How Sleep Affects Your Workout
One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of your fitness is the amount of sleep that you get each night. As busy New Yorkers, it is difficult to cram in work, exercise, and a social life while also getting to bed at a reasonable hour but studies show that a lack of sleep can reduce your fitness gains substantially.
The Importance of Sleep
Adequate sleep is more critical than you think--the negative impact of not getting enough sleep has been well documented. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 35% of all Americans are sleep deprived, meaning that 1 in 3 people are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep nightly. “Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress” says the CDC.
Typically, fitness instructors focus on improving the diet and exercise routines but often overlook the amount of sleep that their clients get.
What Happens During Sleep
During sleep, your body releases growth hormone, improving muscular recovery and regeneration. People who do not get enough sleep see decreases protein synthesis which is the body’s ability to make muscle. Sleep allows your body to replenish nutrients that your muscles need to repair themselves, all necessary for optimal fitness progress.
You even burn calories while you rest. During the stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM), your body metabolizes glucose. The longer that you sleep and the better you sleep directly impacts the number of calories that your body burns overnight. Sleeping too much though (over nine hours), will slow down your metabolism so don’t think sleeping all day is a good weight loss strategy.
It’s More than just Being Tired
The lack of sleep can undo all the hard work you do in the gym. One study showed that sleep deprived participants burned more muscle than fat compared to a group of athletes who got enough sleep. If you are not sleeping well, your body produces releases the stress hormone cortisol, which slows down the production of growth hormone, ultimately affecting your muscle development.
When you rest for less than the optimal 7 hours, you incur what is known as “sleep debt.” Sleep debt or sleep deprivation can impact you more than just decreasing your body's ability to recover from exercise. Sleep debt can cause brain fog, irritability, and fatigue. It can even make you hungrier and cause you turn to unhealthy food as your willpower may be diminished. Sleep debt has even shown to put stresses on your body that can have long term impact on your health: it increases the risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and memory issues.
When it comes to the gym, sleep debt may increase your risk for injuries. Studies have also shown that when sleep deprived, your reaction time suffers significantly. “If you don’t get enough sleep, you will have slower reaction times, and poor judgement of distance, speed, and time. All factors that can impact your body’s ability to perform athletic movements” said Coach Elvin.
How to Improve Your Sleep
To improve your sleeping pattern, make sure that you try to go to sleep at the same time every night, including weekends, if possible. If you are night exerciser, make sure to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime as you body may not be able to relax enough for quality sleep.
Create a routine each night that including relaxing activities. Try dimming your lights and consider cutting out technology like your phone or TV an hour before bed time. Light exposure suppresses your body’s natural release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you maintain your circadian rhyme. A good night’s rest is more than just giving your body a break but also allows your mind to shut down. “Our brains are constantly challenged with technology so the break is an added benefit,” said Coach Alejandro. Reading, meditating, and taking a hot shower are great ways to relax your body before bed.
If you have issues sleeping, make sure that your room is set to a temperature that is not too hot nor too cold--61 degrees is ideal if you have a controllable thermostat (a NYC luxury). This moderate temperature allows your body to neutralize. If you are too cold, your body may tense your muscles, leaving you with a stiff neck or tight muscles in the morning. Warm temperatures may make you sweat and lead to uncomfortable sleep. “Find the the temperature that is just right--as Goldie Locks would do,” said Coach Alejandro.
If you find yourself short of at least seven hours a night, it may be time to critically think about your daily activities and reorganize your schedule to allow for adequate sleep and regular exercise.