By Alan Kenny, Nutritionist at functional Training Ireland;
Sleep is something that is so often neglected today in our busy lives. We see it as a nuisance sometimes or something that just has to be done without ever realizing the importance of good sleep. Sleep is an integral part of living a healthy, balanced life, as well as maintaining a high level of athletic performance. Your physical training is the stimulus or ‘trigger’ for your body to become faster, stronger, and more fit, but it is during rest that your body actually repairs itself and responds to that stimulus.
If you train hard but do not get adequate sleep, you are continually breaking the body down without letting it rebuild and adapt to the training! This can lead to increased injuries, fatigue, weakness, muscle loss, and a weaker immune system. Poor nutrition also plays a massive role in this but i will just focus on sleep today.
I’m sure you’ve been warned about “over-training” at some point. It can be a legitimate concern for high level athletes, but for most of us the risk is not so much about over-training as it is related to “under-recovering”. Your body can actually handle a significant amount of serious training if your nutrition is on point and you get enough quality sleep. Neglect either of those two factors and say goodbye to your athletic performance.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a powerful hormone that is naturally occurring in your body, which aids in recovery, healing, metabolizing fat, and keeping you young and healthy. There are two times in a day when HGH is typically at it’s highest level, and both of them we have some control over: one is directly after a brief, intense workout, and the other is during deep sleep. If you want to do everything you can to be the healthiest person you can be, you will want to take advantage of these.
One of the biggest factors affecting our sleep today is ‘blue light’. This is the light that is emitted from most of our electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets , laptops and tvs. For millions of years we have been going to bed when the sun goes down, essentially we had no choice. When the sun goes down we begin a process inside of winding down and preparing for sleep. Melatonin is released in our bodies as this has been our process for thousands of years. Our excessive use of electronics and lights has now tricked our brains into thinking it is day as light to our brain means day time. This upsets our circadian rhythm which is our natural body clock that follows a light/dark cycle. These lights block our melatonin production which affects our entire sleeping process so checking your facebook at night is not a good idea!.
With all this in mind here is some steps to success:
- Most studies show that between 7 and 9 hours of sleep is optimal. Getting less or even more sleep than that is not ideal.
- Try to follow a regular schedule when it comes to your sleeping patterns, waking up and going to sleep at the same times each day. Follow the dame routine pre bed too.
- Aim to sleep in complete darkness. Use heavy curtains to keep out any light from outside or wear a sleep-mask.
- Don’t eat or drink immediately before sleep. Especially avoid caffeine or alcohol within several hours of sleep.
- Try to relax for a couple of hours before sleep by reading a book or listening to soft music. Avoid watching TV or surfing the internet right before sleep.
- Slow down your brain… write down anything that’s on your mind before going to bed then try to forget about it until the next day.
- Leave all electronics outside your room, use a battery powered alarm clock if needs be.
- Take a hot shower for 15 mins before bed.