In fitness, what you do outside the gym matters a lot, including what you eat, what you drink, and, more importantly, how well you sleep. Whether you’re starting your fitness journey or are already a pro, sleep is crucial, just like working out, for maximum performance. Besides, you probably know that regular physical activity could boost your sleep. Frankly, regular exercise is one of the solutions professionals recommend to people with sleeping difficulties. Therefore, the correlation and benefits of sleep and regular exercise can never be overlooked.
Good sleep allows your body to recover and repair worn-out tissues and muscles worked out during exercise. Enough sleep also causes your muscles to grow because the body produces growth hormones while asleep. For teens and kids, the growth hormone helps them grow, but for adults, it helps build lean muscles and aids muscle and tissue repair after strenuous exercise. However, before we dive into the impact of sleep on your fitness journey, let’s look at how much sleep a physically active individual needs.
This is a natural and most relevant question active individuals, athletes, and coaches commonly ask, but the answer depends on age, exercise intensity, and an individual’s specific needs. Although people doing lightweight exercises may benefit from eight hours of sleep, more physically active people may need more. On the other hand, adult athletes need around 8-10 hours of sleep, while teen and youth athletes require 9-11 hours of sleep.
However, specialists point out that the quality of your sleep matters more than the number of hours you slept. Hence, aim to improve your sleep to reach your fitness goals. You can do this by investing in comfortable adjustable beds, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, having a conducive sleeping environment, being consistent with sleeping and waking times, and avoiding using electronic devices like laptops, TVs, or smartphones before bedtime.
With this in mind, let’s now look at how sleep impacts your fitness journey.
Physically active individuals require more sleep than their inactive counterparts. When you exercise regularly, your body gets tired and naturally needs to rest. While sleeping, the body restocks all the energy used, so you’ll perform at your best again the following day. Sleep also allows your muscles to rest and recover from injuries and more intense sessions. When you sleep, the body produces hormones and androgens crucial for muscle repair, bone growth, and weight loss.
Moreover, lack of enough sleep has a detrimental impact on your exercise performance. It affects your mental health, thus affecting the capacity to think clearly and react accordingly. This explains why people with sleeping problems often take risks and make poor decisions.
Sleep deprivation also increases the risk of different medical conditions like anxiety disorder, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. For active individuals, lack of quality sleep causes decreased ability to perform exercises, diminished reaction and accuracy, frequent exhaustion, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, unwanted weight gain, and increased risks for injuries.
Most people think that they gain or grow muscles while in the gym. This is a common misconception that we need to debunk. While in the gym, you only tear muscle fibers, but the muscles grow and repair while you’re sleeping. Despite the intensity and type of workouts you perform, recovery is essential to achieving your goals. This is why you should pay attention to the quality and quantity of your sleep. Many studies have found that individuals who get more than eight hours of sleep have improved workouts and build lean muscles more quickly than those with sleep deprivation.
Hence, incorporate a post-workout recovery routine, like sleep, into your schedule to achieve your fitness goals. Enough sleep allows your body to produce an anabolic hormone that helps grow and repair muscles and tissues damaged during exercises. That means the more sleep you get, the more your muscles grow and get repaired. On the other hand, poor sleep causes an increase in catabolic hormones, like cortisol, that aid in energy production. Higher levels of the hormone cortisol are some of the reasons you sometimes feel too exhausted to fall asleep or wake up tired.
Additionally, enough sleep allows your body to digest carbohydrates and convert them into glycogen. Glycogen is used to fuel muscle contractions, promoting muscle growth. This is another reason your muscles grow when you’re sleeping. Enough glycogen hinders cortisol from converting amino acids into adenosine triphosphate, which could affect muscle growth.
You’re wrong if you think there’s no correlation between sleep and diet. Enough sleep helps control your appetite and make better food choices. However, lack of sleep is linked to weight gain and increased appetite, making you consume more calories and fats, resulting in rapid weight gain. Deprived sleep also elevates your appetite by increasing the production of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, and decreasing the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full.
Furthermore, sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress. This affects your brain function, making it difficult to make healthy food choices and resist unhealthy foods. Lack of sleep also makes you crave food with high calories, sugar, and fats, which explains why a bowl of ice cream is usually more satisfying after a sleepless night.
Hence, sleeping early can help you stick to your diet as it helps avoid late-night snacking, which mainly occurs when you don’t sleep early. When you’re up past bedtime, the chances of eating snacks increase, especially if you ate dinner early. For instance, if you eat dinner at 6:30 p.m and stay up until 12:30 a.m, you’ll most likely feel hungry in between. So, if you’re trying to lose weight or stick to your eating habits, getting enough sleep may make a significant difference in attaining your goals.
Fitness activities are first executed in the mind before the body performs them. If you rock the exercises in your mind, you’ll see changes in your routine workouts. Yet with poor mental health, you’re bound to make excuses regarding physical activities and healthy eating. To be mentally fit for your exercises, you need to get enough rest to calm your mind.
Brain activity usually drops during sleep, allowing your mind to relax and de-stress. This helps improve thinking capabilities, learning, and memory. Quality sleep allows your brain to evaluate, remember, and process emotional information, improving brain activity. Proper sleep also helps reduce anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, which can affect your fitness journey. Meanwhile, lack of enough sleep affects mood and behavior changes, making you skip your workout routines and diet.
Metabolism refers to the body’s process of converting calories into energy. Metabolism rate is mainly affected by muscle mass, physical activity, and body size (large bodies have a higher metabolic rate than small bodies). However, sleep has also been proven to affect your body’s metabolism. Quality sleep helps your body retain an optimal metabolic rate, preventing weight gain and health conditions related to it.
Conversely, deprived sleep negatively affects the body’s capability to convert the body’s fat into energy. This results in more fat stored in the body rather than being broken down to provide energy. When this happens consistently, you gain weight, diminishing your chances of achieving your fitness goals.
In addition, poor sleep affects glucose and insulin levels in the body. Glucose provides energy to the body, while insulin is a hormone that regulates and transfers glucose from the blood to body cells. Maintaining glucose and insulin levels is essential for good metabolic health and preventing metabolic issues such as diabetes. Therefore, enough quality sleep is crucial in maintaining glucose and insulin levels for optimal metabolic health.
As stated earlier, muscle growth doesn’t occur during training sessions. What happens during a workout is inflammation, which occurs when your muscles and tissues are micro-damaged. During rest or sleep, your body works to repair and replace the damaged tissues, helping you build bigger and stronger muscles with time.
Quality sleep helps your body produce protein-building amino acids in the blood, which are responsible for bigger and stronger muscles. Growth hormones are also released during sleep to aid muscle growth and repair after strenuous activity. For these reasons, it’s wise to incorporate quality sleep into your workout routine. However, if you’re having trouble sleeping, try practices like breathing in and out to promote relaxation, stretch out or have a yoga routine before bed, or get a comfortable position to relax so you’ll eventually fall asleep.
Quality sleep, like healthy diets and regular exercise, is key to achieving your fitness goals. If you’re on a good diet and exercise regularly but still struggle to build lean muscles, the problem may be a lack of sufficient sleep. Deprived sleep means your muscles aren’t getting enough time to build and repair after challenging workouts. However, don’t prioritize sleeping to a point where you forget to work out or eat healthily; all these are essential to achieving your fitness goals.