There are three main pieces to the total fitness puzzle – diet, exercise, and sleep. Diet and exercise are widely discussed in the fitness industry, but one third of the equation is mostly overlooked. Sleep is vital for body rejuvenation and healthy functioning, not only affecting mood and memory function, but more importantly to the avid gym goer – your health, weight and energy levels.
Most studies show that an ideal amount of sleep per night is somewhere between 7-9 hours for the general population, depending on lifestyle and activity factors. Sleeping is the body’s cherished recovery time, as it enters a higher anabolic state to rejuvenate bodily tissues, allowing the repair of the muscular, immune and nervous systems. Sleep and muscle growth go hand in hand. Cells are being replaced, repaired, and rebuilt as the growth hormone and testosterone are naturally released, leading to improved muscle recovery and regeneration. Additionally, the brain is being recharged, allowing your rested brain to be motivated and focused upon waking up.
Do you find yourself aching for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning? Perhaps a mid-afternoon energy low hits and you find yourself pining for a chocolate bar or a sugary drink? It seems like the less sleep we get, the more we long for a caffeine boost. This routine has become a staple in many people’s lives, but the health impacts of this habit create a vicious cycle. The more tired a person feels, the more likely they are to consume caffeine throughout the day to stay awake. The more caffeine they intake, the harder it’ll be to get to sleep that night, recreating the pattern for days and weeks to come. In addition, those who do get less than ideal amounts of sleep are much more likely to have bigger appetites the following day as the leptin appetite regulating hormone is depleted. I’m not suggesting halting caffeine intake is the answer to better sleep. After all, we’re all human here. But limiting caffeine intake to specific hours in the day depending on how your body responds to caffeine will give you enough time to adjust before bed.
There is also evidence linking lack of sleep to an increased risk of obesity. Studies have proven that the shorter length of time a person sleeps per night, the greater their risk of obesity. Based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), a person that sleeps less than 7.7 hours per night is more likely to have a higher BMI than those that sleep for longer. This stems from decreased levels of leptin (the appetite suppression hormone), in addition to increased levels of ghrelin (an appetite stimulating peptide) in those with less than optimal sleep. Sleep controls your diet. Hence, a lack of sleep leads to a day of endless hunger and eventual weight gain.
To complete the total fitness puzzle, eliminating the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead mentality” and allowing the body appropriate amounts of sleep is vital to the human body’s overall wellbeing. It all comes down to one simple law – the better we sleep, the better we’re able to live.