Sleep is such an important factor in health, immunity and in recovery from training. Perhaps because we take it for granted, we easily overlook its significance, and usually compromise it in order to achieve more in our day.
In the pursuit of constant improvement in my own athletic performance, I’ve been examining many factors which affect my training. Currently, the one I’m looking at is sleep. It’s one in the morning as I’m writing this. As you can probably surmise, my sleep patterns are severely disturbed at the moment, and that is resulting in me being irritable, late for appointments, sluggish and unmotivated.
Numerous studies have been done linking chronic sleep deprivation to increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression. Acute sleep deprivation has been linked to elevated levels of stress hormones, impaired cognitive function, slower reaction times, irritability and increased blood pressure. Our sleeping hours are also the time when growth hormone brings about repair of muscle tissue, growth of bones and burning of fats.
What this means is that while we do the work during training sessions, and supply our bodies with the necessary fuels when we eat, it is while we sleep that our bodies bring about adaptation and recovery in response to our training, and it is only if this happens that we experience the benefits we are striving for, such as increased strength, muscle tone, decreased body-fat, and improved energy levels.
Knowing that sleep is as integral a part of a fitness regime as diet and the exercise itself, might allow us to feel a little less guilty about prioritising a good night’s sleep.
But how much sleep should we be getting each night? Although recommendations for adults range from between 7.5 to 9 hours per night, a study by Cheri Mah of the Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory found that athletes who got 10 hours sleep per night experienced improved performance, mood and alertness. Many set new personal bests during the study.
Basically, if you are falling asleep within five minutes of going to bed, relying heavily on an alarm to wake up on time, and experiencing a lot of day-time drowsiness, you may be sleep-deprived. In aiming to get between eight to ten hours of quality sleep every night, you’ll find your training sessions are more achievable, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights and endure longer and more intense cardio, and you’ll be more alert, happy and productive through the day.