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  • [3-Minute Blog] Why Poor Sleep Makes You an Unpleasant Person

    Reading Time: 3 minutes 30 seconds

    Sleep is incredibly essential for a healthy body and healthy mind. Dr Matthew Walker puts this so eloquently in his bestseller book, Why We Sleep:

    “Every major physiological system in your body, and every operation of the mind, is incredibly dependent on sleep, wonderfully enhanced when you get it, and markedly impaired when you don’t get enough.” 

    So there is a reason why I have been going on about sleep for the fourth week in a row. As a nutrition and exercise coach, I would single-handedly say sleep is more essential for your health than nutrition and movement. Sure, they are pillars of good health, but sleep is the very foundation of good health.

    Allah subuhanawuta’la in His endless Wisdom created sleep and declared it one of the signs of His greatness: “And among His signs is your sleep by night and by day and your seeking of His bounty, verily in that are Signs for those who listen” (Al Quran, 30:23)

    We spend one-third of our life sleeping. The very reason that Allah subuhanawuta’la made it so shows that sleep has an incredible impact on our lives. There is not a single act that consumes more of our time than sleep. 

    The goal of today’s article is this: To help you understand that poor sleep has a massive impact on your mental health, and how it can make you an unpleasant person to be around. 

    How Your Lack of Sleep Destroys Your Mood and Mental Health

    One of the most significant and most tangible results of sleep loss is clearly seen in your mood and mental health. It may be no news for you that lack of sleep makes you grumpy and insensitive. However, the latest scientific studies show that sleep deprivation also impacts your cognitive aptitude.

    There are many pathways as to how this occurs. One of the most important ones is that sleep deprivation “shuts down” your prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the front region of the brain which contributes to a wide variety of cognitive functions. Here are some of the roles of prefrontal cortex in relation to managing one’s mood and mental health.

    • managing emotional reactions and expression of personality 
    • focusing your attention and decision making 
    • planning for your future and
    • predicting the consequences of your actions

    So with less sleep, the emotional centres of your brain go haywire. Research shows that relative to a person with a full night’s sleep, your emotional part of the brain is 60% more reactive when there is a lack of sleep. 

    Here are a few things that happen to your mental state when you have a poor night of sleep;

    • Your decisions are riskier and can tend to be rash 
    • You find it difficult to focus 
    • Your capacity for empathy goes down
    • You lose your ability to understand the intentions of other people 
    • Increased anxiety – past 16 hours of wakefulness, your anxiety increases and the further you deprive yourself of sleep, the more anxious you become
    • Your sensitivity to pain increases

    In short, you aren’t a pleasant person to be around when you are sleep deprived. And that can have consequences on your marriage, parenting and various other aspects of your day to day life.

    Dr Matthew Walker also says, “In my lab, the most reliable thing we see when we deprive people of sleep of any dose – anxiety goes up”. 

    According to him, just one night of sleep deprivation can instigate a level of anxiety which would fall under the umbrella of a clinical anxiety order diagnosis. 

    Allah subuhanawuta’la has created sleep as an emotional first aid for us. Regardless of the heaviness of the problem you face, you feel much better after getting a full night of sleep. Scientists can now confirm that one of the most significant roles of our dream sleep (REM sleep) is to reset the emotional networks in our brain. 

    Less Sleep Makes You Less Attractive

    In a fascinating study, researchers found that poor sleep from just one night to the next makes you less charismatic. And that makes you less likely to inspire anyone too. 

    So today’s take away lesson is this: Go and get your 8 hours of beauty sleep. It doesn’t just make you a pleasant person, but also more appealing! 

  • [3-Minute Blog] How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Weight-loss and Performance

    Here is a quick background. In Why We Sleep, I spoke about the purpose of sleep. In How Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Immune System, I discussed how sleep deprivation affects your immune system, cardiovascular health and many other areas of your life.

    Today I explain how your sleep deprivation impacts your weight-loss and exercise performance. 

