Sleep is easily the most underrated component to help the body recover from the stress of working out, but sleep is arguably the most critical for increasing muscle mass and strength. As a trainer, one of the first questions I ask the moment I see a dip in performance is “how are you sleeping?” The response is typically a puzzled look as my client begins to relive their most recent sleepless nights filled with checking work emails, surfing the web, scrolling Instagram, or binge-watching as many episodes of the Simpsons as they possibly can (FYI, responsibly watching every episode of the Simpsons should definitely be on your bucket list). Their response — full of frustration-- is always “Not good at all! Why do you ask?”
At this point, I explain that there are two universal truths: One, that the Hulk is the greatest Avenger. Ever. And two, that lack of sleep keeps the body from rebuilding the muscles and tissues necessary for muscular growth. It is equally important that the trainer and athlete share the responsibility of identifying the best time during the day to optimize training performance. For some people working out at 6am is better because they feel recovered from a full night’s rest and for others working off the day’s stresses helps them settle into the evening. You can forget about out training poor sleeping habits, it’s impossible! Getting the best performance out of an athlete, regardless of how developed their skillsets are, requires them to be mentally prepared and well-rested.
The human body is a complex system comprised of all kinds of goodies and cool features, including a natural clock, or rhythm, that signals when we should sleep and when we should wake up. Our body clock, also known as our Circadian Rhythm, controls when particular hormones are released. Naturally, when our body clock is thrown off by lack of sleep, it directly affects the timing of when hormones are released into our bodies. Melatonin, a popular sleep aid that people take when struggling to sleep, is actually naturally produced by our bodies. Our eyes send a signal to an almond-sized gland in our brains based on how much light is being produced around us. At night, since there is very little light being produced naturally by our environment, our brains receive a signal to start producing melatonin to help us sleep. But something interesting happens when you check your emails while laying in bed at 11 PM. Your brain perceives the light from the laptop or other electronic device as a source of natural light, which decreases the amount of melatonin produced in your body. No melatonin, no sleep! But the party doesn’t stop there. No sleep, no growth hormone! Growth hormone also known as Human Growth Hormone (hGH) is released from the pituitary gland (aka “The Master Gland”) while we sleep and is responsible for muscle growth, bone growth, and controlling how efficiently your body burns fat ... just to name a few responsibilities. There is a substantial amount of evidence that suggest when we have poor sleeping habits there is a reduction of growth hormone in our bodies. So, if you want to maximize the performance and function of your body as much as I do here are some tips:
1. Go to bed around the same time every night. Going to bed at the same time helps reset your body clock.
2. No late snacking. Eat your last meal 2 hours before going to bed.
3. Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise or activity daily.
Training is a lifelong pursuit! Developing the best recovery practices to ensure your potential is optimized is priceless. Whether your training and movement practice leads you to the most coveted levels of physical performance or propels you to the peak of weekend warrior greatness, all great performances start with high quality rest. Invest in yourself and move well friends.
Illustration By: Jessica Wong - Jwong.gallery/