If you are serious about your health, sleep is an essential factor you should consider together with nutrition. If you are exercising hard, eating well, but not taking sufficient sleep, you are slowing down your progress.
During sleep your body goes into recovery mode. Not just physically, but mentally also. It’s a chance for it to unwind and get everything ready for the next day. One or two late nights here in there might not do too much harm, but if you make a habit of getting to bed late and getting up early you will struggle physically and mentally sooner or later. It’s just like a deck or cards waiting to fall.
Not having enough sleep will harm your body, and consequently, your weight, health and exercise program. You will run out of steam easily, lose concentration and look like crap, to put it bluntly. You will also lose your strength and cardiovascular fitness, not to mention the rise in the hormone cortisol will have you storing more weight around the middle quicker than you can say aye-carumba!
I’ve come across many people who seem to think they can get away with just a few hours’ kip a night whilst working in London. They seem to view it as a badge of honour! Yet underneath the surface their body is struggling to keep up and in all honesty don’t look in tip-top condition.
I’ve experienced late nights before, but nothing prepared me for the slap in the face that is parenthood. If you’ve had children I’m sure you can vouch for this. New born babies are wonderful, but they play havoc with your beauty sleep. With the increase in the stress hormone cortisol and the need for sugary foods to keep the body ticking it’s no wonder so many women struggle to lose their baby weight months after giving birth and why so many Fathers wind up putting weight on around this time also. Thankfully it doesn’t last forever and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
What you might not know is that the growth and recovery of your muscles primarily happens when your head is on the pillow. Sleep, in fact, is a revival method to recover from all the daily activities. When you’re fast asleep and your mind is somewhere else in the land of nod, your body is actually repairing your muscles and rejuvenating you.
It’s never a good idea to exercise before you go to bed, unless you fancy staring at the ceiling all night, because the temperature of our bodies regulate our sleeping cycles. Body temperature decreases when we sleep. Guess what happens when we exercise? Body temperature goes up and has a negative effect on our night’s sleep. Plus, you know those feel good hormones you get after exercise; they also have a habit of keeping us awake. Back when I was a student (many years ago) I worked nightshifts in a pork pie factory (that’s another story). Anyway, after my shift I went off to a golf driving range to practice my swing. Off I pop home to bed, only to find I can’t get to sleep for a good couple of hours. Hitting a few golf balls is hardly strenuous exercise, so you’ve been warned. If you’re going to exercise in the evening trying and give yourself at least a couple of hours before hitting the hay for the night.
The experts suggest a minimum of eight hours of quality sleep so that your body relaxes and recharges for the coming day. When we talk about ‘quality sleep’, we mean totally undisturbed sleeping in a pitch black room, with no lights (even small LEDs), mobile phones, wifi signal or spouse snoring. You might not be able to do much about the snoring spouse, but you can certainly sort out the others! You’d be surprised as just how much a little bit of light can affect your sleep pattern. If you have light from outside sneaking into your bedroom think about black out blinds or one of those eye masks Mrs W wears. Personally I’m too manly to wear such girly things and instead sleep with a pillow over my head (no joke).
By now you should realise that sleep plays a vital role in our health. Unfortunately it’s often neglected as people seem to think that getting to bed early can’t have a big impact on their health or weight loss, but it does and it will! Get yourself to bed early a few nights a week and your body, health and general well-being will thank you for it.
Gavin Walsh is a high profile London personal trainer that has been featured in and written for many national newspapers and magazines on health and fitness topics.
He has a passion for health and fitness writing, which has seen him in the likes of Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Harper’s Bazzaar, Grazia, The Time’s and The Independent and have also been featured as a fitness TV broadcaster on ITV and Sky.
He also runs a world class fat loss website that has helped thousands of people lose weight from their own homes.