Improve your fitness by sleeping?

It’s the week of daylight savings and we have sprung forward this is another great reminder of just how vital sleep can be for health as well as fitness.

Did you know that there is a significant increase in traffic accident fatalities the Monday after we spring forward and that if you have been awake for 18 hours and are on the road driving that it is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol concentration of .05 (.08 being the legal limit)? Clearly NOT getting enough sleep is a problem when if comes to driving but inadequate sleep can also sabotage your gainz in the gym. Inadequate sleep slows metabolism, decreases insulin sensitivity, raises cortisol, and increases blood pressure. If your goal is to be lean, muscular, and strong (not to mention healthy) than you need to be examining your habits around sleep.

So, what is a guy or gal to do to improve their sleep? If you want to maximize your progress in the gym and increase your performance in pretty much every area of life, take these simple, high return on investment steps and do them consistently.

Step number 1: Aim for 7.5 (+/-0.5) hours

Dr. Kirk Parsley is a great resource when it comes to sleep and this is the quantity that he recommends and has been shown in the research to be “enough” for most people to see the benefits of improved brain function, higher metabolism, and better nutrient partitioning (your body storing the food you eat in your muscles not on your belly). You may have to do some experimentation to find YOUR specific sleep duration. If you are waking up to an alarm and it feels like a complete fight every morning, try moving your wake or sleep time forward or backwards 15 minutes. Sometimes I have found myself trying to wake up during one of the deepest parts of a sleep cycle which makes it very hard to wake up feeling well rested every morning but, I have noticed that simply moving my wake time back 15 minutes (the only option that I have at the moment) that I wake up feeling more energized and less groggy.

Step number 2: Get regular….sleep and wake times that is

I used to and sometimes still do fall into the vicious cycle of waking up consistently at the same time every week day and then staying in bed for an extra three hours every morning on the weekends or going to bed much later on the weekend. This is much like moving two steps forward and taking one step back every week if you are ensuring that your quantity of sleep is adequate. The most optimal thing to do is wake up and go to bed at the same time every day regardless of whether if it is the weekend. This allows for your body to get into a set rhythm and “anticipate” sleep. This may not be hugely important for people that don’t struggle with their sleep quality but can be a game changer for those struggling to get a quality night’s sleep.

Step number 3: Eliminate noise and light pollution

Your bedroom should be a cave. Dark, quite, and cold. It’s amazing how a little green light from a phone charger or an alarm clock can alter the quality of your sleep. The same goes for noise from the outside world coming into your bedroom. If it sounds like the Daytona 500 outside your house because you’re living next to a major road or an airport or train tracks, a pair of earplugs may be your new best friend. Just make sure that you’re able to make it to work on time the next morning. The optimal sleeping temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember cold, dark, and quite. Investing in some blackout curtains, ear plugs, and black electrical tape (to cover any little lights like those on the smoke detector or phone chargers) can literally help you lose body-fat and gain muscle. Invest in these items BEFORE you buy any supplement of any kind. Yes, it’s that important.

Step number 4: Wind down properly before bed

You can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep by putting a sleep ritual into place each night before you go to bed. Picking an interval of time before bed to dim the lights, turn off any blue light emitting screens from phones, tablets, TVs, and computer screes, and calming your mind down from a busy day will set you up for a more restful nights sleep. Most people find that 30 minutes is a sufficient interval of time to get ready for bed. The key is consistency, the first time that you perform your sleep ritual it may seem unremarkable. Keep doing it! It will soon pay off. Your body does not operate at the speed that we have become used to in the days of instant gratification and it will take some time for it to get into a good rhythm.

Step number 5: Be wary of Z drugs

I am not a doctor and I will not play one on the internet but, Dr. Kirk Parsley is and I will follow his lead on the issue of Z drugs like Ambien, Lunesta and the like. These drugs when taken do not allow for your brain to enter into the most restorative stages of sleep. Instead they knock you out. Literally. When you take these drugs it is similar to you getting into a fight and getting knocked unconscious or getting blackout drunk. Your brain activity in these scenarios is not in the same state as when you are in a deep sleep and you do not get the benefits of sleep in these instances. If you are taking a sleep aid stop for a second and question why it is that you are having trouble sleeping in the first place. Is it stress? Are you over caffeinated? Is it your sleeping environment? Try to find the root of your sleeplessness and go after that first before taking a sleep aid.

To bring this all home, I know in real life what is optimal and what is actually doable are two different things. Especially for a new parent, getting a restful, unbroken night’s sleep may be a thing of the past and not be feasible until the distant future. Maybe you are a fire fighter or someone who is constantly on call. It then becomes important to try and create as many good habits as possible that you CAN do regarding sleep. Work with what you have now until a time comes where you can make bigger changes to your sleep.

Your health and fitness is not doomed because you cannot get a perfect night’s sleep but, a great night’s sleep will be a force multiplier for your health and fitness goals. Next to proper nutrition, sleep is the biggest tool for recovery, it makes everything in your body perform more efficiently and inadequate sleep is not something you should take lightly.

Luke Atchley