This is the 4th part of our 4 part series on Willpower, Do we need it? If so, How do we strengthen it?
In answering the questions laid out in part one of our 4-part series I’ve suggested that planning, preparation, and discipline are the vital behaviours required to avoiding finding ourselves in situations where we need to rely on willpower, the third ingredient in behaviour change. We’ve looked at what willpower is, how it differs from motivation, and strategies to strengthen it when life throws us a curveball and our plans go awry.
Time now to turn to Tired, the final physiological state in our acronym H.A.L.T., that can so negatively impact our plans for change. With tired, we are talking lack of sleep and sleep is an interesting state of being, some of us need less, some more, but we all need it because without it we die. At least all the rats in the long-term sleep deprivation studies that I looked at did. I’ll spare you the details of just how they kept those little critters awake, but in just two weeks without any sleep the rat’s bodies broke down, stopped working, and they perished.
Without adequate amounts of sleep our bodies and our brains don’t function well. In short term sleep deprivation studies, researchers have found that after as little as 24 hours without sleep our blood pressure rises, followed by chaotic fluctuations to our metabolism which result in intense cravings for carbohydrates – and we’re not talking long grained-brown rice, but foods composed of high fat, high glycemic carbohydrate. Not exactly an ideal situation if you’re looking to lose some weight, but that aside, let’s take a closer look at that time period of 24 hours without sleep. If I’m normally awake for 15 – 17 hours a day, with only a 30% extension, my mind and body begin to behave erratically, and I lose the ability to function effectively. Now, it’s not often that I extend my waking hours by 30% (been a while since I pulled an all-nighter) but it appears that the same negative side effects occur when the waking hours are extended continually by as little as 5%, or about an hour a day.
So, how much sleep do I need? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer because it depends on age, gender, and your unique genetic profile. Some of us are larks, early risers who function best in the day, and some of us are owls, people whose productivity is best in the evening, some need more and others less, but given the modern environment of cellphones, televisions and artificial light it’s safe to say that most of us are at least mildly sleep deprived. This is a bad place to be when we’re trying to change our health or our body composition because as I said earlier chronic sleep deprivation messes with our health and plays havoc with both our metabolism and our brain.
I can’t stress how important sleep is when trying to lose weight, not enough sleep increases our appetite for garbage carbohydrates, reduces our ability to resist these cravings and slows our metabolism, a condition where no amount of exercise or calorie reduction will work. This is a recipe for certain failure. By losing as little as an hour of sleep a day I could create a situation that might make my goal an impossibility and even worse, I might establish a core belief that “I’m a failure” (back to part 3) when it’s the situation and not me that’s the issue.
It’s Vital, I get it, but how do I improve the quality and duration of my sleep?
When I was younger, I’d say goodnight, put my head on the pillow and out! Now, not so much. So, I can talk about both the research and what I’ve done to improve my adventures in dreamland. (If you’re interested in this topic, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, by David K. Randall is the best one I’ve read). The first thing I do is: keep it cold. We’re all different and I sleep hot! I keep my room cold: meat-locker, ice-box-cold, and since adjusting the temperature to suit me I’ve improved my sleeping tremendously. But what if your significant other likes it warm? A giant fuzzy blanket and flannel sheets warm? Well, there are innovative products that cool one side of the bed and warm the other that can solve that issue, unfortunately this didn’t solve the issue of my snoring or mild sleep apnea, but if co-sleeping is important to you and you’ve got some temperature discrepancies, then it’s well worth the investment.
Having tried a number of different strategies over the years to help improve both mine and my clients sleep, I’ve recently turned to light, putting two different lamps to the test, one a desktop lamp intended to simulate sunlight and improve energy and mood and the other an alarm clock, shaped like an orb that starts out dull red and simulates the rising sun, also intended to improve daytime energy and disposition. I get up very early, typically have a long day and I felt that elevating both my energy and my mood would help with productivity and eventually lead to falling asleep earlier and easier.
Looking at the first lamp, there a number of different studies that support the use of a SAD (now they call them HAPPY, much better marketing) Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp. The one I use is a 10,000 Lux rectangular desktop lamp that I got from Costco online. I keep it angled on the desk beside me and I use it whenever I’m doing admin and on my computer. Now, some of these studies are funded by the product manufacturer so it’s easy to dispute their veracity, but I like the lamp. I don’t care if it’s placebo, or the simulated sunlight striking my pineal gland, all I care about is the effect and I feel better and more energetic on the days that I use it.
Before I go further, my intention is to simply share my experiences working with others and myself, these are not double-blind, randomized, controlled studies, just my personal evaluation and I profit in no way from these products. In fact, I haven’t provided hyperlinks or even the name of the lamps I use! That said, the second light-based strategy I’m currently employing is an alarm clock that simulates the sun, it starts out a dull red and over the course of 20 minutes it changes colour to a brilliant, bright white. I absolutely love waking to a pseudo-sunrise and not the noise of an alarm.
Sleep (or the lack of) has become a “hot” health topic over the last few years. For good reason. The correlations between chronic sleep deprivation, the advent of artificial light, and a host of health issues are clear and while “proof” that obesity, decreased libido, elevated blood pressure, even cancer are caused by our modern “extended hours” lifestyle has yet to be established, getting some quality sleep and feeling energized is an excellent place to start any plan for change.
Willpower. The most important thing to remember about willpower is to do our very best to be disciplined, plan ahead, and to never have to rely on our internal ability to resist! Strategizing and ensuring that we avoid the conditions described in the acronym H.A.L.T. will not only keep us strong for emergencies when we do need to rely on our willpower it will also improve our mental and physical health. See you next time when we look at the final component of behaviour change – Motivation.
Missed part 1 to 3?
ABOUT SEAN HAWTHORNE:
Sean Hawthorne is the owner and operator of OneLife Health and Wellness, Kelowna’s first and longest running private, personal training facility. While working in Dubai, UAE as a Contracts and Project Manager, Sean decided to leave his successful career in Civil Engineering Technology and pursue his passion for health, fitness and helping others achieve their goals. He returned to Canada in 2001, taking formal education in Exercise Science and starting his career in the field of health and fitness. Working in collaboration with their clients, Sean and his team of health and fitness professionals strive to continually improve their skills and to help everyone reach their goals.