I’ve had unexplained intermittent sleep disruption over the last few years, that normally involves me waking up at 4 am after about 6 hours sleep. The knock-on effect is feeling rubbish for the rest of the day! I’ve speculated on all various theories including too much stress, looking at computer screens too late, diet and many more. I’ve tried various experiments to try and uncover the cause but have never been successful until now.
Health is a key pillar in my life plan (as it should be for everyone!) so as you’d expect I exercise regularly. I’ve learnt, however, that I probably exercise too intensively. It seems to be a popular theme for gym classes to advertise extreme HIIT workouts. Gymbox went as far to advertise “the most dangerous gym class in the world ” with sick stations and paramedics. Although this is obviously a PR stunt, there’s no denying harder, faster, more extreme exercise is en vogue. But is this good for our health? From an evolutionary standpoint, hunter-gathers primary form of exercise was believed to be walking with average daily distances in the range of 6 to 16 km. Today many sports and fitness practices involve drilling the body into the exhaustion on a consistent basis. This seems to be at odds with the intensity of our hunter-gatherer genes. Although hunter-gatherers move frequently, it was rarely until failure.
It’s simple: eliminate the workouts that are maxing out my heart rate for prolonged periods. I went to one particular gym class that involved sprinting on treadmills and burpees (similar to Barry’s Bootcamp). My heart rate must have been in the max zone for most of the 45-minute class. I felt great afterwards with all that adrenaline and endorphin production. However, cortisol is also produced in response to the stress caused by high intensive exercise. Cortisol is also the hormone used for waking us up in the morning, so I speculate that my cortisol levels become out of wack following extreme workouts which causes sleep disruption (making me wake at 4 am). Anyway, I’m 2 weeks into my experiment of eliminating my extreme and HIIT workouts and my sleep has significantly improved. You don’t realise how important sleep is for your happiness until you’re not getting enough. I feel fantastic and full of energy when I’ve slept well and a total grouch when I haven’t!