Sleep is essential for our bodies and minds. We can’t operate optimally if we don’t get enough good quality sleep. During sleep, the body repairs itself; cells repair and rebuild, hormones are secreted that promote bone and muscle growth, the immune system is strengthened, and any illnesses are fought against.
Also during sleep, our brain consolidates memories and processes information; new learning occurs when the brain experiments with novel new connections (hence our often bizarre dreams!); and emotions and emotional memories are processed. The power of sleep is pretty clear – but are you aware of how your quality of sleep can influence fitness levels? Read on to learn more.
There are four stages of sleep. This includes three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We cycle through these stages several times each night.
- NREM stage 1: Lasts for about 5 to 10 minutes. The body relaxes and the brain, heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements all slow down.
- NREM stage 2: We spend about 20 mins in this stage every cycle. We become less aware of your surroundings, our body temperature drops, our eye movements stop, and our breathing and heart rate become more regular. The brain begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity, which are known as sleep spindles and are thought to play a major role in memory consolidation.
- NREM stage 3: Also referred to as delta sleep or deep sleep. During this stage, muscles are completely relaxed, blood pressure drops, breathing slows, and the body starts its physical repairs. The brain consolidates memories about personal experiences, general knowledge, facts or statistics, and things we have learned during the day.
- REM: REM sleep is also known as dream sleep. During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed but the brain is active. The body is relaxed and immobilized, the breathing is fast and irregular, and the eyes move rapidly. Dreaming occurs, emotions and emotional memories are processed and stored, and information is locked into memory.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
How much sleep we need depends on our age. It is recommended that:
- Infants below age one get 12 to 16 hours’ sleep
- 1–2-year-olds get 11 to 14 hours’ sleep
- 3–5-year-olds get 10 to 13 hours’ sleep
- 6–12-year-olds get 9 to 12 hours’ sleep
- 13–18-year-olds get 8 to 10 hours’ sleep
- People over age 18 get at least 7 hours’ sleep
How Does Sleep Affect Physical Fitness?
How your quality of sleep can influence fitness levels is an important topic to understand. So in what ways does sleep affect physical performance?
Research suggests that sleep deprivation, even for short periods of time, can have a very detrimental effect on physical and mental performance. Essentially, not getting enough quality sleep causes a reduction in the quality of physical performance by impairing cognitive or motor performance.
Further research suggests that with insufficient sleep, accuracy levels decrease. Research also shows that with enough sleep, general athletic performance increases, as do mood and alertness. Research even indicates that poor quality sleep can lead to obesity.
The Relationship Between Sleep And Exercise
Getting enough sleep means that your body and mind will be optimally repaired and rejuvenated, and ready to engage in physical exercise. Research suggests that the more you exercise (as long as it’s not too close to bedtime), the better quality of sleep you will have.
Why Does A Lack Of Sleep Affect Your Body’s Performance?
A lack of sleep affects the body’s performance because it means that the body has not had enough time to repair and rejuvenate itself. It has not had a chance to heal any injuries or general wear and tear. Also, learning has not had a chance to take place, and memories and experiences have not had a chance to be fully consolidated if sufficient sleep has not taken place.
Lifestyle Factors That Prevent Good Quality Sleep
For many people, lifestyle factors prevent them from getting enough good quality sleep. This has a negative impact on their health and fitness. Some lifestyle factors that prevent people from getting enough sleep are:
- Shift work
- Consuming caffeine late in the day
- Lack of a sleep schedule
- Not allowing yourself enough time in bed
- Exercise too close to bedtime
- Alcohol too close to bedtime
- Marijuana and other recreational drug use
- Eating too close to bedtime
- Drinking fluids too late in the day and needing to urinate during the night
- Sharing a bed
- Sleeping with a partner who snores
- Sleeping in a noisy or not sufficiently dark room
How To Improve Your Quality Of Sleep
You can improve your quality of sleep, and with it your fitness levels, by implementing the following guidelines:
- Have a consistent sleep schedule. Studies suggest that an irregular sleep schedule can reduce sleep quality.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Research shows that noise and temperature have a negative effect on sleep quality.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Research shows eating too close to bed spikes insulin and reduces sleep quality.
- Avoid caffeine in the second half of the day. Research shows that caffeine causes sleep disturbance.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Studies show that alcohol reduces circulating melatonin and reduces sleep quality.
- Increase light exposure during the day. Research suggests this helps to keep your circadian rhythm healthy.
- Decrease light exposure from screens close to bedtime. Research suggests blue light from screens delays sleep onset.
- Avoid long daytime naps. Napping for extended periods during the day has been shown to reduce nighttime sleep quality.
- Unwind before bed with a bath or shower and perhaps some reading.
- Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Research suggests that regular exercise improves sleep quality and reduces the time it takes to get to sleep.
How To Improve Fitness Levels
Here are our top tips to improve your fitness levels:
- Get copious amounts of good quality sleep!
- Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise – go for runs and cycles; take the stairs where possible.
- Reduce alcohol intake.
- Stretch daily.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other wholefoods.
- Do some weight training.
- Sauna bathe regularly.
- Implement an intermittent fasting regime.
Featured image by Claudio_Scott on Pixabay