Why Getting More Sleep Should Be Your Number One Priority
Many think that the simple equation to a healthy lifestyle is diet and exercise. Your doctor recommends cutting salt or carbohydrates and adding whole foods to your diet to lower your cholesterol. You add moderate to vigorous activity on a daily basis to improve your heart and bone health.
What about the third piece to this health puzzle? Something that goes unnoticed and frequently gets cut short is the secret part of this equation: sleep.
Scientist don’t have an exact reason as to why we need sleep, but we do, and studies show that the benefits include weight loss and increased energy for exercise and daily activities.
The recommended amount of sleep for the average adult is between 8-10 hours, but we often find ourselves planning 18+ hour days. Sleep is the first on the chopping block. But since sleep affects many aspects of our lives (basically everything that requires brain power) we should be rethinking our holistic health plans and start getting more Zzz’s.
What does sleep do?
- Sleep helps prepare you for the next day
- Sleep increases your problem-solving skills, motivation, making decisions and creativity
- Sleep regulates your hormones and emotions
- Sleep is a time for repair and growth
Sleep for Muscle Growth
When we sleep, the human growth hormone (HGH) levels increase. This hormone is responsible for creating lean muscle.
Too often people believe tough workouts are the cause for increased strength, stamina and overall health. However, post workout is when your body is in an inflammatory state and your muscles are broken down from your workout. The repair process occurs when you sleep which is why getting plenty is so beneficial. After a busy day it can be tempting to bust it and get that workout in, but if it takes away needed sleep, then it may do more harm than good.
Sleep for Weight Loss
Sleep is a time when our body is fasting which aids in weight loss. Fasting is when you go a long period without eating. Don’t worry about muscle loss; you can actually go up to 48 hours without food before your muscles start to break down.
Fasting can be beneficial for several reasons:
- Fasting allows your digestive system to rest.
- It allows insulin to decrease (which is a fat-storing hormone) and other hormones like HGH and glucagon to rise.
- The rise in these hormones help use-up the available glucose while you sleep, and eventually tap into your fat stores for energy if you allow enough time for your body to do so.
You can see benefits in as little as 12 hours of fasting. Devoting 7pm to 7am to resting and fasting may aid in weight loss.
Sleep for Energy
Shorting yourself of sleep can make you feel fatigued the following day, which can lead to consuming caffeine or highly processed carbohydrates for energy.
One-two cups of coffee can be beneficial (and a little buzz never hurt anyone), but when you start to down 4, 5 or even 6 cups of coffee within the day, it can create a vicious cycle of bad sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant and too much, or drinking too late in the day, can decrease the amount of time you are in the deepest type of sleep. Even if you are getting 8 hours of shut-eye, the quality may be low. Break the cycle by only allowing yourself to a cup or two in the morning.
So what is the key to better sleep?
There are multiple factors actually that aid in better sleep.
For starters, the first thing you do in the morning affects how you sleep that night.
The best thing you can do in the morning to get good sleep the following night is to get your heart rate up. This can be as simple has 100 jumping jacks or a full-blown 60 minute cardio workout. The timing is irrelevant, but the heartbeats count. This helps set your natural rhythm for the day and for sleep hours later.
Setting a bedtime routine is also helpful. Do the same thing each night so your body knows it’s time to unwind: have quiet time, dim the lights, and try to stay away from your cell phone or other electronics. Lastly, avoid meals before bed. Giving your body too much to digest before bed can decrease quality of sleep.
Sleep should be the foundation of any healthy lifestyle, a priority regardless of your fitness goals. Make a point to get back on track, with either bedtime routines, limited caffeine, or natural supplements like melatonin. Better sleep will soon become your number one priority.
Kelsey graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Dietetics and Public Health Nutrition and is currently working on her Master in Nutrition and Dietetics. Since becoming a registered dietitian, she works at a hospital providing medical nutrition therapy, teaches at Pure Barre, and dances for a professional cheerleading team in the NFL.