Sleep is arguably the most critical tool in optimizing health, performance, and body composition. Getting adequate sleep quality and quantity is imperative to enhancing both physical and mental performance.
During a typical adult’s 7 to 8 hour sleep, the sleeper moves from the first stage, to the second, and to the third stage, then back again to the second stage. After this, the sleeper either wakes up or goes straight to REM sleep. From then on, the cycle repeats itself some 4–5 times. One full cycle typically lasts about 90 minutes. From the perspective of getting a good night’s sleep, it is paramount to maximize the amount of deep sleep by going through at least three cycles.
There are 2 important parts of the sleep-wake cycle:
During slow-wave sleep the body relaxes, breathing becomes more regular, blood pressure falls, and the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli, which makes it more difficult to wake up. This phase is critical for the renewal and repair of the body. During slow-wave sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Researchers also believe that the body’s immune system is repaired during this stage. Slow-wave sleep is particularly critical for athletes.
REM sleep is to the mind what slow-wave sleep is to the body. The brain is relatively quiet during most sleep phases, but during REM your brain comes to life. REM sleep is when your brain dreams and re-organizes information. During this phase, your brain clears out irrelevant information, boosts your memory by connecting the experiences of the last 24 hours to your previous experiences, and facilitates learning and neural growth. Your body temperature rises, your blood pressure increases, and your heart rate speeds up. Despite all of this activity, your body hardly moves. Typically, the REM phase occurs in short bursts about 3 to 5 times per night.
The endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is a molecular system responsible for regulating and balancing many processes in the body – from immune response, communication between cells, appetite and metabolism, memory, and more – the main function of the ECS is to maintain a state of homeostasis, or balance, within the body. A chemical-signaling system senses disruptions or certain input from your environment and reacts by releasing compounds within your body known as endocannabinoids.
For example, when you are faced with a stressful situation your body initiates a series of events to equip you for survival. Whether you are being chased by a bear, crushing a hard workout, or stuck in traffic, the perceived stress initiates a fight-or-flight response within your body. Your body temperature increases, adrenaline starts pumping, blood rushes to your limbs, pupils dilate, all of your energy stores move away from digestion, and your body leaves its state of relaxation and enters a state of protection and defense – this is a basic survival mechanism that your body is equipped with to keep you alive in times of “danger” such as when your ancestors were hunting for food and encountered a bear.
Once you escape the perceived threat, your body recognizes that it is safe and begins to release endocannabinoids which calm your nervous system and reduce your heart rate. This allows your body to return to ‘homeostasis’ to breed relaxation, recovery, and growth.
However, your body is NOT equipped to handle the constant activation of this stress response with the modern world’s daily stressors such as poor relationships, negative self-image, impending deadlines at work, etc… which lead to elevated stress and excessive inflammation. Since your ECS assists your body in everything from hormone production to pain management, this constant activation of your stress response may lead to ECS deficiencies which may have a negative impact on your sleep.
CBD: a powerful tool for improving sleep cycles
In addition to diet and lifestyle interventions to manage your stress response, CBD oil can have a powerful impact on supporting your ECS. CBD supplementation may reduce anxiety and fear, improve mood, and reduce pain and excess inflammation to enable your body to enter the rest and relaxation state to return to homeostasis.
When it comes to CBD oil, there are three different types on the market ranging from isolates, broad-spectrum to full spectrum. A CBD isolate refers to CBD that has been stripped out of the plant to contain nothing else including zero THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation), whereas a full spectrum oil is in its natural form so that all the beneficial components are extracted out of the whole plant, including less than 0.3% THC (not enough to achieve that “high” feeling, but potentially enough to build up in your system over time to test positive on a drug test). The benefits of using a full-spectrum product are similar to that of eating real food versus taking supplements – you are consuming the food how nature intended it, which results in a more complete effect. A broad-spectrum product may contain less than 0.1% THC.
As an entrepreneur and athlete, I have experienced the negative impact that a racing mind and a fatigued body can have on health, performance, and body composition goals. I have personally found full-spectrum, higher dose CBD supplementation to have a sedative effect that helps to reduce anxiety before bed, leading to improvements in deep sleep cycles that allow me to wake up feeling more energized and recovered. I have also noticed athletic improvements with my increased capacity to hit my training session with more intensity the next day as the anti-inflammatory effects accelerate my post-workout recovery and reduce the pain of nagging injuries that used to disrupt my sleep.
As an avid CrossFit athlete, nutritionist, and gym owner, I strongly believe that diet and lifestyle habits are the most powerful tool in optimizing your health to achieve your goals – but as a go-getter known to overload my plate at times, leaning on the powerful effects of a natural, plant-based compound to help my body return to homeostasis, faster, keeps me going while avoiding burnout.
The negative effects of sleep debt
Sleep debt has a neurological cost that accumulates over time. Getting less than optimal sleep (eg. 6hrs instead of 8hrs) over two weeks has been proven to lead to mental and physical performance declines to the same level as if you had stayed awake for 48hrs straight. Neglecting sleep hinders the body’s essential processes for recovery that reinforce peak performance.
Exercise activates your sympathetic nervous system – the same fight-or-flight response that causes your breathing to quicken, your heart to beat more rapidly, your muscles to tense, and your sweat to bead during stressful events. Therefore, forcing your body through sympathetic activation without adequate recovery will only further push your mind and body into a state of anxiety and tension. This vicious cycle of sleep deprivation can lead to an imbalance in not only your athletic performance, but also your career, and personal life. Studies show a host of negative health and performance effects from sleep deprivation including:
- Impaired brain function
- Greater risk of obesity and diabetes (impaired glucose sensitivity and craving unhealthy foods)
- Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, which impair immune function, muscle recovery, and repair from damage
- Minimized growth hormone, increased cortisol (stress hormone) secretion
- Sub-maximal strength
- Running/sprint performance
- Muscle glycogen concentration
- Time to exhaustion
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