    Sleep and Weight-loss

    Healthy weigh-loss means that you lose your excess body fat while retaining your lean muscle mass. Your muscle mass is incredibly crucial for movement, flexibility, healthy ageing and obviously for looking toned and ripped. 

    One study found that people who were routinely sleeping less than 6 hours a night on a weight loss diet lost the same weight as those who slept 8.5 hours a day. But here is the caveat, the underslept group lost mostly muscle mass, whereas the well-slept group lost primarily fat. 

    In other words, your body will ruthlessly hold onto its fat when you are underslept. 

    Besides, your sleep deprivation leads to an increased risk of obesity. With a lack of sleep, your hunger hormones go wild. Leptin, the hormone that signals your satiety/fullness level after a meal, doesn’t rise as high as it should after a meal. This means even after a large meal, you’ll feel hungry and want to eat more. 

    But that’s not all, your ghrelin level – the hormone that signals your brain that you have had enough – continue to increase and signals to your brain that you still are hungry, despite that large meal. A double whammy on your efforts to lose weight! 

    The result? You tend to overeat by 200-300 calories per meal when you are sleep deprived. That’s a total of 70’000 extra calories each year, which translates into 4-5 kg of excess body fat a year. To make things even worse, your body craves more simple carbs and sugary foods (two culprits that lead to weight gain) when you are short of sleep.

    It’s a vicious cycle. When you eat a diet high in processed carbs and low in fibre (such as simple carbs and sugary foods), you tend to have 

    • Less amounts of deep sleep, 
    • take longer to fall asleep, and 
    • awake more throughout the night.

    Have you tried my Power Shake? Unlike the simple carbs and sugary food, it helps you improve all aspects of your health, bi’idnillah

    In another study, people were deprived of sleep for four hours per night for just two weeks suffered a 50% reduced ability to dispose of glucose into muscle tissue. On a simple level – the glucose (from those carbs and sugary foods you consumed) stays in the bloodstream, rather than being directed to muscle. 

    What’s the consequence? If your doctor took a blood test, he would declare you as a pre-diabetic. In short, you are just one step closer to getting diabetes. 

    Sleep and Performance 

    If you’re getting six hours of sleep or less, your time to physical exhaustion drops by up to 30%. This means if you are 10k runner, your ability to run 10k drops to 7k! 

    Your lack of sleep also lowers your peak muscular strength, reduces your vertical jump height and lowers your peak running speed.

    Moreover, your risk of getting injured increases too. One study showed a 60% increase in the probability of injury comparing people who get nine hours of sleep a night, to those who get five. 

    But that’s not all, with insufficient sleep, all of the following suffer too:

    • Your motivation to exercise 
    • Your reaction time – six hours of sleep for one week can drop your reaction time by almost a half a second
    • Your aerobic output
    • The amount of force you can generate

    Sleep is the best performance enhancer. So if you are concerned about your sports performance and want to lose body fat, not muscle mass, try getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. However, if you want to obtain all the benefits of sleep for your cognitive and physical health, try getting 8 hours of sleep. 

    Eating and Exercising Before Bed

    To get a night of deep high-quality sleep, I highly recommend you to stick to these recommendations: 

    Eating

    • Eat your last meal at least 2 hours before your bedtime, ideally 3 hours. 
    • Avoid eating simple carbs (foods that consist of high amounts of white flour, sugar) too close to bedtime as they raise your core body temperature. To fall asleep, your body needs to drop the core body temperature by 1-degree Celsius (or 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit)
    • As a rule of thumb, don’t go to bed too full or too hungry. If you need to eat/snack before bed, lean more towards higher protein meals/snack and away from simple sugars

    Exercise

    • Exercising too close to bedtime raises your core body temperature and can hinder sleep. Make sure to finish your workouts at least 2 hours before your bedtime.
    • Exercise is excellent for your health, and doing it in the morning hours is even better for your health and sleep. In When is the Best Time to Workout, I discuss this in more detail. 
  • [3-Minute Blog] How Sleep Impacts Your Immune System

    Reading time: 3 minutes and 26 seconds

    In Why We Sleep, I briefly discussed the benefits of sleeping for our overall health, and particularly our brain health. 

