The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is probably one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated aspects of performance and overall health. Globally, it’s estimated that at least 30% of adults are chronically under-slept and many more have poor sleep habits and poor sleep quality. The issues that poor sleep habits cause for the average person are only made worse for individuals engaging in regular physical activity. No matter who you are or what your activity levels look like, if you want to take your health seriously, you need to take a long look at your sleep habits and hygiene.
Deep sleep is crucial for every single biological function. There are hundreds, if not thousands of studies showing the negative impact that poor sleep has on our bodies. Let’s take a look at just a few of these important processes and biological functions: Your Nervous System
Poor sleep quality and quantity have a direct, negative impact on Heart Rate Variability, which is a proven indicator of nervous system fatigue. Essentially, HRV is a way of measuring our body’s “readiness” or ability to take on and deal with stress. A fatigued nervous system will result in elevated resting heart rate, chronic fatigue, poor exercise recovery, poor athletic performance, daytime sleepiness/drowsiness, and difficulty controlling your appetite (among a myriad of other symptoms). You may be doing everything exactly right when it comes to your health but poor sleep quality could literally put it all to waste.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
While you might associate HGH with steroids, it’s important to understand that our bodies produce HGH internally (endogenous). This Growth Hormone is crucial for repairing damaged tissues and building up new healthy tissues like muscles, tendons, ligaments, bone, etc. While our bodies are producing this valuable hormone almost 24/7, we actually release the greatest amount of HGH during our deep sleep cycle. If we aren’t getting enough, quality, deep sleep, we can negatively impact our endogenous levels of HGH. Multiple studies confirm this and we know over time, this has an extremely negative impact on your overall health, hormone functions, lean mass, and ability to recover from exercise!
Body Composition & Weight
Poor sleep quality also can create a negative impact on your overall body composition. For example, this study showed that poor sleep can result in decreased loss of body fat and increased loss of lean mass (muscle tissue)! This is likely due to multiple factors.
Poor sleep negatively effects your hormone levels
Poor sleep negatively effects your hunger signaling pathways
Poor sleep makes it harder to stick to your workout routine
Poor sleep increases levels of anxiety and depression, often resulting in poor food choices
The list goes on and on, but if you’re trying to lose weight or even just improve your body composition, sleep is an extremely valuable factor that cannot be overlooked.
Multiple studies show the impact of sleep on physical/athletic performance. While you might not be a big time athlete, we can all agree that our body’s ability to “perform” makes us more coordinated, helps us avoid injuries, helps us move better, and ultimately makes us a more “fit” individual. One study highlighting this issue shows some of the significant negative impacts of poor sleep:
Decreased endurance performance and anaerobic power
Decreased reaction times
Decreased cognitive function/accuracy
Up to 70% increased risk of injury
Decreased immune function AKA higher risk for illness
If you could take the benefits of sleep and bottle it up in a capsule, it would be one of the most in-demand performance supplements ever sold…and the beauty that is sleep is actually FREE!
So, hopefully by now you’re convinced that you need to improve your sleep quality and may be wondering how you go about doing that. Well, the number one way to improve your sleep quality is to sleep more. At minimum, an adult should be getting 6-7 hours of sleep each night, but for many folks (especially physically active ones), that number is likely closer to 8, 9, or even 10 hours. While each person is slightly different, we recommend setting a goal of at least 8 hours each evening. You can also supplement your “sleep needs” with a that with a short 20-30 minute nap during the day.
Additionally, we can work to improve our sleep quality by avoiding electronics at night (or wearing blue-blocker glasses), decreasing the temperature in our bedroom by a few degrees, and blocking out as much ambient light as possible by using blackout curtains, unplugging electronics, etc.
We can also improve sleep with nutritional changes such as increasing our hydration level and supplementing with magnesium (preferably mag glycinate), as well as sodium and potassium.
One final way to improve sleep quality/quantity is to record your sleep either through a journal or phone app. This allows you to track the changes you make, give yourself feedback, and improve your sleep consistency.
Remember, sleep isn’t just something we ought to do, it’s something we need to do. Not only does quality sleep increase our energy levels and our performance, but it also promotes better body composition/metabolism, helps us recover from activity, and decreases our risk of injuries. Not to mention the positive effects on our mental and emotional well-being!