Get Deep, Restful Sleep
If you’re tired of being tired, and are ready to get the deep, restful sleep that you need and deserve, read on!
We all know that sleep is an essential and natural bodily process. So, why is it so hard to do? I find myself asking this question more frequently than I would like—usually, when I’m wide-awake at 3 a.m. and I have to wake up in two hours, and sleep seems about as possible as sprouting wings and flying up to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Most people have these nights every once in a blue moon. But when insomnia and poor sleep quality begin to affect your quality of life and you find yourself operating at 50% on a regular basis—lacking the energy, will, mental power, and physical strength to live your life at the optimum level that you deserve—your sleep needs to be addressed.
Poor Sleep Has Detrimental Effect
Sleep issues can be especially frustrating when you are taking care of yourself in every other area of your life: you exercise regularly, you eat a clean and balanced diet, you deal with your feelings in a healthy and constructive manner, etc. But, no matter how hard you try, you find your poor sleep to be frustrating your fitness and health goals. And, it is true, sleep can have a detrimental effect on
- Your appetite (sugar cravings, anyone?)
- Your willpower
- Your exercise recovery
- Your risk for hypertension and heart disease
- Your ability to grow muscle and lose fat
- Your risk for insulin resistance and obesity
People often believe that it is during the day that the changes in our body occur–gaining muscle, or losing fat through exercise–but it is during sleep that these changes mostly take place. Sleep is when the payoff happens. In the fields of health and fitness, we call the phase of sleep and recovery the “anabolic phase”: the time in which we grow. Whereas, the “catabolic period”–which includes our training time, whether we’re doing weights or HIIT or sports, etc—is when our body is literally ‘breaking down’; and many experts consider just being conscious to be catabolic.
Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep
So, what is the nature of the relationship between exercise and sleep? A deficiency in one of these aspects will likely negatively impact all other areas of your life. And in this day and age, unfortunately, we often have to work to get the sleep so innate and natural to our bodies—there are so many aspects of modern life that are quietly sabotaging our ability to sleep that you may not be aware of.
I have listed below some tried-and-true methods—and some more radical protocols (but, of course, well-researched and scientifically studied!)–that may provide the push needed to tip you over into an amazing, deep, and restorative slumber.
- Exercise smart. Do you run for hours on end, and avoid the weight room like the plague? Contrary to popular belief, you can have too much of a good thing–and exercise is no exception. Studies have shown that excessive cardiovascular exercise in particular can have a detrimental effect on your sleep quality. Strength training, on the other hand, has been shown to largely improve sleep quality. Be wary of overtraining, also, which can occur with both cardio and strength training, and which often leads to disturbed sleep–you can educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of over training here.
If you love your cardio sessions, try and do them in the morning, rather than in the evening, and keep your cardio session to less than an hour. Research shows that cortisol—the stress hormone is highest when you wake up in the morning—or at least, it should be. If you are one of those people who find it impossible to go to sleep, and even more impossible to wake up in the morning, this tip is for you! Studies show that exercise early in the day is beneficial for getting your REM cycle back on track (plus, it may have increased fat loss benefits!); basically, by training in the morning, your body will expend its cortisol early in the day, which will lead to a decreased production at night. Plus, morning exercise will get your butt energized and motivated for the day ahead!
- Get the right light at the right time. It is generally agreed upon in scientific fields that light affects sleep by inducing phase shifts in our circadian rhythms. Our bodies do not know how to maintain a healthy sleep cycle in the face of modern life and all of its weird technological and environmental developments. Do you marinate in terrible fluorescent lighting all day, and rarely ever venture outside? Do you get home at 9 pm and veg out for hours in front of your computer/television/phone? According to our bodies, this is abnormal and wrong. We need to be outside during the day, soaking up sunlight, and at night, we need darkness to sleep. So, take a walk at lunchtime–or just sit on a bench (and take off the sunglasses! Most of the Vitamin D that our bodies use come in through our retinas). And when you get home, dim the lights at least an hour before bedtime (according to science, the ideal time to sleep is between 10pm and 2am). And turn off the tech! If you can’t be parted from it, try out a dimmer app like f.lux, which will change the blue light on your device–which has been shown to increase wakefulness–to a more relaxing orange light.
3. Load up on magnesium. One study showed that most of the U.S. population is afflicted with a magnesium deficiency–and they don’t even know it. Why is magnesium important for sleep? It has been shown to lower cortisol levels, as well as increase sleep time and sleep efficiency. Some foods high in magnesium are spinach, prickly pear, pumpkin seeds, beans and lentils.
4. Limit your stimulants. I love coffee. You love coffee. We all love coffee. I’m not saying you need to dump it all down the drain right now–but if you find yourself asking: do I really need that fourth americano misto?, you might need to reexamine your relationship with caffeine. We love caffeine for its ability to trick our bodies into thinking it has more energy than it actually does–and that is also its curse. Caffeine has a half-life of 3 to 7.5 hours, so the caffeine from the latte that you drink at 5pm may be preventing you from falling asleep at midnight, and even still floating around in your bloodstream at 7am the next day. And a word of caution about pre-workout supplements; most of them have some form of caffeine. And though it is a contentious issue amongst fitness and health experts, there is some evidence to suggest that caffeine inhibits growth hormone (which is essential for muscle growth).
5. Consider adaptogens. Understandably, many people are skeptical of the efficacy and safety of supplements; at Infofit, we fully endorse the maxim that, if possible, one’s food should provide the nutrients necessary for optimum health. But, sometimes, we can’t always get these nutrients, or life throws us a curveball (such as a less-than-ideal sleep pattern) and our bodies have to struggle to catch up–and that’s when adaptogens can come in handy. Adaptogens such as rhodiola, withania somnifera (also known as ashwagandha), and schisandra, have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain, lower anxiety, and, perhaps most importantly, regulate cortisol levels so that you can relax into a deep and restful sleep at night.
In conclusion, as I have stated in previous articles (and will undoubtedly state again): every body and every person is different. And everyone has their own personal, complex relationship to sleep; and, as such, every person will respond differently to different interventions. If you struggle with your sleep, a therapist or doctor can recommend some action steps for targeting your specific lifestyle and sleep issues. One major but little-known benefit of a personal trainer is their ability to help you get the right physical activity and nutrition for optimum sleep. And don’t lose hope! Poor sleep doesn’t have to be your destiny. Put into action some of my recommendations, and let us know how you respond! We’d love to hear from you!
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer (completing), and Infofit fitness blog writer.
Rest and Recovery$15.75
Březinová, V. (1974). Effect of caffeine on sleep: EEG study in late middle age people. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1(3), 203–208.
Czeisler, C. A., & Dijk, D. (1995). Use of bright light to treat maladaptation to night shift work and circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Journal of Sleep Research, 4, 70-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.1995.tb00231.x
Dattilo, M., Antunes, H., Medeiros, A., Neto, M. M., Souza, H., Tufik, S., & Mello, M. D. (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: Endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses, 77(2), 220-222. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2011.04[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]