So, you want to train harder, lift heavier, move better and generally be a fitter you. You’ve got your training dialled in and your nutrition on point. It’s all systems go. But how much thought have you given to your sleep? Now I know a lot of people say they love sleep, they love lay-ins, they love naps etc but how many of those people have really thought about the impact sleep has on your day to day? How aware are we of the effect good sleep habits can have on your training and your health and fitness in general?
The length, quality and timings of our sleep have been shown to affect cognitive function, metabolism, energy levels, appetite, weight and tissue repair. Cognition, metabolism, energy levels and tissue repair are all huge factors in not only athletic performance but also our recovery from those performances. In short if you don’t get good shut eye you won’t recover and you’ll flogging a dead horse in the gym.
The length of our sleep must be enough for our physical recovery to occur. Whilst it is generally agreed that 8 hours of sleep is the going rate if your activity levels are higher than an average person you will need more sleep. Research has suggested that aiming for between 9-10 hours will allow you to recover adequately from all those burpees!
Now most of you, including me, will scoff at the thought of 10 hours of sleep – I barely get 6-7 hours a night if I am lucky. However, naps do count! I regularly try and switch off for an hour in the afternoon and usually end up getting half an hour of sleep in there. Napping is an excellent tool for those of us bound to unusual working hours who might be able to get a straight 10 hours in.
Then we have to look at the quality of our sleep. Good quality sleep is best achieved through a consistent routine and a comfortable sleeping environment. Whilst the length of sleep is important the quality of it counts for me. Hours of restless sleep, interrupted sleep or ‘non-restorative’ sleep just won’t give you the recovery you are after.
So how do we guarantee a good night’s sleep?
Routine: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Our body clock will start to form a routine and it will learn when it’s to switch off and when it’s time to start firing up again.
Bin the tech: modern devices are almost designed to keep to awake. Bright lights, dancing colours and unlimited content means we are buzzing on them until late into the night. Good luck switching off after a point-blank game of candy crush or an hour of insta-feed scrolling. Put the phone, pad, TV down and relax.
Shower: whilst many people shower in the morning there is a benefit to showering before bed too. Getting your body temperature up before bed allows thermoregulation to kick in and the slow cooling of your body will help you drift off nicely.
Coffee: stop drinking it so late. Caffeine keeps you revved up for hours after consumption and can severely impact your shut eye (don’t be that person who says it doesn’t effect you. Just because you don’t feel like running a marathon after a coffee doesn’t mean the caffeine isn’t impacting your body systems – it is, fact).
Meditate: So, no phones, Netflix isn’t a good replacement and you can’t drift off with a warm cup of coffee. What do you do? Meditate. Sit back, relax, process your thoughts and feelings and accept its ok to switch off for the day. Taking 10 minutes to refocus yourself at the end of each day will help you drift off into a peaceful night’s slumber.
So, exercise and nutrition are all important to health and fitness but if we truly want to shine and recover from life then sleep should be given as much priority as anything else. There are those who will say they do just fine on 5 hours a night and a big cup of coffee but the science says you would do even better with more sleep. Turn off the phone, make bed time a priority and feel the benefits in the gym!