We have probably all heard the importance of a good night’s sleep for exercise recovery, And I’m sure we have all had experiences where after a great night’s sleep we have woken refreshed and energised ready to start the new day.
Likewise, I’m sure we’ve all experienced the complete opposite too, that feeling after a dreadful night’s sleep, groggy, tired with low mood and motivation.
So, when it comes to exercise, just how important is our sleep when it comes to recovery?
Well the answer to that question is obviously quite complex, so I will try and simplify this blog to give you a basic overview of exactly why the right quantity and quality of sleep is crucial for effective recovery from exercise.
During my research it has become very clear, that not only should we consider Nutrition and Exercise as crucial to health and wellness, but we should also include Sleep as an equally important component part of this jigsaw!
Sleep, HGH (Human Growth Hormone) and Testosterone.
HGH (Human Growth Hormone) is an important part of the bodies endocrine (hormone) system and has many varied roles throughout life, from growth itself, including the turnover of muscle, bone and collagen, to the regulation of selective aspects of metabolic function including increased fat metabolism and the maintenance of a healthier body composition in later life.
HGH peaks when we are young and is one of the physiological reasons, we get taller and grow up as children. Unfortunately, the release of this important hormone decreases as we age, significantly so as we reach middle age, with the decline increasing as we become senior citizens.
The hormone is released into the blood stream from the pituarity gland found in the Brain. There are several physiological stimuli that can initiate HGH secretion, the most powerful, non-pharmacological of which are sleep and exercise, with experts believing up to 75% of which is released during sleep.
Another major hormone released during sleep is Testosterone. As men we are probably aware of testosterone or “the male hormone” and its many benefits. In his book ‘Ageless Man’ Dr George Debled outlines the relationship between this important male hormone and nearly every aspect of our health, and how declining levels as we age can have a negative aspect on our health in so many ways.
Testosterone is the hormone of proteins and anabolism in other words of the body’s construction. Like HGH, levels of Testosterone decline as we age. They peak at around the age of 25 and decline thereafter and often symptoms appear of lower Testosterone levels from around the age of 40.
The importance of Testosterone to our health and wellbing as Men should not be underestimated and will be the subject of many other blogs on this site. How to try and increase our levels of this crucial hormone naturally is a hot topic right now and there are many things we can do to help this which include the usual suspects of Nutrition and Exercise but the major player in this process is very much Sleep.
We can start to understand that HGH and Testosterone released during sleep, plays a major part of the repair and restoration function of sleep. Therefore, if we can optimise our sleep or certainly improve it, then we can go a long way to helping improve our recovery after exercise amongst many other health benefits.
So how much Sleep do we need?
In his book ‘Why we Sleep’ Dr Mathew walker describes the two types of sleep we get during a normal sleep cycle. These are REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) we can simplify these two types as, lighter sleep REM and deeper sleep NREM.
These two stages of sleep compete during the night in approximate 90-minute cycles and both forms of sleep are equally important in terms of health and wellbeing. What is also clear from the extensive research around sleep is not only that both forms are crucial for health but also duration is extremely important so we can get the full benefits of both forms of sleep, with 8hrs sleep duration considered the Gold standard.
Research has shown in athletes that had exercised hard during the day, that they increased the amount of deep sleep they achieved during the night. In other words, if we increase our activity and exercise, amongst the many benefits we can get are improved sleep, so a win win all around.
How to improve our sleep.
There is no doubt whatsoever of the importance of sleep, but there are so many outside influences that can effect the quality and quantity of that sleep.
It’s time to go to bed but maybe we’re going to watch just one more episode of our favourite tv show?
Maybe bedtime is when we catch up on some emails on our smart phones, or surf the internet on our tablets? Maybe we have a TV in our bedroom and it’s our location of choice to watch a movie?
Maybe we have eaten late, and go to bed on a full stomach, or we are in the habit of taking a nightcap to help us nod off??
Some pretty normal examples of typical behaviour above, but all of which can affect our quality and quantity of sleep quite profoundly.
So, what exactly can we do to improve our sleep and ensure we can get the most benefit from this very important aspect of all our lives?
Let’s talk about ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and how we can clean up some of our behaviours and changes we can all implement to help improve our sleep. Try and implement the 10 tips below:
1. Try and stick to a regular schedule. Unfortunately, we can never make up on sleep that is missed during the week by sleeping in at the weekends. Therefore, try and go to bed and wake up at regular times throughout the 7 days of the week. We are creatures of habit!
2. Avoid caffeine later in the day, the effects of caffeinated drinks can last up to 8 hours in our systems and can be very disruptive to our sleep patterns. Therefore, try and avoid drinking Caffeine after 2pm.
3. Avoid eating later in the evening, lighter snacks are ok, but a large meal can cause indigestion and can be very disruptive to sleep. Also avoid lots of fluids in the evening as we all know how visits to the toilet as we get older disrupt our sleep.
4. Avoid drinking alcohol. Although it may help you initially drop off it can cause lighter sleep patterns which deprives us of the all-important deeper sleep. It can also cause breathing issues which can impair the quality of sleep, and you’re likely to wake when the effects of alcohol wear off.
5. As I’ve mentioned previously, exercise and activity are great for sleep but try not to do it late in the evening, especially Higher Intensity type training. 2 to 3hrs before sleep time should be ok.
6. Try not to take naps after 3pm. These might relieve tired spells at the time, but you will sleep much better during the night if you avoid them.
7. Try and keep your bedroom dark and cool. Bright lights, and warmer temperatures can both disrupt our sleep considerably. Consider fitting some black out blinds for your windows and if possible, ensure the bedroom temperature remains cool.
8. Take a hot bath or shower before bed. This can help you relax and slowly work down towards bed and the drop in your body temperature when you get out of a hot bath or shower may also help you feel sleepy.
9. Try and add some relaxation before you go to bed, lower key lighting and maybe read a book or listen to some calming music. Incorporating this into your regular schedule can all help with restful sleep.
10. Strictly no electronic gadgets in the bedroom. This includes Smartphones, tablets, laptops and TVs. Keep the bedroom for sleeping and not watching TV, surfing the internet or social media.
So, I wrote this blog specifically looking at how we can all improve our recovery from exercise. I know from personal experience the changes that occur as we age especially when it comes to exercise recovery. In other words, just how long it seems to take as we get older.
Physiologically as we age our hormone levels decline and this is very real, but there is no doubt that if we improve our sleep, we can at least create a more favourable environment to optimise some of these levels. And simply by sleeping better we can certainly help improve our recovery from exercise.
But it goes considerably further than that. Improving the quality and quantity our sleep can have multiple benefits to both our health and wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about all these benefits, I would highly recommend the purchase of the bestselling book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Dr Mathew Walker.
Like I said in the opening paragraphs of this blog, Sleep should certainly have equal importance to nutrition and exercise in the Health and Wellbeing jigsaw.