    In this article, I’ll continue to explore the health benefits of sleep. 

    Let me start with one of my most favourite quotes by Dr Matthew Walker from his book. He says, “There is no aspect of a human being’s wellness that isn’t eroded by a lack of sleep. EVERY single disease that’s killing us in the developed world has causal links to it.

    Sleep thus becomes not just one of the pillars of our health, but the very foundation of our health. 

    Based on rigorously researched studies, here are some of the damages that happen to our body when we sleep less than the bare minimum of 7-hours a day. 

    How Your Lack of Sleep Wrecks Your Immune System

    One of the areas that are most affected by a lack of sleep is your immune system. A study from the University of California shows that reducing your sleep to just four hours for one single night drops your natural killer cell activity to a level of 72%. 

    Your natural killer cells are a critical part of your immune defence arsenal. These killer cells are responsible for identifying and destroying malignant cancer cells. As you probably know, we all have cancer cells within our body, and what really prevents the formation of full-on cancer, are these natural killer cells. Now imagine what happens to your immune system after months of insufficient sleep! 

    OK, sleeping for four hours sounds extreme for you and you may be among those who get a regular six hours of sleep. Fine, if that is you, please read this study.  

    Researchers deprived a group of individuals to only 6 hours of sleep per night for just one week. Here is what they found. 711 genes of the ~20,000 genes in the human genome (~3%) were distorted in a single week of sleep deprivation. 

    Some of the genes that are associated with the immune system were down-regulated, in other words, the immune system became weaker. And some other genes that are associated with tumour promotion, chronic inflammation, and stress were up-regulated, meaning that this accelerated the already bad condition. All of these happened just due to one single week of sleep deprivation. 

    Conclusion: You are genetically modifying yourself by not getting enough sleep.

    Cardiovascular Disease is Accelerated by Sleep Deprivation

    More than 1.5 billion people in 70 countries around the world observe daylight savings time every year. It’s an excellent opportunity for scientists to observe what this one-hour sleep loss does to our human body. They found some fascinating correlations: 

    • In the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep – there’s a 24% rise increase in heart attacks the following day
    • In the fall when we gain an hour of sleep – there’s a 21% reduction in heart attacks the following day

    Another study found that getting an average of five hours of sleep or less over five years leads to a 200-300% increased risk of calcification of the coronary artery. People who are under-slept have overactive sympathetic nervous systems (the flight or fight nervous system), which results in more circulating adrenaline, higher spikes of cortisol, and blunted levels of growth hormone (all of which are tied to cardiovascular diseases).

    Even a loss of only three hours of sleep will result in increased blood pressure and heart rate. 

    But these are not the only dangers of lack of sleep, here are a few more. 

     A lack of sleep:

    • Increases your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
    • Reduces the activity of your immune system
    • Impairs learning/memory 
    • Increases your risk of cardiovascular disease
    • Increases your risk of cancer
    • Contributes to depression and anxiety
    • AND leads to diabetes/insulin resistance/weight gain

    I’ll meet you next week with another article related to sleep. Until then, here is the takeaway lesson for you: 

    Sleep is a gift from Allah subuhanawuta’la to improve our health so that we can live our life fully and achieve our best version. 

  • [3-Minutes Blog] Why We Sleep

    Reading time: 3 minutes and 10 seconds

    You spend one-third of your life sleeping. 

    Have you ever asked yourself, why you sleep and why Allah subuhanawuta’la made sleeping such an essential part of your day?  

    In the last few decades, scientists have been searching for the real reason why we sleep. Mathew Walker, one of the world’s leading scientists in sleep research, wrote an excellent book about sleep, with the same title as this article: Why We sleep. 

    In chapter six of that incredible book, he begins talking about the benefits of sleep. This little paragraph succinctly summarises almost all the reason for why we sleep: 

     “AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH!

    Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

    While it may sound hyperbolic, nothing about this fictitious advertisement would be inaccurate. If this were a drug, many people will be disbelieving. Those who were convinced would pay large sums of money for even the smallest dose. Should clinical trials back up the claims, share prices of the pharmaceutical company that invented the drug would skyrocket.

    Of course, the ad is not describing some miracle new tincture or a cure-all wonder drug, but rather the proven benefits of a full night of sleep. The evidence supporting these claims have been documented in more than 17,000 well-scrutinized and scientific reports to date. As for the prescription cost, well, there isn’t one. It’s free. Yet all too often, we shun the nightly invitations to receive our full dose of this all natural remedy–with terrible consequences.

    Failed by the lack of public education, most of us do not realize how remarkable a panacea sleep truly is.”

    In the same chapter, he argues that “sleep is the universal health care provider: whatever the physical or mental ailment, sleep has a prescription it can dispense.”

    In the next few chapters, he goes deep into why we sleep and how crucial enough sleep is for our body and mind. 

    In this and the upcoming articles, I would like to share some significant reasons for why we sleep, and all of them are based on sound scientific studies. 

    Sleep for the brain (learning and memory)

    Sleep restores the brain’s capacity for learning, making room for new memories. During sleep, the brain consolidates what we learned during the days. 

    So both for learning and memory, sleep is an essential foundation. Even a short nap of 20-minutes gives you 20 per cent learning advantage against those who don’t have a nap. 

    Now imagine what the result would be for a student who has an 8-hour full night sleep vs a student who pulls an all-nighter for the next day exam? Dr Matthew Walkers team wanted to test this and found out that the group who pulled an all-nighter was 40% more deficient in their learning ability. In other words, this is a difference between acing and failing an exam.

    Based on this and many other studies, we now know that sleep works like a “save” button for the materials you’ve learned the night before. 

    Your ability to memorise and retain information is critical for learning. However, your short-term memory capacity is small. So if you want to keep the information you learned (such as Quran memorisation, learning for exams etc.) and to remember for later use, the information should be kept in the long-term memory of your brain. 

    Your good night sleep is essential to shift all the short term memory storage into long-term storage in the brain. 

    In the upcoming 3-Minute Blogs, I’ll dig deeper into why we sleep. 

    For today, here is the takeaway lesson for you: Your sleep is the universal health care provider. Hence, prioritise your sleep and get at least 8 hours of shut-eye every day. 

  • Why You Need to Nap Every Day

    Energised. Productive. Confident. These are all qualities we wish we had. In this article, I show you a simple, free and accessible tool that can instantly enhance your energy levels, productivity, and overall well-being: naps!

    As someone who’s busy with work, family and other obligations, I’m not always as energetic as I’d love to be. And that’s why I’ve been napping daily almost all my life. If you haven’t guessed it already, I love naps.

    But this love grew stronger and more intense when I came across this beautiful hadith:

    “Take a nap, for the shayateen do not take naps” (Reported by At-Tabarani, Al-Saheehah, 2647)

    We know that from the beautiful Sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH) that he had naps on a daily basis. While napping might seem like it’s a luxury that you can’t afford to implement, each and every Sunnah of our Prophet has tons of benefits for us in both worlds.

    Napping is Natural

    When we look at human history, we see that it wasn’t just the custom of the Arabs to nap during the day. For example, the Romans, Spaniards and many different societies around the world were napping from time immemorial.

    Anthropologists say that napping was a natural routine of human beings until the industrial revolution. With the advent of the industrial revolution, people started trading their time for money. So napping started to become uncommon and began to be viewed as a luxury.

    There is, however, a consensus amongst sleep scientists that napping is beneficial for better mental performance and overall health. Moreover, the need to nap is preprogrammed in our brains. So, the urge you get when you want to take a nap is natural and part of your DNA.

