Great nutrition and a balanced workout routine are two of the most important parts of reaching your health or fitness goal. But there’s one more component on that list: sleep. When we sleep, our immune and nervous systems are regenerated, and our bones and muscles repair. In other words, it gives our bodies a chance to recover from a tough workout and prepare for the next session.
The problem with too little sleep
Besides feeling exhausted all day, not getting enough sleep can cause you to become clumsier than usual (not good if you’re in a step class or lifting heavy weights!) and can also affect how your brain functions (not ideal at the office!)
It also affects your weight. Recent studies have found that sleep deprivation can slow glucose metabolism by as much as 30 to 40%, which is why long term sleep loss can increase your risk of diabetes and won’t help if your goal is to lose weight.
What’s your circadian rhythm?
Sleep timing is controlled by your circadian clock. It tells you when you should sleep, kind of like an inner timekeeping, temperature-fluctuating device that sets the rhythm. It’s this circadian rhythm that determines the ideal timing for sleep. So if you’re the kind of person who regularly goes to sleep early, you generally won’t be able to sleep much later than your normal waking time even if you’re really tired.
Your circadian rhythm can be altered by temperature and light, which is why a change in the seasons (winter to spring, for example) can impact on your sleep habits.
Your circadian rhythm
Approx. 21h00: Your brain receives messages from the optic nerves telling you that there’s less light, and so “orders” the release of melatonin – a hormone that helps to make you feel sleepy.
02h00 – 06h00: Your body goes into its deepest sleep; your body temp is at its lowest (blankets on!)
06h30 – 07h30: Your blood pressure begins to rise and melatonin secretion stops.
10h00: You’re in “high alert” (good for work productivity)
14h00 – 17h00: You’ve got your best co-ordination, fastest reaction time and greatest muscle strength at this time (good for sports competition)
**These are approx. times and functions and will differ for each person.
How much sleep should we be getting?
For an adult, 7-9 hours a night is recommended. Little ones (3-5 year olds) need as much as 12-15 hours’ sleep a day while adolescents need 9-10 hours on average per night. If you’re unable to function during the day, have a look at your sleep habits.
How can you improve sleep habits?
• Have a regular wake-up and bed time each day.
• Avoid coffee or other caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and other stimulants before bedtime (5 hrs.).
• Avoid high intensity exercise and large meals for 2 ½ hours before going to bed.
• Spend “quiet time” before going to sleep.
• Try making your room as quiet, dark and cool as possible.
• If you are not asleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed, why not try reading for a bit and going back to bed when you’re feeling drowsy?
• Do not nap within 1-3 hours of bed time. If you do nap during the day aim for 20-40 minutes around lunch time if you can.
• Focus on environmental factors like light, temperature and noise
o Cool is better than warm.
o Avoid noises, like doors banging or music blaring, that are the most disruptive.
o Lighting in the room, like a floor lamp or a desk lamp, and a very comfortable desk chair can remind you to work at their desk, not in your bed.
o Low light is best – melatonin is only released under these conditions.
So, all you night owls out there: if you want to make your gym sessions more manageable and worth your while (and your work day too!), try committing to an earlier bedtime and see the results! Why not start tracking your progress to see how sleep can affect your bottom (waist) line?