Why sleep is vital for exercise
When we’re thinking about making those marginal gains in our strength and fitness, we’re probably looking at a number of factors. What we’re eating – the breakdown of our macronutrients, how often we’re repeating the exercise and at what level, our mobility and recovery and the importance we place on rest days. A consciousness for all of these factors can contribute to those all important improvements in speed, strength, and endurance. The question is, what importance have you placed on sleep in that formula? Sleep is often the missing puzzle piece, neglected in the pursuit of success, when really, better and longer sleep is the fuel for success. It is crucial to get enough sleep in order to keep your body and all of its processes healthy, and yet for some reason, as a society, getting too little sleep is often celebrated rather than corrected.
Let’s look at little deeper at why we need sleep in the first place, and why it is so important for our bodies when we exercise.
Why do we sleep?
In order to understand why sleep will better your performance inside and outside of the gym, it’s crucial to understand why humans need sleep in the first place. A sleep-wake cycle is an integral part of the lives of most species, who, similarly to us, require more in the younger years than the old. In humans, the sleep process is crucial for brain health and function. In fact, the hours you sleep at night are the hours when your brain is most active, repairing the daily wear and tear, clearing out toxins and storing memories. Depriving your body of this process can have a significant effect on your memory and cognition – not to mention a holistic effect on the functions of the body, from the immune system to libido.
So, why is it so important for recovery?
If you’ve ever had a particularly restless night and taken a trip to the gym the next day, you may have noticed that you’re less motivated and your performance overall isn’t at its best. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, you’re not ‘building’ muscle in the gym, you’re tearing it. The restoration and growth of muscle happens whilst you rest, where the body does its work at fusing those muscle fibers back together.
When you put greater tension on your muscles, you’re actually creating tiny tears to the muscle fibres (this is known as hypertrophy) and there are different muscle growth processes that happen due to different types of tension. For example, weightlifters lifting a high amount of reps at a lower weight will be fatiguing their muscles, causing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Translation: sarcoplasmic fluid in your muscle cells is increased, leading to growth in the muscle. Lifting a heavier weight for less reps will cause myofibrillar hypertrophy. Translation: an increase two major proteins – actin and myosin, that contribute to your muscle strength. These kinds of training also increase the production of growth hormones, vital for muscle growth and repair.
The impact of hypertrophy depends on sleep. This is where the work happens, and denying your body the rest it needs can actually reverse the processes. Sleep deprivation decreases testosterone – one of those vital growth hormones we talked about. It can also increase cortisol (which you may recognize as “the stress hormone”). Cortisol in abundance can have all kinds of nasty effects, like an increased chance of developing diabetes and obesity. Not the kind of result you want after you’ve worked so hard on your body!
As you can see, getting the right amount of sleep isn’t just about feeling less of a grump. There’s a very important reason why it’s recommended that we all get 7-8 hours of down time to catch those vital zzz’s. So next time you’re thinking about watching just one more episode of that addictive Netflix series or staying up to cram that piece of work in, take a minute to think about how important it really is. Getting a good long nights sleep is definitely going to be the better and healthier option. Turn off the tech and take a trip to snoozeville instead.