    Why Naps Can Change Your Life

    In her ground-breaking book, Take a Nap, Change Your Life, Dr Sara Medenick, a sleep research scientist at the Salk Institute, California, argues that taking a daily nap can literally change your life.

    Here are some of her research findings:

    Naps increase your performance

    One of the easiest ways to improve your health and productivity is to improve your performance. Like the Deen teaches us, the goal is to do everything with ihsan—with a focus on quality rather than quantity. However, your performance is influenced largely by your body’s energy levels.

    To maintain a constant energy level, you obviously need to work on nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management. But besides these things, a quick hack that promotes higher energy levels is naps.

    In order to understand this, you’ve got to know about sleep pressure. You see, after around 6 hours of waking up, your body has an urge to go back to sleep. This is what sleep scientist call “sleep pressure.” Sleep pressure is the reason for your post-lunch dip. And you might get this dip regardless of the types of food you eat. So, the urge to nap after lunch is a function of your circadian rhythm and is totally natural.

    What happens if you choose to not nap after lunch? Well, your performance level keeps going down, as shown in the graph below:

    However, you can improve your performance with a nap that’s as short as 20 minutes. Now, if you think you can rescue your performance with a cup of coffee, then be warned that your cup of joe isn’t as promising as a nap.

    The study conducted by Dr Mednick also shows that the participants who had a nap had a better verbal and motor memory than those who had caffeine. In fact, a placebo, which was just a sugar pill in this study, showed better results than caffeine. View the chart below for more info:

    Another study in the Journal of Sleep Research confirms the findings of Dr Mednick. Scientists compared results of using caffeine to taking a nap and they found that napping was by far the most effective.

    Here’s what Dr Mednick has to say about naps in general:

    “Learning after a nap is equal to learning after a full night of sleep! Test scores of non-nappers deteriorated across the day! That’s what my research proved.”

    20 more reasons why you should nap

    Apart from increased performance and energy, Dr Mednick lists 20 additional benefits of napping in her book:

    1. Increase your alertness.
    2. Speed up your motor performance.
    3. Improve your accuracy.
    4. Make better decisions.
    5. Improve your perception.
    6. Fatten your bottom line.
    7. Preserve your youthful looks.
    8. Improve your sex life.
    9. Lose weight.
    10. Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
    11. Reduce your risk of diabetes.
    12. Improve your stamina.
    13. Elevate your mood.
    14. Boost your creativity.
    15. Reduce stress.
    16. Help your memory.
    17. Reduce dependence on drugs/alcohol.
    18. Alleviate migraines, ulcers and other problems with psychological components.
    19. Improve the ease and quality of your nocturnal sleep.
    20. It feels good to nap.

    Yep, you read it right! Naps can even improve your night-time sleep. Contrary to common belief that naps negatively impact your night-time sleep, scientists say that napping during the day can actually improve your ability to get a great night of sleep.

    However, there is one important caveat to make: make sure your last nap of the day is at least 5 hours before your bedtime. And in general, you wouldn’t want a nap to last for more than 2 hours, as that also can disturb night-time sleep.

    Nitty-Gritty of Naps

    Ok, now that you know why having a nap is so beneficial, you may want to know how long to nap and the best time to nap.

    As far as naps are concerned, there are different types of naps. For your ease, I’ve simplified them into three different categories:

    The most common and most practical for most people is a power nap that lasts from 5 – 20 minutes. According to various studies, even a 6-minute nap can improve your memory and performance.

    A study conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also proves that pilots who napped an average of 26 minutes a day increased their performance by 34% and their alertness by 54%!

    Best time to nap?

    Your body tends to crave a nap at around 1-3pm. So, plan a nap around this time of the day. However, if this is impractical, you can have a power nap whenever you feel like you need one.

    And in Ramadan, when we mostly have less sleep at night, it’s ideal to have one full nap during the day. Again, if you can’t fit this into your schedule, then try to get some solid or power naps throughout the day. Work out the best nap type for you and try to fit in as many as you can, insha Allah, even if it’s as short as 5-minutes! Nothing can keep you more energised and productive than a nap.

