Many of us who start to exercise and eat better think we are doing everything possible to lose weight, build muscle and achieve our fitness goals – but so many of us are missing one of the most important concepts of strength and vitality – sleep.
Ask yourself – how often do you get a good nights sleep? How often do you wake up feeling strong and vital?
Sleep is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of human health. Sleep helps to balance our body, provide rest and recovery to our cells, and perhaps most importantly, sleep helps to resynthesize hormones.
When you think of working out and trying to lose weight we can understand that sleep may not be the first goal that comes to mind but in fact, those who don’t get enough sleep actually struggle with weight loss. Research shows that those that lack sufficient sleep also have higher onsets of low testosterone – which is obviously an issue as a bodybuilder or strength athlete.
Understandably, there are nights when sleep can become compromised – noisy neighbours, crying baby or snoring partner, these are all common factors and I’m sure you’ve felt the negative effects of poor sleep from these but when you prioritize sleep you WILL be a healthier and happier human.
The fact remains that sleep is the most important factor in your overall lifestyle and vitality. One cannot grow stronger, healthier or happier without a balanced level of sleep every night.
Why Is Sleep Important?
We talked earlier about the importance of sleep as it relates to strength and bodybuilding – but it foes so much further than that.
Sleep is important for three main reasons:
Restores Digestion and Metabolism
Good sleep will promote a reboot of our immune system and will allow our gut to ‘rest’ from digesting food matter.
Sufficient sleep can also help to limit inflammation after heavy protein-rich meals.
Detox is a word that is thrown around far too often in the fitness industry. Fancy drinks and workouts to help detox your body when in fact, the most effective way to detox is to get sufficient sleep every night.
Our body puts in a lot of work when it is in rest mode and this means recycling dead and damaged components of cells (why many people have to use the washroom right in the morning). A lack of sleep every night can put a damper on your bodies natural ability to refresh new revitalize your cells – making you feel tired and sluggish.
Our modern, busy, stressful life agitates the sympathetic nervous system – one which is characterized by flight or fight. Historically, this pathway would have only been activated infrequently (hunters & gatherers) but these days it activated when we are simply walking through our busy day-to-day…factors including traffic, shitty emails, timelines and presentations all trigger the sympathetic nervous system.
In contrast to our sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system – see this as the ‘rest and rejuvenate’ pathway.
No time in history has there been an imperative need to focus on sleep to help us unwind, restore and rejuvenate.
Methods to Imporve Sleep Quality and Consistency
Most of us know that we should be getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. More important than the amount of sleep each night is the consistency and quality of that sleep.
It is important to try to wake up at the same time every day – this helps restore your body, and provide a balance to your personal biological clock.
Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done. Here are a couple methods you can use to improve your sleep quality and consistency for a better life.
Avoid technology for the last 2 hours of your day prior to sleep. Sounds pretty difficult but let us try to explain why this is imperative.
Most, if not all devices such as phones, laptops, tablets and even some Ereaders emit a blue light. This blue light is similar to the blue light our body recognizes during the day and can alter the way our body perceives the time.
Choosing to use a blue light filter (downloadable in your app store) or putting the device away as you get closer to bedtime will drastically help you to actually feel tired when its time for sleep.
2. Hot & Cold Showers
Alternating between hot and cold (finishing on cold) will help to promote good quality sleep.
How to do hot/cold showers to illicit better sleep:
- Shower at your usual temperature
- Gradually raise the temperature to the point in which it uncomfortable – ensure your whole body experiences this temperature
- Lower the temperature to the coldest possible (not hot tap running) and exposure all body parts to this
- Raise the temperature again (if you can tolerate a higher temperature than before do so)
- Lower the temperature again – repeat a further 6 times
- Start on hot and finish on cold
Once you get back to cold you should jump into bed and let your body do the rest.
3. Sleep In a Cool Room
Studies have shown that sleeping in a cool room (17-19 C) is better for quality sleep – this isn’t always easy in our Australian climate but definitely worth bearing in mind.
4. Block-Out Light
Ever slept in a hotel room with a set of black-out blinds and noticed you slept like a baby?
Any visual or auditory stimulation in the way of a noise of bright light can have an effect on your sleep. Using black-out blinds can actually help your body (even during sleep) recognize that it is still time for resting and help you to stay in deeper REM cycles for longer.
Your sleep is so incredibly important to your health, any little changes you can make to your bedroom and night-time routine the better.
5. Late Night Massage
A massage at night will help to boost serotonin and oxytocin (cuddle hormone) which will control the production of cortisol (stress hormone) which is elevated when we have our sympathetic nervous system activated.
High levels of cortisol will suppress the restoration processes and impact the production of melatonin – therefore it’s important to minimize cortisol at night.
Earthing or grounding is an important way to improve sleep quality – as well as our cardio-vascular health – this is imperative for city-folk.
The earth’s surface is fizzing with free electrons. By walking barefoot, being in a body of water or lying on the grass you’ll be positively affecting your physiology.
Our body is incredibly conductive and so grounding (getting your body in touch with the earth’s electromagnetic charge) will increase the surface charge of red blood cells and consequently lowers blood viscosity.
Studies have shown grounding lowers cortisol levels at night and followed by normal cortisol levels the next day. Subjects in the studies reported better sleep quality, reduced pain and lowered stress the following day
Arguably the most important mineral – magnesium is essential to the function of every organ in our body. Magnesium is a mineral contained in many foods that are grown through the soil. Unfortunately some modern farming methods have depleted and stripped it from our diet.
Foods rich in magnesium are swiss chard, spinach, nuts, dark chocolate and seeds. Trying to get your magnesium from other sources may be difficult and not worth your time. Supplementing is an option but we always try to advocate for a natural approach to nutrition.
The body is incredibly complex and nothing works in isolation so giving your body as much rest and sleep as possible will set you up for success.
8. Limit Sugar
When stressed or sleep deprived we crave sugary foods and drinks. Indulging on these sugary foods can feed a negative cycle within the gut which can impact the gut integrity and cause systemic inflammation.
Value your sleep and your body will thank you for it.