If you stop and think about it, the society in which we live is all about the “quantity perspective.” Altering your body composition is as simple as keeping track of how many calories you do or do not ingest. Social status all depends on the amount of “friends” you have and how far your network reaches. Wealth is measured by the size of your wallet, the number of Versace purses you own, and by how much crap you have piled up in your three-car garage. We are immersed in a society that tells us quantity trumps quality and more is better. We are programmed to shove as much “stuff” into our days as we possibly can, while being constantly reminded that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So how do we compensate for what we think is lack of time? We sacrifice sleep. In fact, the extent to which a person is willing to sacrifice sleep is often used as an indicator of success in America. We are told that if we give up more hours of sleep, we will be more successful and will accumulate more crap. Keep in mind, however, that we are also told (by the same society) that wheat bread is healthy and thirty minutes per day on the treadmill will keep us trim and lean (Yeah, right….). So, if we CrossFitters are going against the grain (pun intended) when it comes to society’s skewed perspective of nutrition and exercise, why not kick society’s perspective on the importance of sleep to the curb as well? In order to do this, we must first understand how we developed this skewed perspective of sleep.
Our bodies have biological clocks that operate on a roughly 24-hour cycle (hence why there are only 24 hours in a day). This clock controls our body’s circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental and behavioral changes. These rhythms are responses brought on by light and darkness in our environment. For instance, in the absence of light, our body increases the release of a hormone known as melatonin, which causes us to feel sleepy. This explains part of the reason why our caveman ancestors fell asleep when it got dark and woke up when the sun rose. They relied primarily on the presence and absence of the sun. Millions of years later, humans manipulated this natural pattern by creating artificial lighting. I’m sure Thomas Edison had no ill intentions when creating the light bulb, but, just as society perverted our perception of food and exercise, it has perverted our view of sleep. Our bodies are not designed to operate in constant sunlight, and yet, with these fancy new halogens, you can work past sundown and before the sun comes up. Our sleep patterns no longer rely on natural forces. We have the option to accomplish more by fighting our body’s natural rhythms and neglecting our need for sleep. The problem with this way of thinking is that the less amount of time we spend sleeping, the lower the quality is of the time we spend awake. So, yeah, we may have more time to do work, but if we aren’t functioning optimally in either physical or mental capacity because of lack of sleep, then what’s the point of more hours? We should, instead, rely on the quality and quantity of sleep so that we can perform optimally without using stimulants, such as coffee and 5-hour energy shots, as a crutch just to make it through the (long and tiring) day.
Be on the lookout for the next article on this topic, which will cover what happens while we sleep, why it’s beneficial, and how to improve your sleeping habits.