If you’re an active guy exercising regularly, eating clean and making sure you get your daily protein in, it can be disappointing - actually, really frustrating - when you’re not making the kind of progress you want to see. Maybe you’ve upped your cardio, cut out the beers with the boys or increased your weights during training sessions. If you’re still not making the progress you expected, the next step might be easiest of all but is often overlooked: Get more sleep.
You’ve no doubt heard by now that sleep is a key factor when it comes to achieving your fitness goals. It makes sense, of course. You want to be rested if you’re going to engage in any physical activity. After all, who doesn’t feel great after a long restful sleep? You awake recharged and ready for anything. But the truth is, that kind of restful night - filled with quality sleep - is seemingly rare for many these days. Maybe it's because of the pandemic and the wrench it threw into so many of our schedules. Perhaps it is the state of the world or some personal dilemma. Whatever the reason, when our sleep patterns get disturbed, the effects ripple through our waking lives in meaningful ways.
“Exercise, sleep and nutrition form the triangle of health, and all are related,” says Dr. Phyllis Zee, a professor of neurology and director of Northwestern University’s Sleep Health Centers. Her research has found that a good night's sleep (logging at least seven hours of slumber) results in more productive exercise sessions later that day.
But a lack of sleep not only impacts your fitness directly while you’re working out, it can also have a negative effect on your muscle recovery. When you don’t get enough sleep (or the quality of your sleep is bad), it can cause our muscle recovery to slow down. That means you may end up feeling sore for longer than you should - without seeing much progress. If you’re serious about your fitness goals, then a full 7+ hours of sleep every night is essential.
So how do you rework your personal sleep routine? Humans, quite scientifically, are creatures of habit. According to the National Sleep Foundation, actively cultivating a healthy sleep routine makes it easier to get the sleep you need on a consistent basis. Follow that routine and the norm becomes falling asleep quickly, sleeping deeply through the night and seeing your fitness goals become reality.
Get Your Light Right
One of the easiest ways to get into “rest mode” is to adjust your exposure to light. When you're exposed to light, your brain stops producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. This makes you feel awake and alert. And while the debate on whether blue light from our devices affects our sleep is still being questioned, there's no doubt that doomscrolling, or binge watching, keeps your mind racing while you're trying to relax. Consider shutting down your screens an hour before shuteye.
Dr. Kannan Ramar, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that you can put fears, worries and other troubling thoughts to bed by writing them down before you try to fall asleep. She suggests taking 20 minutes to jot down to-dos for the next day or simply to write out what you're worried about in order to release them from your mind. Another tactic? Use that time to write out a few things you're grateful for.
Not surprisingly, getting active has a lot of scientific benefits that lead to better quality sleep. According to Dr. Ramar, exercising outdoors boosts your oxygen levels, which helps calm you while vitamin D from sunlight helps regulate circadian rhythms to keep your bedtime consistent and help you sleep more soundly.
Reset Your Metabolism
Digestion plays a major role in wakefulness and sleepiness. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that, in animals, circadian rhythms shifted to match food availability. The scientists suggest that fasting for about 16 hours (say, on a flight and until the next local meal time) will help reset your internal clock and help reduce jet lag when traveling across time zones. For local sleep disturbances, try a 16-hour fast by eating an early dinner (around say 4:30 p.m.), and then avoiding food until tomorrow morning (8:30 a.m.). Once your sleep is back on track, try to maintain regular breakfast and dinner times to support consistent circadian rhythms, aiming for 12 hours between the two meals.