Health and Wellness

How Sleep Affects Physical Performance

By Clementine Beale | Published the 08th Jul 2019

If you’re not getting the fitness gains you want from your workout, the key is actually not to train more but to sleep more.

There are plenty of tools that can help with inducing sleep, like meditation apps or magnesium oil, for people who have trouble hitting the hay. One thing to remember is that sleep is as important to physical fitness as exercise and diet. Whether you’re an athlete or just a gym junkie, failing to prioritise sleep will compromise your workout routine and undo all your hard work.

Sleep boosts metabolism

A high metabolic rate means more than keeping the body lean. This biological process is responsible for breaking down food into adenosine triphosphate or ATP — which is the body’s fuel. Researcher Mindy Engle-Friedman explains that lack of sleep lowers metabolic rate, making it less efficient in turning the food we eat into energy. This explains why we feel fatigued after not getting enough shuteye and why it’s imperative to rest adequately before exercising.

On top of that, sleep deprivation also wreaks havoc with your hormones. Production of cortisol, or the stress hormone, significantly increases and one of its symptoms is a bigger appetite, especially for unhealthy food. It goes hand in hand with the depletion of leptin, the hormone that signals to the body when it’s full. It makes your stomach seem like a bottomless pit. The more junk you eat, the heavier you feel, and the slower you become.

Sleep is key for recovery

Did you know that before your muscles get stronger, they have to be broken down first? Exercising actually creates microscopic tears in muscle tissues but don’t fret as they get repaired during recovery. Sleeping stimulates the production of the human growth hormone (HGH), which is crucial in repairing and growing muscle tissue. Furthermore, a sleep study published in the Journal of Science Advances revealed that sleep deprivation, even for a single night, breaks down muscle tissue at a higher rate.

It’s what professional athletes have known for years – sleep is key to recovering from training. In Novak Djokovic's diet and fitness guide Serve to Win, the tennis player shared that he has a strict eight hours of sleep every night. "I treat sleep with as much respect as I treat food, or my training schedule, or my rivals. It's that important," he wrote. His diligence with getting enough rest has obviously paid off, as the Serbian is the second-highest paid tennis player of all-time with 15 Grand Slam titles to his name. Considering that tennis is a high-impact sport, sleep becomes all the more necessary to speed up recovery, as the wear-and-tear the player experiences is very high while on the ATP Tour. Applying topical magnesium for muscle pain can offer some relief to ensure your muscles recover from stress much better.

Sleep prepares the mind

American triathlete Gwen Jorgensen states that sleep prevents her from feeling "deflated and crabby." Being irritable is actually one of the common symptoms of sleep deprivation, along with the other cognitive impairments we've covered on Salt Lab. Being mentally and emotionally unstable can also affect your motivation levels. You might not even get a chance to work out because of how demotivated you’re in general. Additionally, you’re more likely to ignore proper form and technique when your mind is distracted due to sleep deprivation. This can result in injuries, which is something that takes time to bounce back from. So, sleep doesn’t only help with recovery, it also minimises the risk of injury.

As you can see, getting at least eight hours of sleep — more if you train harder — is integral to optimal fitness. and ensure a well-rounded routine. Make sure to prioritise sleep as much as you do training and nutrition. It should be the easiest part of your routine to stick to.

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By: Jessica Thea