Sleep is trending in the workout world. Fitness tracking apps and devices are increasingly recording our sleep patterns as a standard feature, vital to our health. With all the high-tech workout and recovery tools available to you, should a good night’s sleep be our first investment?
How can sleep help physical performance?
Sleep for sport and exercise recovery
Rest and recovery commonly go hand in hand, from relieving the pain of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to fixing injuries. Without giving yourself a chance to recover, you will not start to heal and continue to put unnecessary stress on your body. So how does our body start to heal whilst we sleep?
The different stages of our sleep cycle each play a role. When we are in deep sleep (stages 3-4 of non-REM sleep) our body is working hard to do most of the muscle recovery we miss out on when awake. Throughout this healing process the brain requires less blood which allows for an increased flow throughout other areas of the body. Oxygen and nutrients are able to replenish muscles more effectively because of this.
If bulking up or increasing muscle density is your goal, you shouldn’t scrimp on shut eye. Lifting weights creates micro-tears in muscle. As you rest, your pituitary gland releases growth hormones to fill and repair this tissue, increasing muscle mass over time. You are putting the results of your workout on the line when you don’t follow up with good sleep.
Sleep for preventing physical injury
We take for granted that sleep is important after sports, but should we be considering sleep as a pre-workout necessity? Consider this: You are 250% more likely to sustain an injury at work when you sleep for less than 5 hours per night. With between 6 and 7 hours sleep, this likelihood is still almost 150% increased. Fundamentally, less sleep leads to more chance of injury day-to-day. Imagine the increase in risk you take exercising or playing sports when sleep deprived.
Whether you’re a keen athlete or a casual gym goer, you’ll be familiar with the importance of a focused mind. Tiredness contributes to our mental state, reducing focus and making motivation impossible to come by. A familiar workout can feel near-impossible even if you are physically capable when your mind is getting in the way.
Distracted and exhausted, proper form becomes hard to maintain and the moment you deviate from the correct posture you have a recipe for a serious injury. Neurological muscle weakness, defined as “decreased muscle strength compared to perceived effort” is associated with chronic fatigue. If you are so tired that your muscles are suffering, you have a recipe for causing serious harm.
Sleep, Weight Loss and a Healthy Lifestyle
Many of us who exercise regularly will be doing so as more than a hobby. Getting physical is fundamental to our overall health including weight maintenance. There is an incredibly high correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity which could be for several reasons:
- We often combat tiredness with snacks and drinks. A sugar rush or caffeine boost might be what your body wants, but what it needs is better sleep.
- We crave different things when we are tired, with high sugar and fatty foods looking more appealing through sleepy eyes.
- If you are awake for longer hours you have more time to consume excess calories.
- Less sleep means less energy to exercise optimally or keep a good physical routine.
- Sleep releases hormones that help maintain a normal metabolism and promote healthy digestion.
How to Sleep Better with an Active Lifestyle
You’ve ran, swam, lifted, danced or won your game. After a hard physical session, you should surely be collapsing into bed, asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow… So why is this not always the case? Sleeping on a day where you’ve exercised can be more difficult than people assume. Here are some of the reasons you might be struggling to get the shut eye you deserve and how to change this:
You might be working out too close to bedtime
When you exercise, your core temperature increases, stress and adrenaline hormones rise and your heart rate is higher. These are all things which take time to normalise before you can sleep comfortably. We suggest working out no less than 3 hours before you try to sleep to give your body a chance to settle down.
If you don’t have the time for this gap, try to bear a cool shower just after you exercise. Your body temperature is a couple of degrees lower as you sleep, so this will quicken the cooling process. To reduce stress hormones and your heart rate, create a thorough cool-down routine, perhaps incorporating yoga into this. You will be better equipped to unwind and relax into bed.
Relieve tension before you sleep
On the same note as the cool-down routine, focus on stretching out the muscles you have used throughout the session. Whatever time of day you choose to exercise, stretching is vital to recovery. You will sleep more soundly without the aches and stiffness that follows a workout, and you’re less likely to wake up with muscle pain too. Many people in the fitness industry advise pre-bed and morning stretches in addition to those which directly follow a workout.
Stay Hydrated for Better Sleep
When we exercise without replenishing and fueling our bodies with water, we detriment our chances of a good night’s sleep. Dehydration makes it harder to lower our core temperature for sleep, increasing the chances of waking up feeling hot and uncomfortable throughout the night. Caffeine drinks and supplements can reduce our hydration even if we think we are taking on enough liquid.
Be careful what you use to hydrate yourself, particularly in the later stages of the day. Caffeine can hang around and present challenges to our sleep. If you need the boost, try to make this as early as possible and supplement with water.