Se7en’s Blog: It’s Time to Take Sleep Seriously

Se7en’s Blog: It’s Time to Take Sleep Seriously

This is the fourth week of working out; I cannot believe we are nearly half way through the eight week Healthy Weight Programme. So much has changed and so much is actionable. I would never have guessed how much I have learnt and how much I am learning along the way. The truth is there are so many factors that contribute to your healthy weight, not just what you eat, but how much you exercise, and believe it or not, how much you sleep. At this stage, nearly half way through the programme, I wouldn’t dream of wasting a meal on something that wasn’t nutritious; I wouldn’t consider missing a workout at all; I am working on not telling myself that I can’t do “oh so many things to do with exercise” but, given all those changes, I would still work late if I have a deadline or a blog post to get out. Sleep is the one thing that is critical to our health and I am totally speaking for myself here, but I know folk are not nearly as careful about getting enough sleep as they should be.

I knew at the initial assessment for the Healthy Weight Programme that the hardest thing for me to get right would be sleeping correctly. I need to radically change my thinking about sleep. It really is not okay to miss out on it ever. So I wanted to learn more about sleep and signed up to join the sleep study. I reckoned if I fully understood the “why” behind sleeping, then I would be much more determined to get it right. Because I am working out at The Sports Science Institute of South Africa, naturally a lot of scientific study goes on behind the scenes of “the gym.” The sleep study is part of an ongoing PhD programme to determine if a lifestyle intervention programme, like the Healthy Weight Programme, will affect the sleep characteristics of overweight South Africans.

First things first… did you know that less than 7 hours and more than 9 hours sleep a night can cause a person to gain weight and therefore puts them at risk of all sorts of associated chronic diseases? Also, your body has its own natural rhythm or body clock that ensures your body functions to a specific rhythm and you are hungry or tired, for example, at the same time each day. When your body clock is disrupted, so is your natural sleep pattern. I can honestly say after years of sleep disruption with little children waking me multiple times a night, my personal sleep pattern is in a state of chaos… and while all my children now sleep properly through the night every night… I definitely don’t. I was interested to discover that our circadian rhythms are determined in our DNA. The point is that our DNA might determine our physiology, and our natural clock, but can outside “environmental factors” like many more visits to the gym, affect our sleep habits?

My first visit with the sleep expert meant filling in a massive questionnaire… on my general mood, sleep patterns and so on. I was asked to keep a sleep diary for a week and wear an actiwatch that can tell when you are awake or asleep… so there is no chance of saying you went to bed early if indeed you didn’t. I was also asked to keep a food diary and make notes on anything that would affect my sleep. I also contributed some blood to science… for testing… the obvious things like glucose and cholesterol, but also looking for the sleep genes in my DNA.

The second visit was more interesting than filling in forms and donating blood to science. I went in to determine my resting metabolic rate and to assess my body composition. Firstly, the resting metabolic rate is a measure of how much energy you use when resting. Naturally the fitter you are, the higher that number would be. To determine my resting metabolic rate, I had to be at The Sports Science Institute frightfully early in the morning… long before dawn (!), lie in a comfy bed with a dome over my head and then breathe naturally, so that oxygen and carbon dioxide levels could be measured, all the while the computer is making a soft hum… it was almost impossible to stay awake. This was followed by a special dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan… which is a fancy way for saying a scan of your body that determines your bone density, and your body composition… the amount of muscle and fat present in your body. The resulting picture looks like a skeleton, surrounded by a layer of muscle in red and then another layer of fat in orange. And as the radiographer was happy to announce, not very flattering (!!!)… Hopefully this picture will change, though I can’t imagine too dramatically over just eight weeks, perhaps over a longer time frame it would change.

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Finally, I did a two night sleep study… in our home… and my kids and I were intrigued to see living science in action. Each evening our sleep expert came over and patiently took an hour and a half to attach electrodes and sensors onto my head, chin, near my eyes and so on, to determine breathing rate and heart rate as well as heart function. It even measures if you snore… there is no escaping real live monitoring. Not to mention all sorts of other measures… deep sleep, REM sleep… all the sleeps. The information was stored in a data recorder, which was collected the following morning, while I was untangled. All that collected data becomes part of the scientific study on sleep with a number of folk from the Healthy Weight Programme along with other folk who are not overweight.

I am curious to know the results of the study and interested to see what changes will occur to the results after an eight week exercise programme. And in the meantime, I have become much more aware of the sleep I am getting, and that in itself is a fairly huge step. When you do something as simple as keeping a sleep diary, you can quickly see that one or two late nights a week you think you’re getting are actually far closer to se7en late nights a week. Just that awareness helps me to make better sleep decisions at the end of the day… it’s a start, another new beginning on the Healthy Weight Journey.

Previous Posts in this Series

Many thanks to The Sports Science Institute of South Africa for providing me with this opportunity to join their Healthy Weight Programme in exchange for honest blogging along the way.

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Email: se7en@se7en.org.za
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