Everyone wants to get more done in a day, and with our hectic lives, sleep is usually the first activity to be sacrificed. The Better Sleep Council estimates that 70 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep—a scary fact considering that too little sleep has been linked to everything from memory loss and other serious cognitive issues to an increased risk for osteoporosis and cancer. But the truth of the matter is that sleep is free, so you should take all you can get. More importantly, it’s an essential part of fitness and exercise, yet it’s very often overlooked.
It’s true: While training and nutrition can help create a fit physique, so can sleep. Here’s how.
How Sleep Affects Performance and Cravings
A small study conducted by the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory followed a group of athletes over a three-week period. They did nothing different but increase their sleep and saw marked improvements in performance, including faster sprint times, longer endurance, lower heart rate and an overall better workout.
So if you consider that quality sleep keeps you performing at your best, poor sleep habits may be altering the intensity of your workout. Less overall energy means less energized workouts.
Moreover, rest is critical to the recovery process because while you’re resting, your body is building muscle. This happens most efficiently during sleep, and without enough quality sleep, your body cannot fully recover from exercise.
Finally, a lack of sleep can affect diet and eating habits. Sleep loss has been found interfere with hunger hormones increasing appetite during the day and bringing on cravings.
How Exercise Affects Sleep
Not surprisingly, the 2013 Sleep in America Survey by the National Sleep Foundation reported that regular exercisers claim they get better quality sleep. The study also found that vigorous exercisers get the best sleep, non-exercisers have the least energy and those who sit less during the day also sleep better.
Another study revealed that the majority of people who exercised, especially in the morning, woke fewer times throughout the night and spent less time in REM sleep, the lightest stage of sleep.
In addition to your fitness routine, these are a few more ways sleep can impact your health:
- Regulate blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reduce stress
- Increase energy levels
- Boost immunity
- Manage cravings and appetite
- Stimulate mental clarity and memory
How to Get a Good Night's Sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep or getting quality sleep, try these tips:
- Turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime to quiet the mind and de-stimulate the senses
- Create a routine by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
- Prepare for sleep by relaxing with music, a hot bath or deep breathing or meditation
- Avoid drinking liquids within three hours of bed time to ensure sleep is uninterrupted by the need to use the bathroom
- Avoid caffeine after 3 or 4 p.m. which is a stimulant and may keep you awake
- Take a 20 minute power nap during the day to re-charge
- Don’t exercise vigorously immediately before bed to allow your body enough time to cool down before sleep
- Do some exercise during the day as regular exercisers report an easier time sleeping
- Use your bedroom only for sleep; remove all work
- Write down any worries or thoughts that threaten to keep you awake in a journal or notepad you keep beside your bed
- Replace your mattress every four to five years or get a high quality memory foam bed
If you’re already sleep deprived and struggling to know whether to trade sleep for exercise, prioritize sleep and aim for just three workouts each week. Once you’re on a regular sleep schedule, you can increase the number and intensity of your workouts.
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, so it's important to get to know your body and figure out how much works for you. With enough sleep, you can be more productive, feel better all day long and put more intensity into your workouts.
Brian Maher is a personal trainer in Center City Philadelphia who specializes in weight loss and nutritional counseling. He is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a company offering convenient in-home personal training packages to busy individuals looking to improve their fitness levels. To learn more about Brian and his services, visit his website or follow him on Facebook at Philly Personal Training. Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.