We’ve all been there – we have a tight deadline at work or a social event that keeps us up past our bedtime. However, we still need to wake up at the same time the next morning to hit the gym or be at work on time. The end result? Not enough sleep!
While you may feel “okay” the next day, if this becomes more of a habit, you will likely start to notice the effects of lack of sleep. You may find yourself more irritable than normal, or notice that you have difficulty focusing on tasks or that the barbell at the gym feels like 200#. Some research also suggests that sleep deprivation may increase levels of cortisol, and decrease the production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored and needed for energy during exercise. While there are a number of other reasons why you may feel this way, if you are not getting enough sleep, things are not going to get better!
Recovery & Energy. It’s simple: your body needs sleep to recover, mentally and physically. Sleep gives your central nervous system (CNS) a break and allows your body to replenish its energy stores, since it doesn’t have to work so hard to help you complete your daily tasks. Allowing your CNS to recharge is essential because it is responsible for triggering muscle contractions, and controls reaction time and responses to pain. A tired CNS can slow you down, make you weaker and even decrease your coordination in workouts. In addition to resting your CNS, sleep provides optimal conditions for muscle fibre repair (among other things like hydration, nutrition etc.). Sleep also stimulates the secretion of testosterone which is responsible for protein synthesis. Remember that muscle soreness comes from small tears in the muscle fibre, so repairing these is essential to building muscle!
Fun fact: A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina (1).
Memory. When you sleep, memories are reactivated and connections between brain cells are strengthened. This can result in information being transferred from your short term to long term memory – making us less forgetful. Some studies even suggest that sleeping after learning new information may help us recall the information later.
Focus & Cognitive Function. After a good night’s sleep we are more awake and alert during the day. This results in faster reaction times, more focus and a greater ability to pay attention to tasks. This translates into more focus and attention at work, resulting in greater productivity. You may experience the same “burst” in focus after a cup of coffee, but with a good night’s sleep you can experience this feeling for much longer! Sleep also feeds creativity and helps synthesize new ideas (your brain doesn’t have to worry about all the other things going on in your day), which can improve our innovative thinking and problem-solving abilities.
Performance. Performance in the gym and at work is highly dependent on how much and how well you slept. If you slept 4-5 hours, you’re going to wake up feeling lethargic and tired, resulting in poorer cognitive function and decreased motivation to complete tasks. At work, this can lead to decreased productivity. At the gym, not only will your focus, coordination and balance be affected, but your body will also feel the effects of poor sleep. Remember that a good night’s sleep helps repair the muscles, so if you didn’t sleep well your body is not going to respond to stressors (e.g. load) how you want it to & how it usually can!
With the busy lives we lead, our productivity during the day is essential. So if you want to get the most of out each day, you need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep!
No screen time at least 30 minutes before bed. Blue light – which is emitted from our smart phones and computers – triggers our brains into thinking it is daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin (2) (help you relax and sleep), resulting in poorer quality and less sleep (3). Iphones have a “bedtime” function, which puts your phone on an “away” mode, silencing all notifications. This is a great way to “turn off” – you’ll be less inclined to look at your phone if there are no notifications showing.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can reduce nighttime melatonin production and lead to disrupted sleep patterns (4). Additionally, studies have shown that alcohol consumption can decrease the amount of time you spend in a “deep sleep”, typically referred to as REM (rapid eye movement). This is why, even if you have slept 8-10 hours, you don’t usually feel “rested”. While our bodies don’t spend 100% of the time in REM sleep, about 20-30% is normal.
Limit fluid intake close to bedtime, especially caffeinated drinks. While the increase in energy and focus from caffeine are desirable during the day, these effects will prevent you from relaxing at night. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, so if it is consumed too close to your bedtime, you will likely find it hard to relax and fall asleep, limiting your overall sleep duration. Additionally, sometimes even consuming too much water close to bedtime is not ideal, as it can wake you up involuntarily in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
Complete a relaxing exercise (e.g read/meditate/journal). With all of the events we have going on in the day, most of us don’t feel “ready” for bed. In particular, most of us complain about poor sleep due to the inability to “turn off our brains”. To help relax your mind and signal your body that it is time to rest, try reading a book, meditating or writing in a journal. With these you might even find that after 5-10 minutes your struggling to keep your eyes open – perfect, it’s time for bed!
Stick to a schedule. Find that you don’t need an alarm to wake up anymore? Great! This means your body has found its regular sleep pattern. Since our body’s circadian rhythym functions on a set loop, being consistent with sleep can help improve long-term sleep quality (5). This includes weekends too! While we all like to sleep in on the weekends, try not to go to bed too late such that your entire sleep pattern is disrupted.
PS. Proper nutrition throughout the day will also impact your sleep duration and quality. We won’t delve into that here because that is a whole different blog. However, if you find that you’re doing all of the above things and still not getting enough good quality sleep, then it’s time to look at your nutrition! Heck, even if you’re not doing all the things listed above, don’t wait to see if your nutrition is the culprit!
Interested to learn how your nutrition is affecting your sleep?
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(1) Health. (2019). https://www.health.com. [online] Available at: https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20459221,00.html [Accessed 7 Feb. 2019].
(2) Figueiro, M. G. et al., Neuro. Endocrinol. Let., 2011, 32, 158-63.
(3) Gooley, J. J., et al., J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab., 2011, 96, E463-E472.
(4) Healthline. (2019). 17 Proven Tips to Sleep Better at Night. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-tips-to-sleep-better#section8 [Accessed 7 Feb. 2019].
(5) Van Dongen, H. P. and Dinges, D. F., J. Sleep Res., 2003, 12, 181-187.