"In a society that glorifies grinding, short-term gains and pushing to extremes, it takes guts to rest.” - Brad Stulberg
Hit snooze? Or drag yourself out of bed for that workout?
Rest or reps? We all know that to accomplish our health and fitness goals, we’ll need to make sacrifices from time to time. But consistently sacrificing sleep will actually have the opposite effect!
Wondering how much sleep matters? Read on to find out if your sleep habits are compromising your fitness!
For years, Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory’s Cheri Mah has been researching the link between the athletic performance of Stanford athletes and their sleep patterns.
According to Mah’s studies, male and female athletes on Stanford’s swim teams and men on the basketball team that got abundant sleep over several weeks demonstrated improved alertness and performance. And athletes that got more sleep continually performed better in all sports than their sleep-deprived counterparts.
Mah conducted another study of the Stanford University women's tennis team in 2009, revealing that athletes performed significantly better after five weeks of aiming to get 10 hours of sleep per night than they did previously. By increasing their sleep to about 10 hours, the tennis players hit shots with more accuracy and ran sprints faster than they did when getting less sleep.
There is no denying that the quality and quantity of sleep does impact fitness.
And sleep plays an integral role in reaching and maintaining peak performance, period.
Quantity and Quality Sleep
According to sleep specialists, adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while adolescents and teens generally require nine to 10 hours. Studies suggest that no matter what your age, anyone who gets less than six hours of sleep per night is at a higher risk for injury.
To determine the amount that is best for you, you may need to experiment over three weeks to 30 days. If you have a Fitbit or WHOOP fitness tracker, you can use your wearable technology to track how long you sleep, as well as the time spent in each sleep stage, to get a thorough understanding of your quality of sleep.
Alternatively, you can keep a sleep journal to determine how much sleep you need. This will make you more aware of whether or not you were able to fall asleep immediately upon crawling into bed, or you tossed and turned for an hour or more, and why.
If you depend on your alarm to wake you up rather than naturally waking up around the same time every day, this is a sign that you are sleep-deprived, also known as sleep debt (which unfortunately most of us have to a certain degree). If you fall asleep within 20 minutes of crawling into bed and wake up naturally, without depending on your trusty alarm, it’s likely that you’re getting the proper amount of sleep.
How exactly does sleep impact fitness?
Research suggests that exercise not only helps you fall asleep faster but stay asleep longer as well, improving the quality of your sleep. Working out early in the morning or even in the afternoon may give your body temperature a slight boost before it dips, causing drowsiness when you need it… just before bedtime!
Individuals that workout consistently may also notice that exercise is a relief from stress that would otherwise disrupt sleep.
Additionally, deep sleep has been linked to improved athletic performance. This is as a result of the release of growth hormone during deeper stages of sleep.
And growth hormone is responsible for burning fat, fostering muscle growth and repair, building bone, and ultimately allowing athletes and active individuals to properly and fully recover. Sleep debt, on the other hand, has been linked to suppressing the beneficial release of growth hormone.
Should I go back to bed or drag myself through a workout?
Well, that depends. The occasional restless night isn’t likely to have a negative impact on your fitness. But for the majority of us who are attempting to juggle family, fitness, and work, sleep is regularly the price we pay to maintain such full schedules.
And the resulting fatigue can prevent you from fully recovering from your workouts. Sleep deprivation cheats your body of the opportunity it needs to regenerate and repair bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
Getting sufficient sleep, however, provides your body the time it needs to recover from training, impeding overuse injuries. Getting plenty of sleep also improves reaction times, helping to prevent injury by making it less difficult to adapt.
When you consider how essential sleep is, it might be tempting to skip your early morning workout (snooze button anyone?). By moving your workout to the afternoon or early evening, you can get the sleep AND exercise you need.
Don’t choose one over the other. Lack of sleep can negatively impact performance, but exercise, and in particular cardio, will eventually condition your body to sleep longer and deeper.
Even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve your sleep quality considerably. Additionally, the risk of developing restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders may be minimized by exercising on a regular basis.
If you find that you are consistently choosing between 7 hours of sleep and a 1-hour workout, or 8 hours of sleep and no workout, it might be time to experiment with a new training schedule. Consider switching your workouts from AM to PM. If you still can't get enough sleep at night, take short daily naps during the day.
When it comes to competitions and races, it’s natural to toss and turn the night before. As long as you get extra sleep in the week or two leading up to an important race or comp, a night of restlessness won’t be detrimental.
Whether you’re attempting to prevent injury, reduce stress, or improve athletic performance, sleep needs to be a priority. And with a little experimentation, you can have your rest and get your reps too!
Reach out to Change The Game today to find out more about the health and fitness services we offer to greater Wilmington, NC and beyond!