Sleep and great health go hand in hand, yet sleep is often the most neglected aspect of an active lifestyle - or any lifestyle! Four out of five adults admit to having difficulty sleeping, and though adults aged 18-64 need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, few of us hit that target.
You’ve probably noticed that you sleep much better than usual on a night after a really good workout, and studies have shown that people who exercise regularly sleep better and longer than those who don’t. However, working out too late in the day and exercising too much or over-training can actually make it much more difficult to fall asleep. Yet on the flip side, getting enough shut-eye is in fact vital to successfully reaching your fitness goals.
Why Sleep Is Key
When you exert your muscles working out, no matter if it’s through lifting weights or cardio, they need sufficient time to recover in order to develop strength, mass, and endurance - and sleep is crucial for this process. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re “undermining your body”, according to Dr W. Christopher Winter, the president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. During sleep, the body conserves energy, repairs muscle tissue, and produces growth hormones required for athletic progression. Consequently, missing out on regular, good quality sleep is inhibiting your fitness journey.
How To Straighten Out Your Sleep
So how can you get your sleep schedule - and your fitness goals - on track? The first step is to have a schedule. Our bodies have an innate cycle of waking and sleeping generally aligned with sunrise and sunset, otherwise known as our circadian rhythm. To get the best sleep, get back in time with your circadian rhythm and consistently get up and go to bed at set times. Keep in mind that the ideal sleep duration is 7-9 hours; plan a routine around this and stick to it, even on weekends.
The hours before sleeping are important, too. Watch what you consume to avoid disrupted sleep, i.e. don’t eat heavy foods or drink caffeine in the evening. In our modern world, though, perhaps the most difficult and most necessary thing to avoid before bed are screens. Their artificial blue light mimics sunlight and so confuses your circadian rhythm, making falling asleep tough. Yet even if you use apps to suppress blue light at night, engaging with social media or videos can cause hormonal responses designed to keep you awake rather than easing you to slumber. For the best shut-eye, put those screens down at least an hour before bed.
Exercise to Sleep
As mentioned earlier, practicing strenuous exercise too late in the day can negatively impact your sleeping habits - but not all exercise will necessarily have this effect. Lighter evening workouts like yoga, Pilates, or even just a good, long, full-body stretch can help your body to wind down and decompress ready for sleep. It can also lead to more efficient sleep, and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep. Performing light exercise is also a great way to fill in the time that would have otherwise been used to scroll or binge-watch!
Without enough sleep, your fitness goals will be seriously hindered. Keep to a sleep schedule, put those screen downs, and take some time to stretch to ultimately make the most of your workouts and be in your best health.