Sleep: The X Factor

For many of us, our culture and surroundings are promoting less and less attention to the already neglected step-child of exercise, sleep! The promotion of products such as energy drinks and other stimulants have caused us to believe that we can become exceptions to nature's natural requirement of sleep. Let's break this down into: 1) How much sleep is enough/too much, 2) What is taking place in our bodily functions during sleep that make it so important, and 3) Steps that you can take in order to put yourself on a healthy sleep diet.

1) How much sleep is enough/too much:

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night. No compromises, 7-9 hours/night. If you turn out the lights at midnight and your alarm goes off at 7am, you're doing it wrong. Treat yourself to sleep!

Studies have also shown that when it comes to taking a mid-day nap, that a minimum of a 1 hour nap after lunch can help to replace or add to an hour of sleep lost in the previous night. On the flip side, the more you rest during the day, the harder it will be to get sleep later on that night. Getting too much sleep or sleeping in past the alarm can lead to the same groggy feeling of having inadequate rest.

So get to bed on time, set the alarm accordingly, and when it goes off, take off!

2) What takes place during sleep:

Perhaps the most important event that happens during sleep in regards to exercise is protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is solely responsible for muscle repair and growth. During exercise you break down your muscles and actually cause small tears in the fibers. These tiny tears are repaired during protein synthesis to make the muscle even stronger than it was before.

For men, sleep is responsible for 60-70% of your body's growth hormone release (testosterone). Testosterone release during sleep works with protein synthesis and thus gives men the bigger/bulkier muscles as oppose to women's smaller more "toned" look.

For women, the opposite is in affect in that estrogen release occurs at a much higher rate during sleep. This helps to keep your hormone ratio balanced so that you will not be building muscles to the size in comparison as men.

Amongst the exercise focused factors, your body also uses sleep to help repair other areas of the body such as; bones, organs, tissues, and stimulates immune cell growth. Furthermore, the hormone known as adenosine is responsible in letting the brain know when it is tired. During REM sleep it has been found that levels of adenosine decline letting us know that the brain is truly at rest.

3) Helpful tips to a good night's sleep:

  • Don't use your bed for anything other than sleep! The body can't be fooled. If you're using your bed as an office during the day or as a couch to watch tv on at night then it will be confused whenever you try to use it for its main purpose and will lead to you having a rough start at getting to sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature controlled. Make sure that your thermostat, fans, humidifiers, etc.. are all set for whenever you head to bed. Having to wake up and re-adjust your rooms temperature will not only disturb your sleep but can actually reset your sleep cycle making you feel like you only received 4 hours of sleep when you actually were in bed for eight.
  • Exercise early in the day. Studies have shown time and time again that the body's core temperature increases to levels that take around 6 hours to decrease back down to normal levels. If you're trying to go to sleep with an increased body temperature then obviously the previous bullet explains the complications of fluctuating temperature while sleeping.
  • Baths at night, showers in the morning. Showering has been proven to help stimulate the brain and make it more awake. The last thing you want to do right before you try to go to sleep is make your body think that you want to stay awake for an extended period of time. This internal conflict will ultimately lead to a shorter night of sleep.
  • Avoid sleeping pills. Sleeping pills might work for an extended period of time, but once you come off of them your body will take a while to re-adjust to producing it's own hormones needed for sleep. Also, when starting sleeping pills most will wake up in the morning feeling like they slept too much because your brain was given an increased dosage of hormone it was already producing for sleep. This increased supplementation will in turn do more harm than help in your aid to a good night's sleep.

As always, try to keep your evenings light and avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed as they both have their way of interfering with your body's natural sleep cycle.

In closing, this article touches on the very surface of the importance of sleep not just for athletes but for everyday health seekers. If there is one thing to take home from this topic it is this; sleep leads to muscle gain and muscle gain leads to fat loss. So if you want to get stronger, leaner, healthier, then take the extra steps and make your sleep a priority!

Fit Tips

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