Sleep is vital for good health–in fact, whether you know it or not, sleep can affect everything from mental health, to training and nutrition. We’re looking at some of the ways that optimising your sleep can help you improve your well-being.
There are many things that could contribute to why you cannot seem to get some good shut-eye–but what’s the link between exercise, nutrition and sleep? Below we’ll take you through some of the ways you can improve your sleep to enhance your training and nutrition.
Factors which could prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep
Stress is one of the biggest causes of lack of sleep. But, it’s important to note that a lack of sleep can also cause stress–so it’s important to find a balance. Stress is one of those life things we simply cannot avoid, but the good news is that there are many tips and tricks to help manage your stress. Stress management can help better your work life, home life and everything else life has in store for you–that way you can work on improving your sleep. Get your Guide to Stress, Mindfulness & Meditation to help you manage stress effectively.
Eat well, sleep well!
Stress is not the only thing keeping us awake at night. there are a number of other factors, like what we eat. The fact is that when you don’t get enough sleep your body tries to find ways to recover all the energy you lost during the times you haven’t been sleeping well. This is a hormonal response.
In a study that looked at healthy people and the effect of sleep deprivation on their levels of leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol, the findings showed how leptin levels were lowered, while spikes in ghrelin and cortisol were identified.
What is Leptin, and why is it important?
Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and causes us to feel full, while cortisol and ghrelin do the opposite. So, essentially, if you don’t sleep well you get really hungry and make poor dietary choices–because your brain activity is also lowered. You’ll not only crave foods that you shouldn't (like crisps and doughnuts), but your portion sizes are more likely to be bigger, and that can derail your healthy diet and fitness efforts.
The relationship between food and sleep
Certain foods can help you with sleep while others could do the opposite. If you're making poor food choices because you are sleep deprived, you're less likely to choose sleep-promoting foods meaning you’ll perpetuate the cycle of sleep deprivation and unhealthy food choices. Let’s have a look at foods are great for sleep and some that make things worse.
1. Pump the breaks on saturated fat
A short, randomised crossover trial of 26 adults found that a diet with a higher percentage of calories from saturated fat has been associated with less short wave sleep (less deep sleep). In addition to numerous other health benefits, decreasing your saturated fat may improve your sleep quality–so try to limit animal and plant-based (e.g. coconut oil) saturated fats.
2. Eat more tryptophan
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps us with improving our nitrogen balance. In babies, it also helps with growth. We find this amino acid in animal proteins such as milk, turkey, chicken and fish. Tryptophan helps to increase serotonin–an important neurotransmitter required for sleep. This might be why a glass of milk before bed helps some people sleep!
3. Get your daily dose of micronutrients
Certain micronutrients can improve sleep quality. Magnesium and zinc are some of these micronutrients. So if you’re struggling to sleep try foods like dark chocolate, avocado, nuts and beans for magnesium; and for zinc, you can try foods like beef, shellfish, and pumpkin seeds. Melatonin supplements can also help.
Kiwis are high in antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanins and carotenoids.
Try specific foods such as:
Kiwi Fruit - Eating two kiwis before bed can improve sleep. Kiwis are high in antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanins and carotenoids. Antioxidants can support neurotransmitter functioning which helps us fall asleep. Kiwi pulp is also high in serotonin.
Oily Fish - Fish consumption is high in omega 3, but the improvements in sleep are due to improvements in vitamin D and heart rate variability.
Chamomile Tea - is frequently used to improve sleep. Although the benefits seem to be small, it wouldn’t hurt to have two cups of chamomile a day to aid you in your sleep.
To some all of these things up; your tiredness can make you head straight for the Red Bull, cake and sweets, but that cycle can have lasting effects on the way that you sleep. So ditch those sugary, fatty treats and rather swap them for a healthy alternative and you’re likely to catch more Zs.
Fitness goals are sleeping goals!
Wait, what? When it comes to our fitness, there’s a lot to consider–aside from simply hitting the gym.
When you’re not getting as much sleep as you should, your body isn’t able to rest, recover and repair itself. Below are some of the ways proper sleep can aid your fitness journey.
Sleep and your metabolism
Your metabolism converts what you eat into energy–but while we sleep this process pauses. When you don’t get enough sleep this chemical process can come to a complete halt–even when you’re wide awake. This is due to your body making alterations to glucose metabolism which can cause weight gain and a dive in your energy levels. You’re in a slump state... This is where your whole system is not operating at an optimal level, then you gain weight and lethargy sets in, not ideal when you’re trying to stay fit.
Fat loss vs. fat gain
This one is a bit of an eye-opener when you think about how important sleep is for good health. Studies show that “the amount of sleep contributes to the maintenance of fat-free body mass at times of decreased energy intake”. When linking sleep, diet, and fat loss a 55% difference was found between people who don’t sleep very well and people who do. When you’re sleeping, your body is managing the fat in your body–indicating that the main cause of obesity could be poor sleeping patterns.
Fat cells and insulin levels
Let’s talk insulin! Insulin is a hormone that absorbs nutrients from food and regulates blood sugar. If your insulin sensitivity is poor then you’ll have trouble digesting foods, turning them into fat and storing them in organs such as the liver. So, when it comes to sleeping or the lack thereof, your insulin sensitivity can become lower.
This means that you might be eating more unhealthy foods because, well, you haven’t been getting much sleep–but due to insulin resistance you’re more likely to gain weight and that’s not helping you achieve your fitness goals.
Buckle up and muscle up
Muscle mass is perceived to decrease when you don’t get sufficient sleep because you’re not giving your body enough time to recover. Surprisingly, muscles don’t grow in the gym–but when we recover, and this recovery also takes place while we sleep. So when you’re not asleep, you’re not recovering. You could be putting in the time and work in the gym and still not seeing results.
Download our guide, Optimising Your Gym Workout, for more helpful tips to reach your fitness goals.
Sleep and injury risk
We’ve spoken a lot about how not sleeping well affects your diet and the way your body operates. Now let’s specifically talk about the gym. How could you possibly make it to the gym after a sleepless night? If you train regularly then you know what a bad night’s sleep can do to your training the next day; you feel tired and downright sluggish.
This could lead to injuries, and when you’re injured you can’t train for long periods of time. In addition to that when you’re fatigued and lifting weights or spinning, ten minutes could feel like thirty. Imagine gasping for air and incapable of lifting your regular weight, or doing the same number of your usual sets, poor gym days can bring loss of motivation and added stress.
A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are needed when you have goals pertaining to weight loss, muscle gain, and overall health. But the third factor is also sleeping and that’s where the link between all these things is because the truth is the more sleep you get the better you will eat and train, and the better you train and eat, the better your sleep will be.
Tips to help you actively improve your sleep
Here are a few simple ways to improve your sleep hygiene for a better night’s rest:
- No phones: your bed must be a no phones area, turn off your phone an hour before you sleep.
- Lights off: Keep the lights off as the darkness will draw you in deeper into sleepiness.
- No day napping: Avoid taking long naps during the day time.
- No afternoon caffeine: Don’t drink coffee or energy drinks in the late afternoon.
- Exercise in the morning: Try not to exercise right before bedtime – this varies from person to person.
- Play some music: Listen to music that relaxes you.
- Clockwork: Try sleeping at the same time every night.
- Take long baths: meditate, or sit down with that book you’ve been thinking about reading.
Try these tips and start to embracing sleep a little more. You can also discover our Health Fit package to help you gain insight into your diet, fitness, stress and sleep.
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