    How to take a good nap

    • Schedule your nap: What gets scheduled gets done. So if you are serious about taking a nap, then plan and schedule it in your calendar.
    • Switch off your phone: Nothing ruins your nap than a sound of a message or call. So, keep your phone turned off.
    • Lights out: Make sure that your space is dark. This helps your body to secrete melatonin. If needed, you can also use an eye mask.
    • Find a quite a place or use ear plugs.
    • Watch your caffeine consumption: Cut your caffeine at least four hours before your nap. If you are planning to nap at 1 PM, your last cup of coffee should be no later than 9 AM.

    Wrapping Up

    There is no alternative to a good night’s sleep that consists of 6-7 hours. For example, sleeping less than 5 hours a night puts you in a pre-diabetic condition. So, if you’re serious about improving your health and productivity, then you’ve got to prioritise your sleep at night.

    In fact, sleep is an important habit I help my clients cultivate in my 6-months online coaching programme because there’s no shortcut to a good quality sleep.

    But taking a nap during the day is the closest best thing after your nocturnal sleep.

    Further Resources

  • Warning: Are You Sabotaging Your Sleep?

    Sleep is a miracle cure. Getting not enough sleep is not only a bad idea, but it is also a sure-fire way to increasing your risk of many serious health problems, including weight gain and diabetes.

    In the past, whenever I was pressed for time, the very first thing I used to do was cut my sleep. I thought it was the most logical thing to do in order to increase my productivity.

    But, lo and behold, I was wrong! Every time I cut my sleeping hours, I felt more irritated and had a hard time focusing on anything meaningful. So while I had more hours to work, I was feeling miserable and least productive.

    And when I came across this Ayah in the Quran, I was awe struck. It was then that I realised that getting adequate sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy, meaningful and productive life:

    “And we made your sleep as a thing for rest” (Al-Quran, 78.9)

    And sleep isn’t just a thing for rest; rather it’s a right that we owe to our body:

    The Prophet (PBUH) told one of his companions who was praying the whole night “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you (Sahih Buhary)

    What science says on sleep

    Though scientists are still scratching their head as to why we sleep, they agree on one thing: we need sleep in order to rest adequately so that we can function well the next day.

    While rest is the biggest and the most significant benefit of sleep, the emerging research studies confirm that sleep is incredibly important for our memory and learning ability too.

    Research studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative things than positive ones during the day.  And that’s scary! Because this is correlated with depression, as depressed people remember negative things more frequently.

    Here are some of the most important benefits of sleep:

    • Sleep improves our memory.
    • Sleep improves our performance
    • Sleep helps our body to replenish itself
    • Sleep reduces stress and the risk of depression
    • Sleep help us become smarter, more active and more productive
    • Sleep helps us to lose weight

    Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep every day in order to get these benefits. To function optimally, 97.5% of human beings need 7-9 hours of sleep daily.

    Best time to sleep

    We know from the Sunnah that the Prophet (PBUH) would go to sleep early, soon after ‘Isha. He (PBUH) used to dislike sleeping before ‘Isha and speaking afterwards.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

    And we also know that “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

    Even science says that sleeping from 9 PM to 5 AM is better than sleeping from 1 AM to 9 AM. In fact, sleeping late or being awake the whole night is a great way to destroy your health.

    A recent study on night shift nurses showed this alarming trend: women nurses, who work overnight, have significantly higher risks of developing breast cancer than nurses who didn’t work night shifts.

    Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury!

    The takeaway message from this article is this: sleep is a necessity, not a luxury! In fact, sleep is a life-saving and life-enhancing tool.

    Recent research concludes that those who slept less than 7 hours are typically three times more prone to catch a cold than those who slept more than 7 hours.

    So cutting down on your sleep isn’t a good idea if you want to live a lean and healthy life.

    In our upcoming course, we teach all the nitty-gritties of sleep so that you can master your sleep and live a lean and healthy life.