Train hard, but make sure to rest harder. In a culture where work ethic is romanticized and laziness is frowned upon, it is easy to forget about the rest component of the health and wellness equation. We breathe poorly (see my two-part series on breathing to appreciate the value of deep breathing for rest and recovery), our diets are malnourishing, and our sleep is sub-par.
We all know that physical activity promotes immune function, fat loss, muscle gain, and mental health. But it is less known that sleep accomplishes all the same things, without any of the effort!
In one study on sleep and immune function, participants who consistently slept for less than 7 hours were 3 times as likely to contract illness in comparison to those getting more than 8 hours of sleep. Clearly, the benefits of sleeping an extra couple of hours far outweigh the cons of missing an episode of Game of Thrones.
Sleep is also imperative for fat loss: in another study it was shown that sleeping 5.5 hours versus 8 hours caused participants to lose 55% less fat. In that study, all participants were on the exact same (calorie-matched) diets, which tells us that the metabolic and hormonal response triggered by good sleep is responsible for at least half of our fat loss efforts! Furthermore, participants in the sleep-deprived group lost 60% more muscle mass than those receiving adequate sleep. So on top of losing less fat, the sleep-deprived ended up looking less toned and defined due to muscle loss.
“But wait, there’s more!” Brain function and mood are also highly dependent on sleep duration and quality. Specifically, poor sleep leads to poor decision making as well as what researchers call “reduced emotional brain function”… moodiness.
Finally, sleep is absolutely essential for physiological recovery. Poor sleep leads to increased inflammatory markers, reduced muscle function, and subsequent performance decrements. In other words, workouts end up being much more difficult and physical improvements are few and far between.
So now you’re sold. You don’t like getting sick, you want to burn that extra bit of belly fat, you’re tired of being cranky, and you’d like to see bigger improvements in the gym. But how do you sleep better? Below I’ve summarized the guidelines laid out by Dr. Neil Walsh, who recently answered that question in the well-respected European Journal of Sport Science:
- Aim for >7 hours of sleep each night. It’s not a made up number, Walsh did a meta-analysis of all the relevant sleep studies and determined that 7, on average, is the minimum effective dose.
- Avoid restricting sleep over many days and “catching up”.
- Monitor morning freshness and vigour, and adjust sleep accordingly. The >7 hours figure is a good starting point, but some people may need less or more depending on their current stress levels and/or training status.
- Consider monitoring sleep duration and efficiency using a wearable device. While the calorie-counting feature on the Apple watch is horribly inaccurate, the sleep tracker is decent!
- Daytime naps may be beneficial. The Mexicans had it right all along.
- Optimise sleep hygiene routine in the hour before bedtime. This includes leaving electronics out of the bedroom, going to bed at the same time every night, and engaging in some sort of mental downregulation practice (for example, meditation or reading a book).
- Ensure darkness at bedtime. Blackout curtains are awesome, and sleep masks are cheaper and just as effective.
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.
Pat Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond
Cohen, S., Doyle, W.J., Alper, C.M., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Turner, R.B. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(1), 62-67.
Nedeltcheva, A.V., Kilkus, J.M., Imperial, J., Schoeller, D.A., & Penev, P.D. (2010). Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine, 153(7), 435-441.
Goldstein, A.N., & Walker, M.P. (2014). The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10(1), 679-708.
Fullagar, H.K., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A.J., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: The effect of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise
Walsh, N.P. (2018). Recommendations to maintain immune health in athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 18(6), 820-831.