If none of us have anything else in common, we all probably at least really enjoy sleeping. Unfortunately, when we have a million other things going on in our day, sleeping is the first thing that suffers. This is likely the most detrimental factor in regards to mental health.
When sleep suffers
Aside from the development of sleeping disorders, such as insomnia, excessive stress that results in a lack of sleep can compound situations such as high functioning anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. This is because sleep is the body’s primary source of recovery. During the stages of our sleep cycle, physiological changes occur to create a homeostatic balance. This regulates things like:
- Body Temperature- Normal body temperature sits around 98 degrees. What happens when body temperature isn’t regulated? It usually spikes, resulting in fever. Ultimately, feverish conditions lead to increased susceptibility to infection.
- Blood Pressure- Normal blood pressure sits around 120/80. Like body temperature, unregulated blood pressure increases. High blood pressure is known as hypertension, which is a comorbidity to things like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or cardiovascular disease
- Heart Rate- Resting heart rates may vary, depending on how active an individual is. More active people will have a lower heart rate than inactive people. While a heart rate will not directly result in life threatening situations, a high heart rate will compound things like high functioning anxiety (previously mentioned).
- Immune Functions- The immune system’s major function is to fight disease and infection. When the body doesn’t get the chance to recover during sleep, the immune system is compromised. Think back to what happens to an unregulated body temperature; having an infection when the immune system is taking a vacation is not good.
- Hormone Functions- Ladies, this is sadly a topic that doesn’t get discussed enough. I remember being younger and saying things like “I wish I only got my period once a year.” I didn’t understand how unhealthy and problematic an unregulated menstrual cycle was until I started experiencing it myself. Like the immune system, compromised hormonal action can result in dysfunctional estrogen release. Additionally, both genders can experience decreased thyroid function, as well as impaired release of sleep-related hormones.
For us CrossFitters, all of these factors can further result in decreased performance, excessive muscle soreness, loss of appetite, and loss of motivation. Not so good when we’re trying to see gains.
Finding a sleep solution
So what do we do to fight for good mental health when it comes to our sleep? Honestly, you’ve probably heard it all before. Establishing a sleep schedule prepares your body both for waking and sleeping. When a sleep schedule is maintained, the body knows what to expect and can better regulate all of the things discussed above. Engaging in physical activity, as we all do, is also a great contributor to mental health. The most important thing is remembering that you need to fuel your body for physical activity. This means adequate nutrition and ample sleep for muscle recovery.
In the coming parts to this series, I will further discuss tools that can help maintain mental health. For now, take some time to identify your sleeping habits. Are there things that you could change to allow your body to recover better? If so, take this week to strategize a good balance between your life’s schedule, and your body’s needs.