Is there a person alive – stroppy pre-primary schoolers excluded, of course – who doesn’t absolutely adore the thought of a great night’s sleep? Most problems, pains, gripes and stresses take on a whole new hue of manageability after a solid 8 hours, and especially as the weather gets colder, waking up feels like leaving an old friend. Unfortunately, however, most adults don’t get enough sleep! According to SingleCare, up to 40% of adults report an insufficient amount of sleep worldwide.
If you’ve got health and fitness goals in mind, sleep becomes even more imperative. It’s a critical element in allowing your body to perform at its best, build muscle and fitness, and properly promote recovery between gym sessions.
Without a proper sleep schedule or good sleep quality, a significant percentage of the hard work you’re putting in pumping iron or running your heart out in your Trojan home gym is going to waste. In this introduction to your “sleep-exercise-balance,” we’re explaining the science of sleep, illustrating how it affects your performance, and giving you tips on how to better your quality of sleep and schedule exercises that complement that schedule. Get ready to hit the hay, the Trojan way!
The science of sleep: What are sleep cycles?
At the centre of discussions around sleep and exercise, you’ll often hear the term “sleep cycles.” But what are those? And do you need a helmet to hop on them? Well, no to the second part. Sleep cycles refer to the patterns of brain activity that occur during the different stages of sleep. There are four distinct stages of sleep, which are classified into two categories:
- non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep
- and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
During NREM sleep, there are three stages of progressively deeper sleep, which cycle through different brain waves and affect your heart rate in different ways. REM sleep, on the other hand, is characterised by rapid eye movements, as well as more irregular and faster brain waves. This is the stage of sleep where most dreaming occurs, and your brain activity is similar to when you are awake. You need both types to complete a sleep cycle.
Each sleep cycle typically lasts around 90-110 minutes and includes a period of NREM sleep followed by a shorter period of REM sleep. As the night progresses, the amount of time spent in REM sleep increases, while the amount of time spent in NREM decreases.
This is why people often wake up feeling more rested in the morning if they have had a full night solidly glued to a pillow, rather than just a few hours. A good night of sleep means a combination of all these sleep cycles, which is why it’s beneficial that you sleep for one longer period at a time, rather than many shorter ones.
Next time someone tries to wake you up before you’re ready, remember to tell them you’re finishing your sleep cycle. That may buy you a few extra minutes under the covers!
The role of sleep in muscle growth and recovery:
Sleeping like a log is awesome for everyone, but it’s especially good for athletes or those who’re committed to a fitness plan. This is because sleep plays a critical role in muscle recovery and growth. While you’re sleeping, your body releases growth hormone, which is essential for the repair and growth of muscles. This hormone helps to increase protein synthesis, which is the process of building new muscle tissue. Nap time is producing the building blocks for muscles and cements them together.
In addition, sleep helps to reduce the breakdown of muscle tissue. This is because the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol are lower during sleep, which means that the body is in a more anabolic (building) state.
Solid, on-schedule slumber will significantly reduce inflammation in your body, which makes your muscle recovery period much quicker. When we exercise, we create small tears in our muscle fibres, which leads to inflammation, stiffness, and that “there’s no way I can manage those stairs” feeling. This inflammation can also slow down the recovery process, keeping you feeling crackly, crunchy and below-optimal for longer.
Finally, sleep is important for energy restoration. Adequate sleep helps to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles, which is the body’s main source of energy during exercise. This means that if we don’t get enough sleep, we may not have the energy we need to perform at our best during our workouts.
Why go through all the effort of struggling into those gym pants, mixing up your protein shake and lining up the perfect workout playlist if you’re just going to run out of glycogen and hit the wall 12 minutes into your workout?
How does sleep affect exercise performance and fitness?
- Energy levels:Though this may be pretty self-explanatory, we want to stress that getting enough sleep is important for maintaining energy levels throughout the day. Without enough sleep, you may feel tired and sluggish, which can negatively affect your exercise performance. Getting an average of 4 hours a night doesn’t make you seem hardcore. It makes us want to ask you if you’re doing alright!
- Muscle recovery:As mentioned earlier, sleep is critical for muscle recovery and growth. Adequate sleep helps to repair muscle tissue that is damaged during exercise, which can help to prevent injury and improve overall fitness. You may have heard the old adage that “abs are made in the kitchen,” we’d like to add that gains are probably made, largely, under a duvet.
