Do you want to look, feel, and BE the best you can be? Do you have a health, fitness or performance goal you are chasing? Well, what, if I told you the road to optimizing your health and fitness, starts in the bedroom? That’s right, the secret to next-level results is SLEEP!
Sleep is a commonly overlooked component of health and fitness. In a culture where we value relentless productivity and ridicule laziness, it is no wonder less than 1/3 of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep. This is troubling because large epidemiological studies suggest that getting less than 7-9 hours per sleep each night is associated with increased risk for diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, CVD, and dementia.
Not only does sleep restriction increase your risk for disease and all-cause mortality but, it also affects every single aspect of our MKT 5 factors of Health and Happiness: Mindset, Community, Nutrition, and Fitness.
Mindset and Community
You never quite feel like yourself after a night of crappy sleep. You’re grouchy, distracted, and sluggish. That’s because sleep is critical for a healthy brain. Sleep deprivation impairs our learning and memory and also increases the risk for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It’s impossible for us to effectively grow, adopt new outlooks and habits, and build relationships when our brain isn’t functioning at full capacity. With just a little more time snoozing, you can be more productive in your life, work, and your relationships.
Struggling to lose weight or be as lean as you’d like to be? Neglecting to get 7-9 hours per night can impede progress towards your nutrition goals. Whether you’re an adult or a child, short sleep duration increases the risk for weight gain and increased body fat. In fact, a recent meta-analysis showed that sleeping less than 6 hours per night is associated with a 45% increased risk for obesity!
What’s the direct cause of this association between reduced sleep and body fatness? That is still to be determined. However, there is evidence that we tend to have greater caloric consumption and lower fiber intake with shorter sleep duration, indicating we likely eat more and/or make more calorically dense, less nutritious food choices. This likely has less to do with will power and more to do with the impact of sleep deprivation on our brain. A research study by Greer, Goldstein, and Walker showed that sleep-restricted brains have a greater pleasure response to food and a blunted ability to accurately evaluate appetite than a well-rested brain. Without sleep, our psychology can sabotage our progress through hedonic and excess consumption.
The good news is that awareness is power. Recognizing this predisposition for poorer food choices and overconsumption after a poor night’s rest can influence our choices. On more sleepy days, we can design strategies or make more conscious decisions on food choices and portions, rather than succumbing to cravings. Understanding the role of sleep on our nutrition will be an incentive to reprioritize sleep in our lives and thus help us be more successful in reaching our goals.
Exercise and Fitness
As for fitness, the relationship between exercise and sleep appears to be bidirectional. Greater physical activity and exercise frequency are associated with improved sleep quality, whereas lower physical fitness is associated with increased risk for insomnia. For that reason, fitness can be an effective lifestyle intervention for improving sleep quality and duration. So if you’re a bad sleeper, incorporating more frequent intentional exercise throughout the day may be just what you need to improve your insomnia.
Just as exercise improves sleep performance, and sleep also improves exercise performance. For all of our fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes, research suggests skimping on the sleep can kill your “gainz”.
Exercise inherently depletes energy, fluids, and damages muscle. An essential part to gaining strength, building muscle, and improving overall fitness is when your body recovers from exercise and adapts to that powerful stimulus. Most of this recovery is facilitated by the hours you spend resting and sleeping! Inadequate sleep blunts muscle adaptation, and ultimately your progress in the gym. Sleep is also critical for athletic performance. Sleep restriction has been shown to impair speed and endurance, increase the risk for illness and injury, and can produce symptoms of overtraining syndrome.
If you are an avid exerciser, sleep should be considered an essential part of your training plan. On days that you have terrible nights of sleep, keep in mind that you are at a higher risk of illness and injury, and consider scaling back the intensity. If you are unable to modify the workout on after a night of little rest, manage and lower your performance expectations, as you will likely see deficits in power and speed. Improving your sleep will keep you healthy and fit enough to continue enjoying and progressing in your fitness long term.
Sleep Tips and Recommendations
So what should you do if you struggle to get a good night’s rest but you want to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself possible? Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you improve your sleep hygiene.
- Sleep 7-9 hours per night
- Sleep on a regular schedule (fall asleep and wake up at the same time)
- Keep your bedroom cool! Between 60-67 degrees is optimal for sleep
- Abstain from electronics before 30 minutes or more before bed
- Limit the use of caffeine and alcohol 6-12 hours before bed
- Get adequate exposure to natural light during the day, and darkness at night
- Daily exercise
- Avoid large meals immediately before bed
- Establish a regular, relaxing bed time routine