Sleep isn’t sexy. Sleep doesn’t set PR’s, it doesn’t look good on the Instagram feed, and it doesn’t help shed the pounds. So why would you want to prioritize sleeping when you could be getting in some extra workouts, sending a few more work emails, or even getting some extra relaxation time with your favorite Netflix show?? The answer is actually rather simple; sleep is the most important recovery tool in your arsenal.
First, let’s get this out of the way, for some reason sleep has become an action that is viewed as weak. People view lack of sleep as a badge of honor, something that the less of they can maintain the more they must be accomplishing. I have no clue where this mindset came from. Maybe it’s because as toddlers and infants we slept a lot, and as we grew and aspired to be more adult we began to reject the actions of childhood, such as sleeping. Now, in adulthood, sleep is viewed as an inconvenience that we need to do. And, when people do finally realize they are under-slept, they attempt to treat the problem by getting just ONE night of good sleep and calling the problem fixed. This strategy is akin to having a flat tire that you fill with air once and call it good, despite having never fixed the leak. This cultural attitude has lead to terrible sleep habits and a cascade of negative effects on health and fitness. Worse, most people who are sleep deprived don’t believe they have a problem with their sleep.
For those of us who are actively training and working towards fitness goals, sleep should be your best friend. In weight loss efforts, sleeping adequately can help prevent those diet killing cravings for cheap carbs and fats. I know that personally, when I’m under slept I crave sugar. My own theory on this is that when I’m tired my body is energy deficient, so naturally my system will need to turn to foods in order to obtain some fuel (calories) and, since I’m already at a lack in regards to energy, my body will favor those foods that are stimulating and quickly digested (i.e. sugars and cheap fats). It’s hard to keep to a diet plan when you are constantly fighting cravings.
Further, for those people with big strength goals and muscle gain plans, sleeping provides your body with an environment where tissue can be repaired and muscles can be built bigger. It is at rest when a body is able to grow and repair. Therefore if you aren’t sleeping adequately it won’t really matter much how much you’re working out, your body simply won’t grow bigger, stronger muscles.
Sleep is a recharge. We understand that when our phone gets used up, and the battery gets low, we need to plug it in or it’s going to cease working. Well, that same analogy can be applied to you as a human being. You have to recharge. When we sleep our bodies repair themselves, our brain and nervous system is allowed to store information, create new neurological connections and even de-stress, and our immune systems work to maintain a healthy body. And all of these things sound awesome, but they still are not serious enough for most people to prioritize sleep. Well, how about this, chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to such health conditions as cancer, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and increases risk of depression and even suicide. Sleep deprivation is a silent killer. Sleep deprived individuals believe themselves to be fine, productive, and healthy.
There exists a cultural belief that if you sleep less you are going to accomplish more. Well, sure, you may have more time to do work and train but what are you really accomplishing? When sleep deprived the quality of workouts and productivity plummets. Physiologically your body simply cannot perform as well when you are tired. We know this to be accurate. When we don’t sleep we don’t feel awesome, simple as that. Additionally, from a psychological standpoint, feelings of anxiety and attention capacity deficit increase. So how productive do you think you’ll be when your body can’t put out physically and your mental and emotional capacity is blunted?
The average American sleeps 6.5 hours a night. With the standard recommendations for sleep being 7-9 hours a night we are not far off from being in a better state of sleep. So where do we go to get that extra sleep? Try going to bed just ten minutes earlier for two weeks. This doesn’t mean get into bed ten minutes earlier and spend that extra time scrolling through your emails or checking Facebook. It means going to bed. Create a favorable sleep environment for yourself by turning out the lights, keeping your room cool, turning off electronics 30 minutes prior to bed, actively working to calm your mind before bed, and start decreasing your consumption of caffeine containing beverages. Practice this act of getting to bed 10 minutes earlier until it becomes normal, and then aim for another 10 minutes extra. Repeat this practice until you’re sleeping adequately. Additionally, while practicing better sleep habits, be mindful of how you’re feeling and performing, as the resulting changes will be profound and powerful.
Sleep well and sweet dreams!