I think most people agree there is nothing quite like a good night's sleep. Seven to eight hours of peaceful, non- interrupted Z's usually equates to a happy, energetic, focused, and alert person. Sadly however, it seems as though this blissful phenomenon is becoming more and more of an occasional treat. Whether it is working longer hours, dealing with stress, or struggling with a physical and/or medical ailment, fewer and fewer people report having enough sleep throughout the week. Sleep deprivation not only has a negative impact on cognitive function; it can also have a very strong negative impact on fitness levels as well.
All of the hard work that exercisers put into their bodies requires a good amount of recovery time. That recovery time takes place when we sleep at night (or during the day if you are someone who works the night shift). As I alluded to before, seven to eight hours of sleep a night is considered to be the healthy norm. During this period of rest, the body goes through a process called "protein synthesis", which is a re- building of muscle tissue through proteins absorbed in the diet. During resistance training, muscle tissue is broken down, thereby requiring this re-building process. This process is incredibly important, because without it, recovery is not possible, therefore making results in fitness impossible as well.
Another huge problem that results from sleep deprivation is the increase of a hormone called cortisol. The buildup of cortisol in the body can lead to a catabolic effect on muscle tissue. This means that muscle tissue can literally be eaten away causing a sharp decrease in metabolism and also making muscle growth impossible. Cortisol secretion can also stimulate appetite and activate lipoprotein lipase, the enzyme that facilitates fat deposition, therefore leading to weight gain. Obviously, this is not a desired outcome.
Sleep deprivation can be either acute or chronic in nature. Acute sleep deprivation usually occurs when a specific event is taking place that requires a tremendous time and energy commitment. While this can be momentarily taxing on the body and mind, it is chronic sleep deprivation that wreaks the most havoc. This is typically caused by some form of insomnia and can significantly impair creative and innovative mental processing. You can see how people who are in professions that require creative thinking, such as advertising and even artists can experience significant challenges in their work just by not getting enough sleep. Studies have also shown that people who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night also have a higher association with serious health maladies.
Another obstacle to a consistent exercise routine that comes from sleep deprivation is a lack of motivation. If someone is feeling tired or drained, they are most likely not going to want to go to the gym and work out. In my last article, I talked about the importance of motivation and gave tips on how enhance it. Well, let me add something to that list: It is highly important to take every step necessary to achieve a good night's sleep. Those steps will likely be different from person to person, but here are a few general tips:
Avoid caffeine shortly before bed time. Caffeine alters chemical reactions in the brain, causing those who consume it to feel more energetic and alert. It may delay sleep onset and decrease the overall quality of a person's sleep.
Take short naps during the day. Taking afternoon naps can increase mental alertness and help decrease cortisol levels in the body.
Try not to "catch up" on sleep during the weekends. Sleeping later on weekends will affect your sleep-wake cycle and potentially make it harder to go to sleep on Sunday evening and get up on Monday morning.
Do a breathing meditation before bed. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try to focus your mind completely on the breathe and do not allow any other thoughts from the day to enter your mind. This may seem a little New Age to some people, but believe me, it works!
People with on-going insomnia or other sleep disorders may need to consult with their physician to find out how to properly treat their condition.
So if you are experiencing a halt in your fitness gains, find yourself gaining weight unexpectedly, or are becoming increasingly unmotivated to work out, ask yourself how your sleeping patterns are, and if you are indeed getting enough of it. It is very often the common culprit. Bottom line, get your Z's! Your body and your mind will thank you.
Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last thirteen years. He comes from a background in gymnastics and is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted directly through his website, www.MichaelElder.com.