Updated: Sep 22, 2019
We’ve all been guilty of it, forgoing some sleep time in favour of something else. Watching that extra episode of tv rather than going to sleep, staying up a little later just because you don’t want to have to go to work the next day. I get you, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. However, the interdependent relationship between sleep and exercise is fascinating… well, I think it is and hopefully you will too!
How do you feel after a bad night of sleep? Or after little to no sleep? You feel mentally and physically exhausted don’t you. Not only are decisions harder to make, thinking takes longer and your mood can get very low. Pretty much everything you do seems like a lot more effort, right? That’s because your mind and your body repair and recuperate during sleep.
The recommended amount of sleep each night is 7 – 8 hours. That’s 7 -8 hours of sleep, not 7 -8 hours of being in bed! Think about your sleep schedule, does that reflect a good quality 7 hours of sleep, taking account of the time it takes to get to sleep? Most people don’t get this. The MAJORITY of people in the developed world are sleep deprived. This is often due to the stresses which come with modern-day life. People are no longer expected to switch off from work when they go home, instead they feel the need to keep on top of emails and constantly think about work. As well as work, many of us are constantly switched on with friends and family messaging all the time, which is great but can also be draining. All these things quickly eat away at your time, and the thing that usually suffers is sleep – after all most, of us couldn’t turn around to our bosses and say we would rather sleep than go to work (well not without getting fired anyway!).
The good news is, part of the solution to improving your time in the gym is by getting more sleep, and part of the way to get more good quality sleep, is by exercising more! Result!
So why does your gym session suffer when you haven’t had much sleep?
Well really, two main reasons – the psychological and the physical effects of sleep (and lack of!).
When you exercise, you are using cognitive skills, reflex skills and agility. Although it may not feel like just pushing some weights, or just putting one foot in-front of the other, takes much thinking, it does! Your brain still needs to fire those muscle fibres, your brain still needs to tell your feet to move. If your brain hasn’t rested enough then it is going to take you more of a concerted effort to actually push the weights or run the distance. Not just this, but when you really push yourself, you NEED that mentality of being able to succeed. If you don’t believe in yourself, you aren’t going to make it.
Actually just last week this happened to me on my deadlifts (which prompted me to write a blog post on the importance of sleep). We had quite a stressful week last week (including thinking we had lost cat friend for good). This took a toll on our sleep quality. We didn’t feel rested and our gym sessions suffered. When it came to trying to lift that weight off the floor, I managed it for the first set, but it felt SO SO SO heavy, it just felt like such an effort to pick it up. I then started to doubt myself and told myself that I wasn’t going to get all the sets. I likely had the physical strength to… I managed to do another set, then when it came to third, I just kept losing it when I was about to lift it up. Resulting in me not managing any on my third set! That was because I was tired and mentally exhausted.
The physical effect of sleep is due to the fact that, when you sleep, your body repairs itself. When you go to the gym, you “damage yourself”. You create little tears in the muscle fibres (yes this is normal and how you get stronger). It’s a process of breaking down and repairing, but if you don’t let your body repair then it’s just breaking down, and that’s not going to make anyone stronger! You also restore the vitally important glycogen stores in your muscles when you sleep, which your muscles use for energy!
OK, OK I get it… sleep is good! But what about if I don’t sleep well, does exercise effect sleep?!
Well, you are in luck! Yes… exercise not only allows you to get to sleep quicker, but it also has shown to improve the quality of your sleep and help you sleep longer (if only it wasn’t for that pesky morning alarm)!
By exercising regularly, it will mean you can get more deep sleep. It’s in this sleep cycle that your body can do its best repair work! That’s essential if you’ve just ripped your muscles to shreds!
Part of the reason scientist believe you get to sleep better is because your body gets drowsy when your body temperature increases, then falls. This naturally happens throughout the day… near late afternoon your body temperature starts to drop, signalling to your brain it’s getting close to bed time! Exercising replicates an increase then decrease in body temperate, and so it’s believed it makes you feel more drowsy.
Additionally, exercise releases chemicals in the brain which reduce your body’s response to stress. Stress being one of the leading causes of bad sleep quality. Therefore, if you exercise more, your brain releases more dopamine and endorphins so you are going to feel less stressed. It also increases your immune system, therefore making you less likely to get ill, and less likely to get a disturbed sleep from coughing and sneezing.
Now, if you’ve got this far, you might start to worry that your poor sleep quality might affect your gym! Ironically, this stress can make your sleep worse! The point of this article isn’t to stress you out, it’s to show the importance of sleep and explain that by exercising, you will likely increase the quality of your sleep and therefore also the quality of your exercise! So, get down to the gym or put those running shoes on and start exercising, ultimately it will help you get into a good sleep and exercise cycle!
So, that being said, I guess you want some tips on how to improve your sleep quality other than exercising more?? Fine, see these tips that I’ve personally researched, actioned and have found helped me.
- Have a cup of “sleepy tea”. It will come in many different names, night time tea, wind down tea etc. It will usually contain things like oatflower or chamomile. Personally, I didn’t like the taste of it at first, but over time I’ve actually come to look forward to it! It helps me sleep! The trick though is to have it about and hour before bed, so you can wee it out before you sleep.
- Don’t drink TOO much water close to bedtime. Stop yourself from waking up needing to pee at 2am by having a normal amount of water before bed, rather than the litre of water I would often have just before bed!
- Try and turn off from screens or use a blue light filter on your laptop, tv and phone. Many phones now have the option built in the setting to use a blue light filter, for laptops you can download programmes like flux which reduce the blue light the later in the day it is. As for TV’s, you can change the blue contract down. Blue light wakes up your brain and makes you more alert, and is unfortunately in most of our screens!
- Use natural remedies like CBD oil, calms or herbal nytol. I personally use CBD oil to get to sleep, and find it really helps, and have used the herbal nytol in the past which seemed to help.
- Try some meditation before bed. This will help you relax from the days stresses and just have some you time. If you do guided meditation, you can choose ones specifically designed to help your sleep, so check them out on YouTube/podcasts!