When you’re trying to lose weight or make a healthier lifestyle choice, we often focus on exercise and diet. Maybe water, if we’ve gotten the several memos about how important water is for your fitness journey. If you’re a fitness pro, you’re probably already engaging in active recovery and making best friends with your foam roller (which apparently scares my cats but enables me to run for more than 4 minutes without my shins giving up).
But what are you doing about sleep?
Ah yeah, sleep. It’s an important part of your fitness routine and it probably doesn’t get as much respect or attention as it deserves. So why does sleep matter?
On a very basic level, sleep enables your body to recover and do some very basic things.
Gabe Kapler (yes, the former MLB player) tells us that “[adequate] sleep is necessary for optimal brain function. During sleep, the brain commits memories to long term storage and forms new connections. Lack of sleep affects your mood and decision-making: too little sleep and you may find yourself irritable and prone to bad choices. The cardiovascular system needs regular periods of sleep in order to function optimally. Increased risks of heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke are all associated with too little sleep.” Sleep also affects your body’s ability to produce growth hormone, which is important to anyone with fitness goals.
Lack of sleep also has weight gain consequences. The less you sleep, the less your body is able to effectively regulate your appetite. Your body craves certain types of energy sources when you’re tired to stay awake. These sources tend to be high in fat and antithetical to your fitness goals (unless, of course, your goals are to eat as many doughnuts as possible in one day, which is something I’m really good at). Scientifically speaking, lack of sleep means you have more ghrelin and less leptin, which are two hormones. Ghrelin, by the way, tells you went to eat, and you get more of that the less you sleep. Conversely, you have less of leptin (which is the hormone that says stop eating) when you sleep less.
So you see, sleep is pretty important. At this point you might be like, “Oh sure, Madeleine, but I have such a difficult time getting to sleep!” I feel you there — insomnia runs in my family. There are alllll sorts of strategies for getting more sleep, and different things work for different people (and some things don’t seem to work at all, sorry Jonathan), so see what works for you.
Bonus Sleep Strategies
- Keep your bedroom a place for sleep Associating your bedroom with sleep seems like a nobrainer, but that means eliminating all electronics (including smartphones, which may be slightly impossible) and other distractions. For me, this means not doing homework in my bed.
- Avoid caffeine This is sort of a gimme, but caffeine apparently can affect your body up to 5 hours after you take it. Try to avoid caffeine (including soda!) after the morning to put your body in the best position for sleep.
- Make your bedroom a dark place Apparently your body likes darkness for sleeping (who knew). This means avoiding light sources that may disrupt your sleep patterns. This can include bright digital clocks (and I think that if you can’t see what time it is, you can’t obsess over how much sleep you AREN’T getting).
- Take supplements like melatonin or valerian root
- Use meditation and visualization This has helped me a lot. When I am particularly anxious, I use a mantra (“I give myself permission to relax”) and visualize myself writing it in a journal. I also use deep breathing exercises.