If you have been bitten by the weight training bug, sleep may be the last thing on your mind. You have probably devoured all reading materials that instruct you how to efficiently tear down muscle cells. In fact, you search for new methods for this form of constructive self-torture, don’t you? In fact, after a workout, perhaps you mentally chastise yourself thinking up ways you missed at better damaging the muscle fibers. What does not kill you makes you stronger, right? On the subject of supplementation you might even be one of those savants who can walk into any health food store and argue with the resident bodybuilder employee about whether arginine or leucine is better for protein synthesis. You may know all the foam roller exercises but do you invest in the one recovery aid that does not cost you a dime?
Supplementing your weight training with more sleep may be among the most underrated of strategies you can use to help you recover from those Central Nervous system (CNS) thrashing workouts that you insist on always doing. If you could invent a supplement in pill form that could improve exercise performance, repair and dissipate the effects of stress and fatigue, and improve the immune system you would make a million dollars overnight. How about getting a few more winks of sleep?
Sufficient Sleep Improves Exercise Performance
As we age, we tend to sleep less perhaps because the pineal gland in our brain produces less melatonin. The lack of sleep among seniors is seen as one of the contributing factors to muscle wasting (sarcopenia). It is also true that the pituitary gland produces less growth hormone as we age. Growth hormone is produced greatly when we sleep. Is this a chick or egg thing? Is it inevitable that we have to accept hormonal decreases as we go along or perhaps we just need to make ourselves get plenty of sleep?
If you’re twenty-something, the truth is you may have more in common with an octogenarian than you think if you are missing a lot of sleep. You will lose your competitive edge and may even lose muscle mass.
A financial creditor is not the only one you can be in debt to; you can also be in debt to your body by owing it a lot of sleep. This is appropriately called “sleep debt” and it is not simply a matter of catching up with a few more hours on the weekends. Sleep debt does not just go away. It accumulates over time and must be made up for. And just as it takes time to accumulate, it also takes time to pay it off. Getting an extra hour or two a night will gradually help this.
Some Sleep Facts: You Sleep in Complete Cycles Every Night
Everyone sleeps in 90 minute cycles. There are actually five parts to a cycle but let’s break it down to three:
- Simply speaking, you first have 65 minutes of normal sleep. This is also called deep sleep, non-REM (no rapid eye movement) or slow-wave sleep (SWS). There is a very heavy parasympathetic nervous system (healing) component to this stage of sleep. There is usually no dreaming during this stage.
- In the second stage you have 20 minutes of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is when you dream. Also, the muscles seem to be paralyzed in REM sleep.
- In the last stage or third stage, there is again 5 minutes of non-REM sleep.
It has been studied that growth hormone is secreted during the first (heavy parasympathetic) stage during deep sleep. There is reciprocal relationship here; not only does more deep sleep produce higher levels of growth hormone but more growth hormone tends to induce longer and deeper stages of deep sleep.
Sleep Repairs the Effects of Stress
There is something called a “multiple sleep latency test” (MSLT). This basically shows that the sleepier you are (that is, the more you need sleep), the faster you will fall asleep. Subjects who are deprived of sleep over a period of time show growing signs of fatigue day by day. The more nights they go without quality sleep, the more fatigued they become. They become stressed and less alert. This condition can be gradually improved by putting someone under a regimen of 8 or more hours of sleep a night.
The more fatigue you have, the longer it will take to recover from a workout. In recovery there is something called dual factor theory. This states that there are two components present after a hard workout. Ones fitness level is increased as well as one’s fatigue level. The fatigue element can also be affected by emotional stresses and a lack of sleep. Too little sleep can lead to a state of exhaustion that may significantly slow down your progress.
Sleep Improves the Immune System
Overdosing on glutamine? Many bodybuilders ingest huge quantities of glutamine in order to enhance recovery. While there is some evidence to suggest that massive quantities boost the immune system after physiological trauma such as surgery or for burn patients, there is little evidence to prove that the usual weight trainer receives any increased benefit. Wounds heal faster with better sleep. Tests done with rats show that sleep deprivation decreases the white blood cell count. Longer sleep times result in higher white blood cell counts and thus a higher immune function. You may not want to chuck the glutamine right away but at least try sleeping more. The effects of plenty of deep healthy sleep along with adequate food and hydration may be enough for recovery.
Some Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
- It’s best not to exercise less than 3 hours before bedtime. If you do, your heart rate during the first few hours of sleep will be higher than if you didn’t. Also, the harder you exercise the more non-REM or deep sleep you will require.
- Drink a glass of warm milk or tea before bedtime.
- Make the room as dark as you can or else wear one of those sleep masks that covers your eyes.
- Don’t eat just before bedtime. DO NOT take sleeping pills.
- If counting sheep doesn’t work, you may want to use a transistor radio. Set it at low volume and attach to your ears with earbuds. This “white noise” will drone on and on so you will drift off to sleep.
- If you have a busy schedule the next day, write down a to-do list before going to bed. This may give you some psychological peace of mind instead of lying in bed worrying and planning
There are not all that many studies about the relationship between normal sleepers and exercise. Perhaps this is because research requires money and is an activity not usually engaged in unless there is some eventual result of monetary increase; there is not much profit is just telling someone to get more sleep.
Final note: Researchers tend to be more concerned about the effects of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea on exercise but everyone agrees that a full night’s sleep is good stuff. If you have persistent sleep problems, do not hesitate to consult with a knowledgeable health care professional.