3 Strategies For Success - Strategy 3: More Sleep, Less Stress

An interesting fact: Sleep, like death, is one of those things that animals do (humans included, of course), for which we have no reasonable explanation.

On so many levels, sleep doesn't make sense. It leaves us vulnerable to attack; it puts us into a non-productive state for almost a third of our lives and renders us effectively paralysed for eight hours out of every twenty-four.

If there were a Top Trumps pack called "Top Trumps - Evolutionary Traits." you would, quite understandably, want to avoid being dealt any card that displayed "Sleep - 8 Hours" as one of its attributes. It sounds like a species extinction just waiting to happen.

However, in very recent years, we have begun to understand more about our need to sleep and what happens when we do.

There's possibly a touch of spring cleaning going on as toxic debris is cleared and filtered out of the cells.

There may also be a bit of organisation, filing and refiling of experiences and memories.

It's also thought that sleep may help us process our emotions, that dreams play a part in that process, and that we would spend most of our lives on the cusp of mental breakdown without that nightly purge.

Although we don't know much about what happens when we do sleep, we certainly know what happens if we don't. Like air, water and food, go without sleep for too long, and we die.

But even there, we're still somewhat in the dark because we don't know if it's the lack of sleep that kills or some other stress mechanism triggered by the lack of sleep.

Either way, the relationship between sleep and stress is known and experienced by many people every day.

A lack of sleep leads to increased stress levels, and increased stress levels disrupt sleep, which increases stress levels, which disrupts sleep.

The cycle is vicious and destructive on a cellular level, which is the worst level of destructiveness if you're alive and hoping to stay that way.

Currently, two-thirds of people in the UK suffer from disrupted sleep, with 25% of the public citing "improving sleep" as their primary health goal.

Additionally, last year, almost 75% of people said they felt so stressed they were overwhelmed and unable to cope, with 32% of adults claiming to have had suicidal thoughts due to stress.

While the most severe side effect of poor sleep and excess stress is death, the slightly less permanent issues include low energy, chronic fatigue, reduced sex drive, depression, anxiety, weight fluctuations, muscle loss, hormone disruption, respiratory dysfunction, heart disease and cancer. None of which are at all helpful if you're attempting to improve your health.

The latest research shows that both sleep and stress are potentially even more influential in optimising health and maximising longevity than nutrition and exercise.

Of course, we would fully expect any health plan to include a schedule of exercises to build muscle and burn fat. We'd also expect some form of nutrition planning, recipe cards, calorie tracker or macro breakdown.

And while exercise and nutrition protocols often fall into the realms of controversy and belief systems, where what works for one may not work for another, the need to optimise sleep and reduce stress is unquestionable.

Yet, despite the considerable influence sleep and stress have on our health and the awareness that most people have of that influence, they are completely overlooked in most health plans.

So, if your health plan doesn't include sleep and stress management, you might want to rethink the plan. Because whatever your goals, losing fat, gaining muscle, improving performance, having more energy, avoiding illness, everything is affected by the quality of your sleep and your ability to cope with stress.

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