call it “diagnostic drift,” which is a fancy term that describes how doctors in the 1990s started lumping in noncancerous (i.e. benign) lesions with cancerous ones. (Previously, they were separated.) (2) In fact, sun exposure may actually help you prevent skin cancer and heal more quickly if you already have skin cancer. (Yes, really!)
How is that possible? Well, the original research was done in northern Australia, an area that provides constant, strong sun exposure throughout the year. A group of individuals live there who ancestrally migrated from northern Europe.
What we know now is that extrapolating that information and then applying it to countries that only get a few months of strong sun exposure every year (e.g., Canada, England, and Sweden) is faulty logic. Similarly, using the original research of populations with predominantly fewer melanocytes (cells that produce melanin), and applying it to other populations with more pigmentation is also poor logic.
In short, they got it wrong. The good news is that new research is uncovering just how important the sun is for your overall health and vitality.
The New ‘Light’ on Sunshine Research
Just this spring, the prestigious Journal of Internal Medicine made a discovery unlike any other. If you AVOID the sun, it increases your risk of death to the same degree as smoking! (3) It’s hard to believe, but the evidence is very compelling.
Between 1990 and 1992, Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, MD, of Karolinska University in Sweden had his research team recruit almost 30,000 women between the ages of 25-64. They tracked their health status over the next 2.5 decades. They found that women who got the most sun had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lung disease—compared to those who avoided the sun.
They concluded that avoiding the sun could subtract 0.6-2.1 years of your life expectancy. How’s that for turning the “sunshine” argument on its head?
The researchers also found the benefits were dose-specific: The more sun you get, the more the benefits increase. However, it’s important to remember that it’s an observational study, so it highlights an association between lack of sun exposure and disease, not causation. (There could be a number of different factors that lead to this improvement; people who get more sun tend to eat more healthily and exercise more regularly.)
Some confusion was added to the list of their findings because skin cancer rates did in fact increase, but those patients exposing themselves to sun had much better survival rates. Studies in Ireland confirm that a Vitamin D deficiency makes skin cancer more dangerous. (4) How is that possible? The answer likely lies the dosage.
More Benefits of Sun Exposure
Here is a quick list of benefits from exposure to regular sunshine and Vitamin D:
Sunlight is your body’s best source of Vitamin D, which has been shown to be protective against more than a dozen cancers. In fact, the Canadian Cancer Society performed a large, randomized, placebo-controlled study, and they found that it may help cut the risk of cancer by 60%. (5) (6)
Better Blood Pressure
If you live in colder, darker climates (e.g., northern cities in the United States, Canada, or England), then the research shows you’re more likely to suffer from hypertension than people who live in warmer, sunnier climates closer to the equator. (7)
Inflammation is a common root of many chronic diseases. Therefore, cooling inflammation should be a high priority for anyone trying to improve their health. Exposure to sunlight has been shown to reduce the effects of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and experts think that Vitamin D’s impact on lowering inflammation may play a key role. (8)
Sets Your Circadian Patterns
Exposure to first morning light is a signal to your nervous system to wake up and get ready for the day. Recent research on modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes (e.g., the San in southern Africa, the Tsimane in Bolivia, and the Hadza in Tanzania) has highlighted the powerful impact of waking with the rising sun and going to sleep not long after sunset. (9)
Despite these tribes averaging only 5.7-7.1 hours of sleep per night, they sleep deeply and have superior overall health. (In fact, they have no words to describe "insomnia"; it does not exist in these groups.) Disrupted circadian patterns have been shown to leave you more prone to fatigue and inflammation, and they can even change the balance of bacteria in your gut from “good” to “bad”. (10)
What Is The Right Amount of Sun?
The right amount of sun for you involves the approach that maximizes the benefits of additional sun exposure, while limiting the potential harms. The following is a short list of tips to help you find the right dose:
- Never let your skin burn.
- If you have fair skin, aim for approximately 10-15 minutes of sun exposure—enough to make your skin very light pink (but never red or burned).
- If you have darker skin, you need more sunlight. Aim for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the individual. (Again, never let your skin burn.)
- Get exposed to morning sunlight daily.
- Get outside! Sunlight is the purest form of vitamin D.
- If you know you’re going to be outside all day, then cover your face and nose with sunscreen during the hottest parts of the day.
Getting outside in the fresh air and sun could be the most Paleo of all lifestyle factors. It should be a staple in your life. Enjoy!
(This article first appeared @Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS