You’ve been dedicated to your training and nutrition plan for months – logging hours in the gym each week and prepping all your meals. You’ve checked off all the boxes to be successful, right? Maybe not. You might be overlooking one key factor in your plan: sleep.
The work performed during training puts stress on the body, tearing muscle fibers and draining cells of their energy stores. Positive changes such as growth and recovery happen when you rest, and the only time your body is completely at rest is when you sleep. There are a number of ways sleep impacts your body, all of which are highly important to those working towards fitness goals. Read on to learn more, and get ready to tuck yourself in for gains.
Dragging at the gym?
It’s no surprise that when you’re lacking sleep, your energy levels take a hit. By the time 2 p.m. rolls around, it’s hard to keep your eyes open. Beyond the struggle of making it through the work day, how can you push through a workout when you’re tired? Decreased energy levels can make it challenging to get motivated to train, often leading to missed workouts. If you make it to the gym, your workout may be less than stellar, or even worse, could result in an injury due to muscle fatigue or a lack of concentration.
Those serious about training know the importance of hormonal balance, extending beyond testosterone and estrogen. There are two other hormones which impact your physique and are moderated by sleep – ghrelin and leptin. These hormones act together to regulate hunger, with ghrelin stimulating your appetite and leptin signaling the brain to feel full. When you’re lacking sleep, ghrelin levels are high and leptin levels are low, resulting in an increase in appetite and difficulty feeling satisfied by food. Combined, this can lead to overeating and eventual weight gain, generally working against your fitness goals.
Getting your beauty sleep
While the importance of sleep is clear, the remaining question is how much do you need? Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. Just like diet and training techniques, everyone is different and will require a different amount of sleep to feel their best. While one person might function their best on six hours of sleep, someone else may need eight hours to get through the day. The best way to evaluate your sleep needs is to experiment with different amounts. For one week, aim for eight hours a night – the general average suggested for adults – and see how you feel each day. The following week, adjust your sleep (up or down) by 30 minutes and compare how you feel and function throughout the day and at the gym. Continue with these adjustments until you feel your best. It will take a little trial and error, but finding your optimal amount of sleep is worth it in the long run.
Quantity AND Quality
There’s a difference between getting seven hours of quality sleep a night and getting seven hours of interrupted, restless sleep. If the quality of your sleep is poor, the quantity won’t matter! Here are some tips to help you sleep your way to better workouts:
1. Relax before bed. Create a pre-bed routine and implement it each night to help prepare your mind and body for sleep. It can be simple things such as packing your lunch or gym bag, taking a shower, or simply reading a book in bed. Just make sure the activities are relaxing in nature – nothing which will raise your heart rate or stress levels.
2. Set the mood. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable place to sleep. Set the temperature to be mildly cool, block out any light sources (yes, even digital clocks and the glow from cell phone screens can interrupt your sleep!), and reduce any noise which may wake you.
3. Stick to your schedule. Much like you stick to your training schedule, you need to do the same with your sleep. Many people find it easy to stick to a sleep schedule Monday to Friday, but fall off track on the weekends. By allowing your schedule to fluctuate throughout the week can confuse your body and make you feel tired. Losing sleep or getting too much sleep over the weekend can negatively impact you throughout the week.
4. Limit napping. Even if you’re tired by mid-afternoon, do your best to avoid taking a nap. Napping during the day can make it hard to fall asleep at night, throwing off your schedule. Instead, try being active to get re-energized.
5. Timing is everything. Consider the time of day you eat and drink certain foods. Obviously, caffeine can impact your sleep so avoid ingesting it a couple hours prior to your bedtime. Additionally, spicy or sugary foods may keep you up at night.
6. Stop stressing. If you’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s hard to fall asleep. To help cope with stressors before bed, make a list of things you need to remember to do or things that are on your mind. Use this to clear your mind before heading to bed, and then check your list in the morning when you’re refreshed and better able to cope with everything.
Sleep is a biological process your body needs in order to function in your daily life and to train successfully. While the occasional night of poor sleep is normal, if you continue to have trouble sleeping, you should speak to your doctor to find a solution. Use the above tips to make your best night’s sleep possible and hit the gym feeling refreshed and motivated to reach your goals.
Did you know? Chocolate has small amounts of caffeine in it, especially dark chocolate. Pair that with the sugar content, and it’s a food you should avoid before bed.
Traveling for a competition? Keep in mind that if you change time zones, your sleep patterns can be thrown off. Consider arriving to your destination a few days in advance to allow your body to adjust and feel rested before your event.