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The Power of Sleep: Why a Good Night's Sleep is Important for Exercise

The Power of Sleep: Why a Good Night's Sleep is Important for Exercise

When it comes to working out, everyone knows the basics of what needs to be done to attain certain fitness goals - be consistent with your exercise routine and eat healthily. Outside of those two things, there are other factors that can impact your results. Many already know that stress can affect muscle-building and weight loss efforts, but something else that is just as crucial - if not more - is getting enough, good sleep.

Sleep is essential for helping you function at optimal levels, and not getting enough of it can have dire consequences that include sabotaging your own fitness goals. Unfortunately, poor sleep and sleep disorders are considered to be a "public health problem", according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, they found that more than 30 percent of Americans are sleep-deprived and not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep required for adults. [1] 

It's not only about how much sleep you get, the quality of sleep matters too. So, if you don't want to hit a workout plateau and continue making progress on your fitness journey then improve your sleep game! We have the 411 on the power of sleep, why and how you should start getting better quality sleep to help maximize your workout results!

Why good sleep is important for your fitness goals

There's a purpose behind exercise. Most do it to achieve certain goals like building muscle and strength, improve endurance, or just improve cardiovascular health. All fitness goals, like the ones listed, require sleep because in order for our body's to perform optimally they must be well-rested. To understand why quality sleep is needed for better exercise performance and results, you have to understand what happens when you're actually in that state. On the surface level, it's a quiet and peaceful experience, but beneath it, your body is working hard. 

So, while you're resting, your body is barely getting started on several processes, this includes:

  • Your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, helps regulate the production of hormones. These include cortisol (stress hormone, leptin and ghrelin (help control appetite), and the growth hormone (supports the metabolism, and bone and muscle development). Regulating these hormones are important for controlling your cravings, reducing your risk of developing a metabolic disorder, and making sure that your muscles are recovering from any physical activity. Poor sleep, on the other hand, can result in the opposite - more cravings and poor muscle repair.
  • Cleans out waste from cells. While you're asleep, your brain gets to cleaning! It causes cerebral spinal fluid to flush through the brain and clean out waste products from cells.
  • Helps decrease blood pressure. When the body is well-rested it's able to effectively respond to insulin, the hormone that helps your cells use glucose for energy. Good sleep will help keep your cells healthy so they can easily take up glucose for energy. This means you'll have less fatigue in the day time!

If the body is not well-rested then it's not able to work effectively on the various processes it has to do to make sure you're functioning at the best level possible. We need high-quality sleep, and enough of it, in order to recover, repair, and build up the muscle worked during physical activity, and to conserve energy for the following day! 

Now, let's take a look at it from the flip side to see how bad sleep can affect your results. Poor sleep quality leads to an unbalance in hormones responsible for stress and hunger which can lead to overeating, and it can even make exercise feel harder. Sleep deprivation won't affect your physical capabilities, but less sleep will make you feel more tired and make you fatigue faster during intense exercise. Thus making it feel much harder to work out at your fullest potential. Now, this doesn't mean sleep is the answer to all your questions and is going to help you make giant strides in your aerobic exercise, or help you get stronger. Sleep research, like one published in Sports Medicine, simply links poor sleep to physiological responses that are similar to overtraining symptoms like sore muscles and a higher risk of injuries that can inhibit your performance during vigorous exercise. [2] So, bad sleep won't make you physically incapable of lifting heavy like you usually do, or any other type of training, but it can make you fatigue faster than if you had good sleep.

The bottom line, prioritize your sleep! Set up your nighttime routine so it allows you to get better quality sleep, or as some refer it to, deep sleep. This refers to the third phase of sleep, and the one that is crucial because it's in this phase when you're body starts working hard on repairing damaged tissue, and doing all the things we mentioned above!

Signs you're not getting enough of it

We need at least 1-2 hours of deep sleep at night, but it all depends on how much you've slept the night before. If you stay up later the night before, you'll need more deep sleep the following night. But it can be tricky figuring out whether you had enough deep sleep or not. To help, here are three signs you're not getting enough of it:

  1. You wake up groggy and feel grumpy throughout the day. Feeling tired and moody after you wake up and throughout the day is a good indicator that you're not getting enough sleep. It also increases your risk of an accident and other health-related issues.
  2. You wake up multiple times a night. To get into a deep sleep you have to go through the first two stages (known as N1 and N2). So, if you wake up several times throughout the night, you'll have to go through the first two stages again thus reducing the amount of deep sleep you get.
  3. You've hit a workout plateau. Sleep is essential for athletic recovery because, as we know now, sleep helps regulate and produce the growth hormone. Not getting enough of this hormone makes it difficult for your body to recover from physical exercise. especially if it's higher intensity exercise. Basically, if you want to see results you need sleep to recover properly. Another good indicator of sleep affecting exercise is if you're feeling muscle soreness and pain more than usual.

How to get better sleep for better results

The great thing about working on improving your sleep quality is that it will help with your fitness, but also improve your well-being and quality of life! To start improving your sleep and wake up the next day feeling refreshed and ready to crush your workout and day then follow these tips:

Set a bedtime routine

Everyone works on perfecting their morning routine to be more productive throughout the day, but nighttime routines are often neglected and just as important! If you don't have one establish one by incorporating relaxing activities 1-2 hours before going to bed. Relaxing activities you can incorporate are yoga, meditating, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to relaxing music, etc. Also, be strict about it, develop the self-discipline to follow through with your bedtime routine to help you go to bed at an appropriate time.

Cut off electronics and any blue lights at night

If you don't want to set an entire bedtime routine, then we highly suggest setting a cut off time for all electronics, or anything that emits blue light. Blue light wavelengths are beneficial during the day because they boost attention and mood, but at night they are quite a disruption. Here's why...

Daylight keeps your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, aligned with the environment. So, bright lights, specifically blue light, at night will affect your internal clock. This happens because the exposure to light causes the suppression of melatonin to be secreted, which is the hormone that influences circadian rhythm. And that doesn't refer to only blue light, even the dimmest lights can have a negative affect. Blue light just has a more powerful one. Harvard researchers proved this by comparing the effects of blue light exposure to green light of comparable brightness. They found that it suppresses melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and can shift your circadian rhythm by twice as much. [3]

So, the best thing you can do to get better quality sleep and reduce daytime sleepiness is by avoiding bright screens 2-3 hours before bed, this means no TV, phones, computer, video games, etc. Also, consider making your living space darker in the evening. Red light is ideal for night time because it's less likely to suppress melatonin, but if not, keep your lights dimmer at night - any little bit helps! If you happen to work at night or need to do school work then consider wearing blue-blocking glasses to reduce the effects of the light.

Stay busy in the daytime

Most are busy during the daytime, but if you happen to have a less busy day, find engaging activities to do! Go to the park with friends, exercise, do anything that increases your activity levels and engages your mind and/or body. Doing this has been shown to result in deeper sleep at night! In fact, there are positive effects of exercise in relation to sleep. Exercise creates more adenosine in the brain, a chemical that is responsible for making us feel sleepy. It also helps you maintain your circadian rhythm! Just avoid doing rigorous exercise late at night, that can have the opposite effect and keep you up later than usual. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that high-intensity exercise has been shown to delay sleep onset due to the increased heart rate during training. [4]

Cut off caffeine at a certain time

This should be a given, but avoid all caffeine at night, it has a negative impact on sleep. Caffeine antagonizes adenosine, which as we know helps promote good sleep. Another suggestion is to try holding off on having your cup of coffee until 9 a.m. It's been shown that having caffeine before that can disrupt the body's cortisol rhythm and even disrupt sleep later at night. [5]

Use your bed for sleep only

Remote work has always been around, but the recent pandemic caused more people to work from home for an unknown time period. Working from home or doing online classes make it easy for people to stay in bed during the day and just work there, but this can actually create sleep problems. Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep. Your bedroom should be a place of relaxation, a place to rest, so try to avoid using it as a place to work. If this is the only space you have to work, then try to leave your bed a few minutes at a time to help move and stretch your joints and muscles.

Avoid sleeping in and be consistent with your wake-up time

To maintain a functioning sleep schedule be consistent with your wake-up time and don't sleep in. The brain expects you to wake up at around the same time every day, hitting snooze on your alarm throws it off. So, if you can, try to be consistent with the time you wake up. It might be harder to do this on the weekends, but try to schedule stuff at an early time of day that way you're forced to get up at the same time, or at least close to it.

In summary, the amount and quality of sleep are important for your training, but also for your wellness. To boost your sleep duration and ensure that you get quality sleep, set an effective bedtime routine that reduces your exposure to light at night, get up early, and stay busy in the daytime. All of this will help you up to your sleep game for better results!

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