The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine states that sleep is one of the three pillars of health, along with exercise and nutrition. Despite the clear importance of this form of rest, one-third of Americans are estimated to be sleep deprived. What are the consequences of this? In this blog, we’ll discuss the role of sleep and its impact on athletic performance, recovery, cognition, and body composition. Then, we’ll provide some tips to improve your sleep so you can wake up ready to crush whatever life (and our coaches) throw at you!



How Much Should I Be Sleeping?


The Sleep Foundation advises that most adult athletes should follow the standard guideline of sleeping for 7-9 hours every night. Elite and professional athletes should aim for the full 9 hours, but 7 is sufficient for most everyday exercisers. Furthermore, they recommend all athletes sleep more than this the night before a competition (to promote optimal performance) or when sick or injured (to support recovery).



How Sleep Affects Recovery


Sleep is the opportunity for your mind and body to recover after all it’s been through during the day. Metabolic activity and body temperature decrease while you sleep, allowing you to redirect energy toward cell and tissue regeneration. Hormones that support growth and development are released and blood flow increases to your muscles. Your heart rate and respiratory rate drop during certain stages of sleep, giving your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems a break. Sleep also induces production of cytokines, which are hormones that boost the immune system to help better protect your body. Furthermore, sleep promotes retention of memories, which is especially important as we learn new exercises and techniques at the gym. All of this is needed to restore your body to its optimal function.



Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Athletic Performance


When we don’t give our bodies 7-9 hours to go through the revitalizing processes outlined above, the effects are significant. Research demonstrates that sleep deprivation impairs judgement, decision making, and learning while also increasing irritability. It also heightens the risk of developing health conditions such as depression, type II diabetes, and stroke. When examining athletes, studies found that inadequate sleep caused slower running speeds, reduced endurance, worse reaction times, and increased risk of injury and illness. Therefore, the next time you want to stay up to watch “just one more” episode, remember these facts and consider if it’s worth risking a PR the following day.



Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain


Healthy weight regulation is a goal for many athletes, but did you know that inadequate sleep can contribute to unhealthy weight gain? This is partly because a lack of sleep disrupts the release of hormones related to hunger. The hormone that tells your brain that you’re full (leptin) can be suppressed, while the hormone that tells your brain that you’re hungry (ghrelin) is overproduced. This can lead to overeating. Furthermore, the hormone insulin also spikes when you don’t sleep enough, causing it to excessively store fat.


Sleep deprivation can also affect weight gain by altering brain activity. As previously mentioned, areas of the brain in charge of judgement and decision making do not function well without sleep. You therefore might make certain dietary choices that you otherwise wouldn’t. Studies also found increased activation of the amygdala, a region that deals with emotion processing, when sleep deprived. This can make certain foods seem more desirable while also triggering survival mechanisms that cause you to think you need to urgently consume high-calorie foods.


While exercising and eating properly are essential for healthy weight regulation, sleep clearly plays an important role as well. If weight loss is one of your goals, consider how sleep might help you achieve it!



Tips to Improve Your Rest


Create an Optimal Sleep Environment

The room should be dark and cool with little to no noise. Don’t do other activities, like working or studying, in bed. You need a designated space for sleeping only.



Go to Bed and Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day

Consistency is KEY for quality sleep. You should be going to bed and waking up at the same time every day- including days off and weekends! If we get enough good sleep every night, there will be no need to oversleep on certain days.



Establish a Wind-Down Routine

Create a relaxing, pre-bedtime routine and do it nightly. Taking a bath, reading, journaling, or meditating are all great, screen-free options that support transitioning into a sleepier state.



Avoid Electronics Before Bedtime

The blue light from the television, computer screens, and phone screens can disrupt your circadian rhythms. These are your body’s internal clocks that regulate the many cycles that keep you functioning, including your sleep-wake cycle. Blue light impairs the release of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. When melatonin isn’t released, the circadian rhythm is thrown off and sleep is disrupted.



Avoid Caffeine After Lunch

If you do need some energy after lunch, be sure to at least avoid caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime. For more information about the effects of caffeine, check out this “Nutrition Tip Tuesday” Post!



Avoid Heavy, Spicy, and/or Sugary Foods Before Bedtime

These foods are harder to digest. Consuming them close to bedtime might make it more difficult to fall and/or stay asleep.



Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime

Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can interfere with your normal sleep habits, cause you to wake up more frequently while sleeping, and trigger vivid dreams or nightmares. This can all reduce the quality of your sleep.



Regulate Napping

Try not to nap for more than 1 hour at a time. Avoid taking any naps past 3:00pm.



Don’t Stay in Bed If You Can’t Sleep

If you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying, your body just isn’t ready yet. Get out of bed and do a quiet, relaxing activity somewhere else. Return to bed once you feel sleepy.



Exercise Consistently

Regular exercise improves sleep quality by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It can also alleviate feelings of sleepiness throughout the day, thereby reducing the need for excessive naps and/or caffeine. However, the timing of your exercising is important. Some individuals have trouble falling asleep if they exercise too close to bedtime. Others don’t get enough sleep when they try to incorporate early-morning gym sessions. The “right” time to exercise is the time that doesn’t interfere with your specific sleep schedule, so find what works for you and stick with it! Check out CrossFit LPF’s class times here.



Final Thoughts on Sleep


High-quality sleep is an absolutely vital component of leading a healthy lifestyle, especially for athletes. Exercise challenges your body and sleep is one of the many ways we can prepare it to rise to battle once again. Be sure to get your 7-9 hours every night and follow the included tips to make it as beneficial as possible. We hope to see you, very well-rested and recovered, soon!