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Why train harder when you can sleep more?

One of the most important part of our days, yet the most overlooked, sleep!

There are a number of factors that will affect your ability to perform and improve in the gym, the obvious ones are training and diet. Personally, I spent countless hours pondering and questioning ways to manipulate these two variables, looking for ways to improve. But what I realised was holding me back wasn’t my training or diet, as both were pretty good and relatively consistent. But what wasn’t, was my sleeping pattern and my ability to recover from session to session. Something I wish I knew sooner was just how much of an impact sleep would have, not just in the gym, but also when I was trying to be productive day to day.

“Something I wish I knew sooner was just how much of an impact sleep would have, not just in the gym, but also when I was trying to be productive day to day.”

Now, I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter what your fitness goal is, sleep needs to be a consideration. The benefits of incorporating a regular sleeping pattern into your fitness regimen makes reaching your fitness goal easier. If you are focusing solely on fixing your exercise program and diet without worrying about your sleep, you will limit the speed in which you make progress, and potentially the amount of progress you can make. If you want to improve from your training and continue to make progress, adequate recovery is of utmost importance. You need to be able to do the same thing repeatedly at higher intensities to continuously improve. To do this, you will need adequate sleep.

The costs of getting insufficient sleep:

Below is a list of some research I’ve found conveying the effects sleep restriction can have. You can check out the references in the Bibliography if you want to have a deeper dive;

  • Insufficient sleep can alter glycaemic control, appetite, hunger and increase energy intake. All of these things are important if weight loss is your goal, or if you are trying to manage blood sugar levels.
  • Sleep restriction was recently shown to reduce the rate of myofibrillar protein synthesis. This means a lack of sleep will affect your body’s ability to repair and build muscle tissue. This will play a part in your ability to gain strength and muscle.
  • In a 2 week weight loss study, reducing a groups sleeping opportunity to no more than 5.5 hours in comparison to 8 hours or more, resulted in less fat loss and greater loss of lean muscle mass. This means it can effect your ability to gain muscle, lose fat and improve your body composition when you do not sleep enough.
  • Poor sleeping patterns have the potential to unfavourably effect the function of the respiratory, neuromuscular, gastro-intestinal, cardiovascular and immune systems. Furthermore, prolonged sleep restriction can result in lower performance outcomes in sport, as well as increasing risk of injury and illness.

How to optimise your sleep:

Now we understand just how important sleep is. Let’s optimise it. Most people are aware of getting at least 8 hours per night. Which is pretty standard for the general population. If you are completing intense training or are an advanced athlete, you will likely need to look into sleep extension, increasing your shut eye time upwards of 8 hours. Somewhere in the range of 9-11 hours has been found to be beneficial. Increasing the amount of time, you sleep is the best way to improve performance above all other sleep improvement strategies. Always aiming for at least 8 hours is the most important thing.

“If you are completing intense training or are an advanced athlete, you will likely need to look into sleep extension, increasing your shut eye time upwards of 8 hours.”

Other ways to optimise your sleep include:

  • Keep a consistent circadian rhythm. This means you go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day. This can increase sleep duration and quality.
  • Avoiding screens near bedtime e.g. computers and T.V.
  • Sleeping in a dark room which shuts out light, but allows natural light in during the mornings

Sleep is super important! Ensuring you have a good sleeping pattern should be a goal of yours everyday if it isn’t already. The effects it can have on your ability to perform in and out of the gym carries on further to encompass all aspects of life. It’s a crucial key to the puzzle that is often overlooked and fixing it is free. It doesn’t cost you anything to get a better and longer night’s sleep, but it can save you time and money looking for ways to improve other facets of your training that may otherwise not need fixing. Why train harder, when you can sleep more?


References

Bonnar, D., Bartel, K., Kakoschke, N. and Lang, C., 2018. Sleep Interventions Designed to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review of Current Approaches. Sports Medicine, 48(3), pp.683-703.

Chandrasekaran, B., Fernandes, S. and Davis, F., 2020. Science of sleep and sports performance – a scoping review. Science & Sports, 35(1), pp.3-11.

Jåbekk, P., Jensen, R., Sandell, M., Haugen, E., Katralen, L. and Bjorvatn, B., 2020. A randomized controlled pilot trial of sleep health education on body composition changes following 10 weeks’ resistance exercise. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 60(5).

Kang, J. and Chen, S., 2009. Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan. BMC Public Health, 9(1).

Ness-Abramof, R., 2011. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Yearbook of Medicine, 2011, pp.551-552.

Saner, N., Lee, M., Pitchford, N., Kuang, J., Roach, G., Garnham, A., Stokes, T., Phillips, S., Bishop, D. and Bartlett, J., 2020. The effect of sleep restriction, with or without high‐intensity interval exercise, on myofibrillar protein synthesis in healthy young men. The Journal of Physiology, 598(8), pp.1523-1536.

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