- Hormone regulation:A regular sleep schedule helps to regulate hormones that are important for exercise and fitness, such as growth hormone and cortisol. These hormones play a role in muscle growth and repair, as well as energy regulation. See, there’s a hormonal reason you’re so grumpy when you stay up way longer scrolling TikTok than you should have!
- Mental focus and sharpness: Sleep is also important for mental focus and concentration, which can help to improve exercise performance. Without enough sleep, you may feel mentally foggy, which can make it more difficult to focus on your workout. Ever had that 5 PM brain fuzz on a Friday after a long week at work? If you’re not sleeping properly, you’re doing that to yourself daily. You deserve better than that.
- Heart health:Significant and extensive bodies of research has shown that sleep plays a role in cardiovascular health, including blood pressure regulation and inflammation. These factors can impact exercise performance and overall fitness. You’ll also thank your past self for looking after your vascular system as you get older, as a strong cardio baseline will drastically improve your quality of life as you age.
Tips for improving sleep quality as an athlete or someone working on a fitness program
– Stick to a consistent sleep schedule:
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep quality. It also gives you a GREAT excuse to leave things early. “Sorry, it’s my bedtime,” is not often met with an outright “no.”
– Establish a relaxing bedtime routine:
Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that helps you wind down and prepare for sleep – you gotta keep it zen. This may include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or practising relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing. No violent video games or heated internet arguments are recommended here.
– Avoid screens at least 90 minutes before sleeping:
The blue light that comes from electronic devices like smartphones and tablets can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep. To improve sleep quality, avoid screens for at least an hour and a half before bedtime. Even if they’re in night mode. We promise Netflix will still be there tomorrow morning!
– Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption:
Caffeine and alcohol can both interfere with sleep quality. Limit your consumption of these substances, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. It’s ok to indulge occasionally, but try to do that on the night before you’ve scheduled a rest day in your exercise routine. If you’re drinking alcohol, you’re unlikely to hit the gym with a hangover, too. Seriously, everyone notices.
– Incorporate exercise into your daily routine:
Regular exercise can help to improve sleep quality, but it’s important to time your workouts appropriately. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. You don’t want to be absolutely vibing with that post-treadmill buzz, ready to tackle the world, but trying to get to sleep fast. If you’re struggling with sleep, try to work out in the morning.
Developing a personalised workout routine for your sleep schedule
Developing a personalised workout routine that complements your sleep schedule involves several factors, including the type of exercise, the intensity of the workout, and the timing of your workouts.
Here are some tips for developing a personalised workout routine that works well with your sleep schedule:
- Fit in your workouts at times that align with your natural energy levels.
- Exercises like yoga can help relax the body, so try adding those in at the end of a primary training session.
- Overtraining often leads to sleep issues, so make sure you’re resting adequately and only increasing your weekly exercise intensity gradually.
- Work low-intensity workout days into your plan to ensure your body has the time and space to recover adequately.
- Log workouts vs sleep to see if there’s a particular type of movement that either hurts or benefits your quality of sleep.
By developing a personalised workout routine that complements your sleep schedule, you can optimise your exercise performance and improve your sleep quality. Remember to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed to support both your fitness goals and your sleep needs. Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for balancing exercise and sleep optimally. Finding your ideal routine is about intuitively navigating through options that work for you, and adjusting and maintaining that plan as your fitness levels increase.
See? Sleep is just as important to your health and fitness as working out is! You should never feel guilty for resting as your body needs to, especially because that rest is supplementing your efforts to reach your full potential. However, we do know that fitting an adequate amount of sleep into an incredibly packed schedule can be challenging.
That’s why one of Trojan’s primary values in creating our products is “convenience.” Our durable yet affordable range of gym equipment is specially designed for home use. When you build a gym in your home (which you can preview on our Thor Virtual Gym Builder) you’re saving the time spent commuting to workout spaces, waiting for machines to become available, and navigating busy businesses in peak hours.
You can check out our full range of products here, and we guarantee you’ll find all the tools with which you can forge your dream body, from the comfort of your home. You can shop our products at a Game or Makro near you, and all our large equipment comes with a 2-year warranty!
Work out hard and sleep harder, Trojan family! Sweet dreams!