To reach peak physical condition, you’ve got to commit to a disciplined workout schedule and a healthy, balanced diet. All that gym time and meal planning need a firm foundation built upon adequate sleep. On average, most adults need a full seven to nine hours every night for the body to function at its best. It’s while you sleep that your body gets to work repairing and rejuvenating itself for another day.
Sleep is far more complex than many people realize. You go through five or six 60 to 90-minute sleep cycles throughout the night. During each of those sleep cycles, the body moves in and out of five sleep stages.
Muscle recovery doesn’t start until the body begins to release human growth hormone (GH) during stage III sleep, the first deep sleep stage. When GH enters the scene, it triggers the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Inadequate sleep alters the release of GH, which either shortens the amount of time GH is in the body or reduces the overall amount released. Either way, your muscle recovery slows down.
A Good Brain Cleansing
Throughout a typical day, toxic proteins build up in the brain. At night, while you sleep, your brain cells shrink slightly to create enough space for spinal fluid to flush out toxins. The brain also gets to work strengthening and pruning connections made during the day. Building those you use most and eliminating those you don’t.
A cleansed, pruned brain thinks and acts quickly. It also prevents a slow down in reflexes and response times that follow sleep deprivation.
Sleep Regulates and Stabilizes
Adequate sleep regulates appetite and metabolism too. Without it, hunger hormone levels rise while satiety hormone levels fall. At the same time, the reward center of the brain gets bigger “hits” from foods high in fat and sugar, which leads to intense food cravings.
Appetite isn’t the only way sleep regulates. It also keeps emotions in check. A sleep-deprived brain becomes oversensitive to any kind of negative stimulation as the emotional processing center gets overactive and the logic center slows down.
How to Build Better Sleep Habits
Here’s what it comes down to—sleep helps you build a strong body while maintaining physical and emotional balance.
If you’re chronically sleep deprived, there are ways to improve both the quality and quantity with habit changes. To start, make sure your bed and bedroom support healthy sleep. A mattress and a supportive bed frame that are adequate for your weight and preferred sleep style are absolutely necessary. The room should also be cool, dark, and quiet to prevent disruptions. After that, it’s all about your daily (and nightly) habits.
During the Day:
Spend plenty of time outside. Natural light contributes to the appropriate timing of the sleep-wake cycle.
Regularly space and time your meals. Try to eat each meal around the same time each day to help your body establish a predictable routine.
Establish and follow an exercise regimen. Exercise improves your physical, mental, and emotional health. Plus, it wears your body out so you’re more tired at night.
Eat an early, light dinner. We don’t recommend heavy, fried foods at any time but especially not before bed. Stomach upset and indigestion can keep you awake.
Follow a bedtime routine. Your body loves predictability. A routine can help trigger the release of sleep hormones while giving you a chance to unwind after a stressful day.
Go to bed on time. Establish a bedtime and keep it on weekdays and weekends. After a short time, your brain will anticipate your bedtime and start releasing sleep hormones accordingly.
You might be unconscious but your body works hard while you sleep. To achieve your fitness goals, adequate sleep can’t be an afterthought. As you make it a priority, you’ll have the energy and stamina to push your physical limits.