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Podcast No. 55: How Sleep Impacts Performance

By Will Ahmed

Podcast No. 55: How Sleep Impacts Performance

With the new year upon us, WHOOP is focusing on the topic of #RESTolutions to kick off 2020--what can you do to rest more and sleep better?

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On today’s podcast, we explain exactly why this is so important. Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo take a deep dive into the impact sleep has on performance, no matter who you are or what you do. They discuss what happens during REM and slow wave sleep, as well as the benefits of each, the negative effects sleep deprivation has on how your body functions, how much sleep you should get each night, and the best ways to maximize the efficiency of your time in bed.

Why is sleep so important?

1:59 - Essential for Life. “The reality is, when you’re in your optimal sleep groove, pretty much everything else in life corrects itself.” 2:30 - The 4 Stages of Sleep. Wake, light, slow wave (deep) and REM. 3:05 - Slow Wave and REM. “Generally slow wave is when the physical damage that we do to our bodies all day long gets repaired, and REM is when we consolidate short-term memories to long-term memories.” 3:37 - Sleep Architecture. “Most people fall asleep within about 10 minutes of trying to fall asleep. With athletes and young people it’s even faster. You typically have light sleep for at least 10 minutes, sometimes longer, and then you tend to get your first big chunk of slow wave sleep. … Slow wave sleep dominates the first half of the night, REM dominates the second half.” 4:51 - What Happens When Sleep is Cut Short? “You disproportionality are losing REM sleep … and you’re actually REM sleep deprived.” Your body then adjusts and will get more REM sleep at an earlier time the next night. “A great sign that you didn’t get enough sleep last night is that you’re getting REM sleep too early in the night.” 5:53 - WHOOP Data Quantifies This. “The way things are shifting from night to night has a lot of information.” Check out Emily’s White Paper, The Importance of Sleep Stage Tracking for Athletic Performance and Recovery. 7:42 - Benefits of Slow Wave Sleep. “During slow wave sleep we produce 95 percent of the human growth hormone that we’re going to produce in the entire day. … You really want to think about sleep not just as preparing you to perform the next day, but also as where that performance turns into physiological gains.” 10:18 - Benefits of REM. Emily discusses a 2011 Stanford study that showed extra sleep improved athletes' reaction time. “If you’re not getting enough REM sleep, all of that stuff goes away,” things like depth perception, quick decision making, etc. “You need that mental restoration in order to perform at your best.” Kristen notes a 2007 study from Siobhan Banks that showed “impaired daytime cognitive functioning” when people slept less than 7 hours per night for an extended period of time. 15:09 - Mood Regulation. “If you’re not getting enough REM sleep, everybody knows what a cranky toddler looks like. We control it better, but adults have that same thing.” 16:21 - Like Going Sleepless for 48 Hours? Kristen cites a University of Pennsylvania study that suggests “[If you get] 6 hours of sleep per night for 2 weeks straight your mental and physical performance declines at the same level as if you stayed awake for 48 hours … you can’t perceive your own cognitive and physical declines.” 17:16 - Not Knowing You’re Sleep Deprived. “A lot of people have no idea how sleep deprived they are and they have no idea how it’s affecting things because it becomes so normal. You lose that self awareness.” 17:49 - “Running on Low-Power Mode.” Sleep deprivation makes us lose the ability to think long term and “We become reactive and very focussed on short-term optimizations. … We make really bad dietary decisions, [from an athletic standpoint] it becomes much harder to ‘get gritty’ and “dig deep.’” 19:04 - Physical Symptoms & Effects of Sleep Deprivation. “Driving sleep deprived is very similar to driving drunk.” Your blood pressure increases, cancer rates go up. “Your body can’t do everything that it’s built to do if you are sleep deprived. … People seem to age faster.” Kristen adds, “There’s not one process in the human body that is not influenced by sleep.” 21:00 - Sleep Education. “In 2020, if you’re a leader of people, consider focusing on sleep education within your environment.” 22:15 - A Needed Culture Shift. “There’s definitely a culture that if you’re sleep deprived you’re important somehow. ... It needs to be just as unacceptable as it is to show up hungover or high.” 23:53 - Sleep Replete. “You can store food and water in your body, but you can’t store sleep,” Kristen points out. Emily says “You can’t stay asleep when you do not need sleep, which is completely different from all our other processes. … What that means is you need to get the sleep that you need every single night, there’s no sleeping equivalent to eating a big breakfast because you’re working through lunch.” 25:06 - How Much Sleep Should We Get? Kristen references a recent study linking consistently sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours to metabolic syndrome. “As we age we tend to need less sleep.” Guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation. 26:14 - Sleep vs Time in Bed. As we get older we need less sleep, but sleep efficiency also goes down. “It starts to take you 8 hours to get 7 hours of sleep, or 9 hours to get 7 hours of sleep as you get older and older.” For this reason, your time-in-bed need may actually increase with age. 30:34 - Sleeping Too Much is Problematic. “Long sleep is often a comorbid symptom, and not actually the primary cause of the bad things that it seems to be correlated with.” 33:19 - Understanding Your Sleep Need. “A lot of people think they’re getting enough sleep, and they’re not.” Emily suggests an experiment--make your room totally dark and try to sleep in as long as you can for a few days. Do you wake up naturally at the same time you’re used to? 37:24 - Sleep Regularity. “If you can understand when to go to bed and when to wake up, everything else rights itself for the most part.” A 2017 study from Andrew Phillips found students had better grades when they went to bed and woke up at similar times each day. At WHOOP, we call this sleep consistency. 40:07: The Hack to Sleep. “Figure out how to spend every second that you’re asleep getting benefits.” Check out our previous podcast, The Circadian Rhythm Sleep Hack, detailing how WHOOP looked at 3 million sleeps to study the value of sleep consistency. 41:33 - Anticipated Sleep Onset. “When you surprise your body either by trying to go to bed too early or by trying to not go to bed when it's anticipating that you’re going to go to bed, your body is not ready.” Emily relates it to being unprepared for an important meeting. 44:51 - When is Your Natural Biological Pressure for Sleep? Kristen shares some tips to help you fall asleep at the time your body wants to. “See when you actually start to feel sleepy, and allow your body to go through that natural process. Then if you can, see when you naturally wake up.” 46:29 - A Behavior You Can Control. “If you can’t get all the sleep you need, doing it at least at a time where your body is going to be anticipating it and be ready to take every advantage of that time that you’re giving it, you’re going to get so much more out of the sleep than if you get a short sleep at a random time.”   Learn More: How to Get More REM Sleep