Poor sleep is recognised as a global epidemic with serious health risks. In Australia alone, according to a national sleep health inquiry (released April 2019), close to half of us are sleep deprived. That's 7.4 million Australians and counting. Shea Morrison from The Goodnight Co is an expert in all things sleep and how it can help to improve your fitness. Here's her insight to why sleep is so important, how it relates to fitness and 5 ways you can improve your sleep!
So why is sleep so important to help improve your fitness? Improving your sleep quality and creating good sleep routines may help to improve your body composition and your overall mood. Fitness goals commonly focus on eating higher-quality foods and burning the resulting energy with more effective exercise. But sleeping often and well enough to recover from that physical activity is just as important if you want to reach optimum levels of health and fitness. If you are not achieving the desired seven to nine hours of sleep then you're not giving your body the time it needs to recover. Without adequate recovery time, you can severely hinder your results and significantly increase your risks of injury while exercising.
What’s the link? Almost all of your body’s processes – from digestion to hormone production and beyond – are regulated by your circadian rhythm. This rhythm is largely dependent on your sleep routine. Aside from the effects mentioned above, keeping your body in balance with the right amount of exercise, nutrition and hydration will be critical to optimising all of its vital functions.
Mounting evidence shows that sleep is a vital component of fitness as well, important not only for energy, but also for keeping muscles healthy and hormones balanced. Similarly, if you have trouble sleeping and exercise isn’t part of your daily routine, it may be time to get moving. Studies have shown that regular, moderate aerobic exercise can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. Working out has also been shown to boost your time in deep, or slow-wave sleep. Increasingly, exercise is understood as a potentially effective treatment for sleep disorders including insomnia. Exercise, especially the kind that leads to weight loss, can also contribute to improvements with sleep apnoea.
If you find your sleep quality lacking, here are five ways to improve it:
1. Get a hit of sunlight first thing in the morning – Every morning, if your body, face and eyes are exposed to sunlights your body will increase its production of serotonin – so getting out in the sun in the morning ramps up production of serotonin. In turn, after 12 hours or so, this serotonin is then converted into melatonin – helping us sleep later that night.
2. Choose the right foods – Eating well can help ensure restful, deep sleep every night. If you have trouble falling asleep or just want to sleep a bit better, there are foods you should incorporate into your diet, and some that you should avoid before bed. Try choosing foods high in tryptophan, carbohydrates, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin B6 (milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish beans, rice and fresh fruit and veges)
3. Hydrate – Staying hydrated throughout the day promotes alertness and focus, and can help minimise shifts in energy levels. Dehydration leads to feeling sluggish and tired, which can eventually disrupt sleep patterns. By the time you feel thirsty, chances are, you are already dehydrated! Drinking water throughout the day can help you maintain energy levels and avoid dehydration.
4. Relax – We are living in such a fast paced world with lots of external stress and anxiety, understanding some simple relaxation techniques can be useful before turning off the lights. 1. Be mindful, try some deep breathing even taking 3 long deep breaths can change the composition of your energy. 2. Try the ‘legs up the wall’ yoga pose 3. Try having a ‘screen free’ night, no devices or TV.
5. Implement a night time routine and stick to it! – Taking some time before sleep to create a bedtime routine that focuses on relaxation will help with our body’s recovery. Here are some things you could consider doing: making a cup of herbal tea, dimming all of the lights and turn off devices, make a to do list to clear your thoughts and anxieties from the day, diffuse a Goodnight Essential Oil.
In short, if you’re not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you need to rethink your routine so you can make sure you do, and then work to fit in your workouts without sacrificing that sleep. You can’t have one without the other; both are absolutely essential to you being able to live and feel your best — not just in the gym, but in your daily life, too.
Co-Founder of The Goodnight Co.