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The 3 Components of Optimal Sleep

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calendar-iconFebruary 5, 2019

Foundational Sleep Series

Sleep

Sleep is an underrated component of leading a healthy and fit life.  It plays a critical role in muscle growth and fat loss.

In order to understand how to build the fundamentals of a great sleeping routine, it's necessary to know the structure of a full nights sleep. With these building blocks in mind, this blog post will focus on the fundamentals for how to get a good night's rest.

Since sleep is often overlooked in plans pursuing optimal fitness, you might not be familiar with the most important variables, or the "macro variables" when it comes to proper sleep habits.

Fig. A

In this post, we'll break down what those variables are and how to implement them into your nightly routine.

Quantity

Individuals who habitually sleep outside the normal range may be exhibiting signs or symptoms of serious health problems or, if done volitionally, may be compromising their health and well-being.

Hirshkowitz et al.

The first macro variable of sleep is quantity, or getting enough hours of sleep you get on a nightly basis. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to be "well rested".1

It is important to note that this optimal quantity can vary between different age groups. Fortunately, the National Sleep Foundation has constructed a chart that breaks down optimal sleep quantity by of optimal sleep quantity by age group, which we've replicated here in the post (Fig. A).

So how do you know for sure that you are getting enough rest? There are a few telltale signs. With adequate sleep quantity, you should be able to wake up without an alarm clock. Further, you should feel alert throughout the day. Bouts of drowsiness throughout the day let you know that you should have spent more time catching ZZZ's!2

Lastly, it's important to note that if you are acclimating to a new sleep schedule or just recovering sleep debt, you may need higher than the average amount of sleep for your age group. Once acclimated, however, you might actually end up needing less sleep than average!

Consistency

Subjects in the regular schedule condition reported greater and longer lasting improvements in alertness compared with subjects in the sleep only condition and reported improved sleep efficiency.

Manber et al.

The second macro variable of sleep is consistency or making sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. A consistent sleep schedule translates to higher quality sleep.

A consistent sleep schedule will ensure the stabilization of your body's internal clock and translates to more restful sleep at night as well as more alert wakefulness during the day.3-5

A consistent sleep schedule will also mean you'll have an easier time getting to bed, and an easier time getting up in the morning. Studies have shown that a consistent sleep schedule can also leave with needing to spend less time asleep since the rest you are getting is high quality.3-5

If you make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, you will benefit from the advantages of a consistent sleep schedule. The occasional late night or early morning won't do too much damage, so long as you stick to a consistent sleep schedule the majority of the time.3-5

Continuity

Partial sleep loss from sleep continuity disruption is more detrimental to positive mood than partial sleep loss from delaying bedtime, even when controlling for concomitant increases in negative mood.

Finan, Quartana, & Smith

The last macro variable of sleep is continuity or making sure you sleep in one continuous block throughout the night. Sleeping in one continuous block is critical for making sure your night's rest is high quality.

So what happens if you don't sleep in one continuous block? Interrupted sleep disrupts your sleep cycle, and makes your sleep less efficient. Studies have even shown that those who slept in one continuous block felt they needed to spend fewer hours in bed than those whose sleep was interrupted.6 One continuous block of sleep saves you time and the struggle of fatigue throughout the day!

The Takeaway

If you want to make sure you are getting the most out of your sleep, it just comes down to:

  1. Quantity
  2. Consistency
  3. Continuity

Spend enough time sleeping, make sure its the same time every day, and make sure your sleep is uninterrupted, and you'll ensure you reap all the muscle building and fat burning benefits of optimal rest!

References

  1. Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. 2015;1(1):40-43. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010 link
  2. Maas, James B., et al. Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know about Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask. Author House, 2011.
  3. Manber R, Bootzin RR, Acebo C, Carskadon MA. The effects of regularizing sleep-wake schedules on daytime sleepiness. Sleep. 1996;19(5):432-41. link
  4. Kang JH, Chen SC. Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan. BMC Public Health. 2009;9:248. link
  5. Finley, Christy L., and Brian J. Cowley. “The Effects of a Consistent Sleep Schedule on Time Taken to Achieve Sleep.” Clinical Case Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 2005, pp. 304–311., doi:10.1177/1534650103259743. link
  6. Finan PH, Quartana PJ, Smith MT. The Effects of Sleep Continuity Disruption on Positive Mood and Sleep Architecture in Healthy Adults. Sleep. 2015;38(11):1735-42. link
Date Created: February 5, 2019

Last Updated: April 2, 2020

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