I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “no rest for the weary” by now. This implies that you must keep persevering no matter how tired or overworked you are.
Maybe you live by this expression – waking up at the crack of dawn to get your first workout of the day in, and then staying up late to fit in that second sweat session.
Well I am here to tell you that you need to change this mentality and make sleep and rest a daily priority.
Athletes are aware that there are trade-offs involved when it comes to achieving goals of peak performance – more planning and greater attention to diet, social sacrifices and more commitment to exercise, to name a few.
But sacrificing sleep absolutely cannot be one of the trade-offs. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It requires more effort and attention to maintain the amount of sleep necessary.
Precision Nutrition advises that if your goals are to reach 23-25 percent body fat as a woman, or 13-15 percent body fat as a man you need to sleep at least seven hours per night. If you want to drop to 20-22 percent or 10-12 percent for women and men, respectively, you need to sleep at least seven to eight hours per night.
What happens when you don’t sleep?
For one, your mind becomes foggy. Sleep is when what you experience and learn gets cemented to memory. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may experience reduced alertness or concentration, confusion, impaired judgment and forgetfulness.
Lack of sleep can also interfere with the production of neurotransmitters and hormone regulation, which can lead to impaired regulation of emotions, increased stress, low mood and can possibly lead to an increased risk of depression.
When you don’t sleep, you are more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, your risk of getting sick increases and you’re at an increased risk of heart disease and other inflammation-related illnesses because T-cells go down and inflammation goes up.
Poor sleep is also linked to excess body fat, while excess body fat can reduce sleep quality. If you’re not sleeping enough, you risk disrupting appetite regulation, you feel hungrier, and you consume more calories.
Not to mention, sleep is when the body repairs itself.
Change your lifestyle to promote good sleep
Achieving the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night is a lot more difficult to put into practice than it may seem. Because you need enough good quality sleep to be healthy and fit, it’s important to create and use a sleep ritual.
A sleep ritual is a set of behaviours and a planned period before bed where you purposely relax and wind down. While you can’t necessarily control how long or how well you sleep, you CAN control what you do before you go to bed.
Your pre-bed ritual starts in the morning. You should be waking up (and going to sleep) at the same time every day. Be careful of caffeine and alcohol. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will make you wake up again later in the night. Avoid caffeine after two in the afternoon. Watch for hidden sources like chocolate, medications, tea, and soft drinks.
While regular exercise helps normalize your body’s 24-hour clock, optimize your hormones and regulate your fight-or-flight system, intense exercise within three to four hours before bed can make it harder to fall asleep.
Eating too heavy of a meal close to bedtime can also make it harder to fall asleep. Try to give yourself at least two hours between dinner time and bedtime. If you are hungry, keep snacking light.
If you’re anything like me and have a hard time turning off your mind at bedtime, keep a journal on your nightstand to write down whatever thoughts are in your head.
Rules for healthy sleep
- Stop using all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed as the artificial lights interfere with your natural production of melatonin
- Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy, as you won’t be able to make yourself fall asleep
- Other than sleeping (and sex), don’t use your bed for anything else. Avoid reading, eating, watching TV and other activities in bed
- If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, leave the room and do something relaxing until you’re sleepy
- Avoid taking naps throughout the day
- De-stress before bed to release tension and activate calm-down chemicals
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool. Most people sleep better when it’s around 67 F
- To maximize melatonin production, keep your bedroom as dark as possible
- Improve your sleep environment. Your bedroom should be peaceful, organized, free of anxiety-inducing clutter and your mattress should be comfortable!
Now, go to sleep. Your health, fitness, body composition, athletic performance, and recovery will thank you.