Why do you exercise? Likely to increase lean muscle mass, improve strength and endurance, and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle. While your time spent in the gym is important for making these goals happen, your time spent outside the gym is just as, if not more crucial in seeing the results you’re working towards. For today, let’s specifically focus on something that is increasingly harder to achieve nowadays…a good night's sleep.
I’m sure you’re not protesting the idea of getting more sleep, but you may find achieving a good night’s sleep nearly impossible. It may be hard to go from 5 hours of sleep to 8-9 hours overnight, but there are small steps you can take that can make a big difference over time.
Let's discuss that later. First let's make sure we are on the same page as to why this even matters.
It has been reported that about a third of the population experience disruptions in sleep quantity and quality1. Disruptions in sleep duration have been associated with an increased risk of inflammation & chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Reduced sleep has also been shown to influence food intake and the regulation of metabolic hormones, such as insulin, leptin, and ghrelin2.
During sleep the brain is still highly active, aiding in memory consolidation, cellular and tissue repair mechanisms, and eliminating waste products that build up throughout the day3. Getting proper sleep is an important step in the post-exercise recovery process. During sleep, the body produces growth hormones, which aids in building & repairing our lean muscle tissue.
Now for the key take-aways.
Start by creating an environment that promotes restfulness – make sure your bedroom is dark & quiet, remove electronic devices before bed, meditate & practice paced breathing to relax the body & mind.
Consistency, as always, is KEY. A phenomenon, known as social jet lag, refers to inconsistencies in sleep time and duration between work and free days4. Essentially, your standard bedtime gets thrown out the window on the weekends – either staying up late and/or sleeping in. While it can be hard to not give in to the freedom the weekend brings, being more consistent with your sleep-wake times is important for optimizing performance and mitigating adverse health consequences.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake. Caffeine helps increase performance during the day but can also disrupt your sleep if taken too late in the day. Even if you can initially fall asleep after having a cup of coffee at 4 PM, your body may have difficulty entering the deep, restorative phases of sleep. While the rate of caffeine metabolism varies between individuals, it is generally recommended to stop drinking caffeine 8-10 hours before your bedtime for optimal sleep5,6.
Don’t go to bed hungry. It is a common myth that eating right before bed causes weight gain or disrupts the digestive process. However, research has not shown this to be the case. Alternatively, not fueling your body or ignoring hunger cues can lead to reductions in muscle mass7 and energy levels,8 & negatively impact blood sugar levels9.
Tart cherries contain a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm & sleep cycle. It also contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps the body produce melatonin10. Try pouring yourself a glass of tart cherry juice or snack on some almonds with dried tart cherries 1-2 hours before bed.
1. Sleep and Health. Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology 2018 September:1-7.
2. Oike H, Oishi K, Kobori M. Nutrients, Clock Genes, and Chrononutrition. Curr Nutr Rep 2014;3(3):204-212.
3. Dijk D, Lazar AS. The Regulation of Human Sleep and Wakefulness: Oxford University Press; 2012.
4. Hulsegge G, Loef B, Kerkhof LWv, Roenneberg T, Beek, Allard J. van der, Proper KI. Shift work, sleep disturbances and social jetlag in healthcare workers. Journal of Sleep Research 2019;28(4):e12802.
5. O'Callaghan F, Muurlink O, Reid N. Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2018;11:263-271.
6. Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J et al.: Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013;9(11):1195-200.
7. Mike Samuels, “Eating before Bed to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle”, Healthy Eating | SF Gate, December 27, 2018
8. Shahrad Taheri, et al., “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index”, LoS Medicine, Public Library of Science, December, 2004
9. “Hypoglycemia”, NHS Choices
10. Pattnaik H, Mir M, Boike S, Kashyap R, Khan SA, Surani S. Nutritional Elements in Sleep. Cureus. 2022 Dec 21;14(12):e32803. doi: 10.7759/cureus.32803. PMID: 36694494; PMCID: PMC9859770.