Part of living a healthy lifestyle is taking care of your body with not only whole foods, but also by providing it with a good amount of rest...specifically sleep.
We all know how important sleep is in terms of restorative properties and we have all experienced what can happen when we get too little sleep (or even - gasp - skip a sleep cycle!). What many do not realize, however, is just how important sleep is for athletic performance and health goals. One of the first questions I ask when an athlete asks about no progress or even regression of fitness goals, hitting a weight loss plateau or not achieving desired body composition; is "How much sleep are you getting each night?".
Lack of quality sleep raises the stress hormone cortisol which can interfere with cell and tissue growth, immune function, impede weight loss, cause fat deposition in the abdominal area (i.e., having trouble getting rid of abdominal fat? Check your sleep cycles!) and interrupt progression in strength training.
So how much sleep is a good amount of sleep? Some people say they can "get by" on 4 hours of sleep a night (yikes!), but do some research on that and you will find that folks that are sleep deprived (yes, 4 hours a sleep each night would fall under that category), die younger. You do not re-set your brain and body to "get used to" less sleep, you end up getting sick and having a ton of health issues. Ok, you can "get by" temporarily, but it comes at a high cost.
8-9 hours of sleep is optimal for cell and tissue growth, immune function, athletic performance, and body composition progress. Anything less than that and we are looking at interference of said functions. Some do fine on 8 hours, others require that extra hour of uninterrupted sleep. If you're getting less than those numbers, make a concerted effort to increase your sleep cycle in order to improve health and fitness goals.
If you are in the category of sleep-deprived, read the following helpful tips to get you on track in acquiring some restorative z's.
1. Be consistent. The body loves routine when it comes to sleep, so go to bed and wake up at the same time - even on weekends. You will be surprised once you get on a good schedule, how well your body functions and how efficiently the body clock will respond.
2. Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol prior to going to bed. If at all possible, limit those stimulants after 4-6pm.
3. Create a "cave-like sleep environment". No, I'm not talking about sleeping under rocks. This is simple: limit noise, light and music in your room by turning off computers, tv's, having darkened curtains or shades that block outside lights, even covering or turning your alarm clock away from your bed to minimize any amount of light. You would be amazed how a well-darkened and quiet room is conducive to good sleep. Really, I mean pitch-black...like inside a cave.
4. Surprisingly to many, having solid and good nutrition reverses sleep problems. Get rid of processed foods, sugars and fried foods and you will be amazed how this improves quality sleep.
Do not underestimate the restorative powers of sleep. Make it a priority in your life as you do with your fitness and good nutrition.