Most people want the edge on how to live longer, look better, feel better or get stronger. We can tirelessly research what supplements are most beneficial or what workout modality is going to annihilate the highest number of calories or build the most muscle, but lest we forget the most available aid to recovery and wellness: SLEEP!
It’s ironic that one of the best ways to be healthy doesn’t require any proactivity, but the lack of it, from a certain perspective. Believe it or not, there are some ways to do it better that will optimize your health and fitness.
We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping, and to be intentional and get the most out of it, it’s important to understand what happens when we sleep and how to be good at it. It sounds easy, but sleep is probably the most overlooked — and sometimes the most mentally or physically challenging — means to becoming healthy that we have in our “tool belt.”
When our bodies go into deep sleep, or the third stage of sleep, which normally makes up about 25% of our sleep in a night, is when we release the most amount of growth hormone in our 24-hour day. The human growth hormone does wonderful things for the body, such as repair damaged cells, increase strength and muscle mass, burn fat and help recovery from injury or disease. Much like other hormones, as we grow older our body will secrete less of the growth hormone. Also, if we are not sleeping enough or getting a good quality of sleep, our bodies will not release an ample amount of growth hormone to keep us healthy.
Studies have shown, those who sleep better will also have better fitness results when it comes to weight loss and strength gains. Want to know why? That’s the human growth hormone having more time to do its work!
In order to find this realm of deep sleep for a healthy amount of time, it is recommended that we get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. I believe that if you engage in intense physical activity, you may require a bit more — about eight to 10 hours of sleep nightly.
In this age, humans are strongly connected to laptops, cellphones, televisions and other illuminated devices that can often overstimulate the brain, making it harder to sleep. It is recommended that refraining from using our “gadgets” between 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime can help optimize sleep. Blue light is the light that radiates from cellphones and pierces our central nervous system with stimulation. Staring at this type of light tells our bodies it’s time to be awake and alert like sunlight does, even if it’s at night, when we should be winding down for a good night’s rest. There are eyeglasses on the market that block out blue light and lessen the effect it may have on our eyes and brains before sleep, but I feel it’s best just to stay away from all electronics in the hours before bedtime due to the psychological excitement they may cause.
Exercise and sleep have a symbiotic relationship, in which one will help the other. A healthy amount of exercise equals a healthy amount of sleep. A healthy amount of sleep equals effective exercise. Studies have shown that the heating up of the body during exercise and the cooling down afterward imitates the type of body temperature drops that occurs when you fall asleep at night. This type of conditioning may program your brain to know when it’s time to cool down and relax for bedtime.
While exercise is great for sleep generally, exercising too close to bedtime has been known to keep people awake. When we exercise intensely, our brains transition into a sympathetic nervous state, or as some might call it “fight or flight.” Cortisol increases, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and you ensue the fight against resistance whether using aerobic exercise or strength training. If you don’t have a proper amount of time to cool down and bring yourself out a sympathetic nervous state, it can prove challenging to try and relax and fall asleep peacefully. The amount of time your body needs to cool down will vary, but most experts recommend a cool-down period of at least one to two hours. Also, doing a 10-minute cool down of less intense exercis at the end of your intense exercise is helpful.
If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, be intentional with creating a routine for your bedtime. This may require some discipline, but cutting back on screen time is going to help. Taking a natural sleep aid like melatonin or valerian root can also be a healthy way to help you to doze off. And don’t forget to include some daily exercise to wear out the body and mind. Sleep is not a restriction, it’s a blessing. And it’s also the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth.
Nate Wilson is a certified personal trainer through NASM and is the owner of Elite Fitness LLC. He is certified for Fitness Nutrition and is a Behavior Change Specialist. Contact Nate at 640-0668 or [email protected].