THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP

When looking to optimise their health, the first things most people consider is getting some workouts in and sorting out their diet. Whilst these two things are obviously critical, often overlooked is the importance of getting enough sleep.

We all know that getting seven or eight hours of shut-eye is ideal, but unfortunately, when we’re busy, good sleep habits tend to fall by the wayside. This can be a problem when trying to fit in your weekly workouts, especially if you’re already juggling work commitments and a social life.

Sacrificing an hour of sleep may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re trying to make progress in the gym, a lack of rest can really derail your progress. Sleep has a profound impact on all aspects of our health, not just physical (e.g. digestion, immune system, hormonal balance…) but also psychological (stress and depression can be triggered or worsened by sleep deprivation).

When considering its impact on our health and fitness, there are a vast number of benefits that adequate sleep has to offer, as summarised below:

Prevent illness

Sleep has a profound effect on our immune system, with research showing that people who get fewer than five hours are 4.5 times more likely to get a cold than those who sleep for 7 hours. In the long-run, taking an extra rest day here and there to make sure you’re getting enough sleep could prove less disruptive to your training (and general life) than working too hard and making yourself ill.

Drive your performance

When you do resistance training, you are actually causing tiny tears in your muscle fibres. Your body then repairs these micro-tears and over time the muscles adapt to better handle the demands that caused the initial damage. This is how muscles grow (the process is referred to as hypertrophy). This recovery process happens while we sleep, so ensuring that you have a good sleeping pattern will really help your training – indeed, sleep is sometimes referred to as “nature’s sport supplement”.

Also, although it may seem obvious, it’s worth pointing out that by getting enough sleep, you have the energy needed to power through tough sessions at the gym. You can’t expect to push past PBs if you’re struggling to stay awake and yawning your way through sets. Arrive at the gym fully rested and alert, ready to give it your all and you’ll be far more likely to smash out a great session.

Achieve your weight loss goals

Years of research has proven that there is a solid connection between weight and sleep. Hormonal changes in your body take place as a result of the amount and quality of your sleep. Crucially, the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which increase appetite and signal satiety, respectively, can fluctuate with insufficient sleep. This can mean feeling hungrier and struggling to feel satisfied when you eat. So, a lack of sleep can not only leave you lacking energy for your workouts, but can also make you feel hungrier. This combination means that you may be burning fewer calories, but consuming more – the opposite of what you want if you’re aiming for weight loss…

Research by Harvard University has confirmed a strong link between insufficient sleep and weight gain. There is a possibility that insufficient sleep impairs brain reward systems, including those that govern energy intake, judgment, and food choice. Some studies suggest that sleep-deprived people eat fewer vegetables and gravitate more toward sweet, fatty foods.

Furthermore, a lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on your metabolism, as rest helps to regulate our metabolic rate.

Boost heart health

A lack of sleep can put your heart at risk – studies have shown that “short sleepers” getting fewer than the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night have a significantly higher risk of developing and ultimately dying from coronary heart disease – plus they also have an increased risk of suffering a stroke.

So, it’s obvious by now that sleep is something you should be prioritising as part of a healthy lifestyle. If you struggle to sleep, check out our top tips below:

  • Keep your room cool and dark
  • Have a consistent bedtime routine, so that your body knows when it’s time to start winding down. Having set rituals, like a cup of tea or half an hour of reading before bed, can help you to relax
  • Limit your use of technology before going to bed – the blue light in your phone can prevent your brain from “switching off”. Scrolling through Instagram can wait til the morning!
  • Exercise! There are a number of reasons why it can help you to drop off – an obvious one being that you need to recuperate after expending lots of energy. Also, as your body temperature rises during exercise, the drop in body temperature that comes after you’ve cooled down can trigger the signals your body needs to help fall asleep. So, a walk after dinner, for example, could be really beneficial if you’re someone that struggles to fall asleep.

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