We all know sleep is essential, but we don’t always make it a priority. It’s easy to forgo sleep in favour of an extra hour of Netflix or to scroll through social media a little longer, but understanding the real importance of sleep, especially when training, makes it a little less tempting.
After an intense run the muscles are broken down and undergo micro tears, which are repaired during sleep. This happens during REM sleep (the deepest stage of sleep), the body releases growth hormones which repair muscle tissue. The muscles are paralyzed during this time to allow maximum repair. However, REM sleep usually starts 90 minutes after falling asleep and lasts an average of two hours, so if you have trouble sleeping the REM stage of sleep may not be reached.
Sleep deprivation starts as soon as you get less than seven hours of sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, neurons in the brain start to slow down, which decreases reaction times and decision-making ability. The stress hormone cortisol does not leave the body as quickly, and the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, shows increased sensitivity to negative emotions. These are short term impacts, however sleep deprivation over a long period of time can lead to abnormal hormonal levels.
You’re also hungrier when you’re sleep deprived. A lack of sleep has been shown to trigger higher ghrelin levels and lower leptin levels, which means increased appetite and a higher likelihood of overeating. This can be problematic if you’re training in order to lose weight. What’s more, is when you’re sleep deprived the body is less effective at turning carbohydrates into glycogen.
An adequate amount of sleep is necessary if you want to improve your performance when training. A sleep study at Stanford, found that athletes who increased their sleep time ran faster sprints than they did after their normal duration of sleep. Exercise should improve sleep quality, however training late at night may make it more difficult to fall asleep as during exercises the body temperature rises and the brain is flooded with adrenaline. To avoid this aim to train no later than two hours before bed.
Here are our tips to help you get those eight hours of sleep:
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule - A consistent schedule trains the brain to release sleep hormones at the same time each day.
Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption to earlier – It can take up to ten hours for caffeine to clear your system. Similarly, when we drink alcohol before bed, our liver must process the alcohol which increases the heart rate, so you may wake up during the night sweating and unable to fall back to sleep.
Avoid eating large meals before bed – If you eat just before bed the digestive system will be busy trying to process the food which again increases heart rate.
Try and limit screen time – This is probably the hardest one. The blue light from electronic devices like phones and laptops can suppress the release of sleep hormones, so try opting for some light reading instead of a Netflix episode from time to time.
If you enjoyed this, check out our post on the benefits of running.