As we’ve talked about before, sleep and exercise work hand-in-hand with each other to improve your health and well-being. This relationship is only strengthened when you increase the amount of activity in your life. If you are an athlete, a marathon runner, or just someone who enjoys working up a bit of sweat every day, you need an even greater amount of sleep than those living a more laid-back lifestyle.
The reason behind this is simple: the more exercise you’re getting throughout the day, the more energy you’re expending, which means you feel more tired earlier on in the evening and experience greater sleep duration. If you’re packing a lot of physical activity into your day, you’re also more likely to feel well-rested the next morning due to experiencing a higher-quality sleep.
Your body’s increased order of sleep is its way of helping you out with your goals, supporting your active lifestyle using one of its most useful tools: a full night of shut-eye. What exactly is sleep’s role in making you a better athlete or runner? Read on:
Sleep restores your body
- When you get a full night of sleep, you experience slow-wave sleep, otherwise known as deep sleep. During deep sleep, which takes place when you’re in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, your body releases growth hormones which can heal the tissues of muscles that have been worn down by your previous day’s exercise. This helps develop your muscles and allows you to bounce back faster the next day.
Sleep improves your performance
- Studies show that, along with boosting their mood and alertness, athletes who increase their amount of sleep each night improve their athletic performance overall. Sleep also assists in the learning of new skills, an essential part of advancing in any physical activity, but especially useful when it comes to training for a competitive sport.
- For those suspicious of the helpfulness of sleep when it comes to athletic performance, you only need to look at the opposite side of things: losing out on a total of even 20 hours of sleep (across a couple of weeks, say) has been shown to have a negative effect on athletic performance.
- It’s not hard to imagine why: sleep deprivation saps us of energy, and without getting deep, quality sleep, you’re losing out on the restorative power of growth hormones. (And we won’t even go into how sleep deprivation also causes a lack of attentiveness, a lack of problem-solving skills, and a higher chance of eating unhealthy foods.)
A tip for your best sleep
Whether it’s reps in the gym or practice out on the field, it’s very important for your sleep hygiene that you don’t exercise at night close to bedtime. As you know, a lot of exercise will get your body temperature up, but your goal around sundown should actually be to lower your temperature.
You should aim for getting your physical activity in during the day, and scheduling it for the morning is ideal. That way you get that lovely burst of energy at the start of your day, and when you soak in sunlight, you’re helping to keep your body’s circadian rhythm aligned with the rhythm of the sun. Who couldn’t use more alertness in the early morning and an easier time heading to bed at night?
- Whenever you’re pushing your body harder, remember that you should make sleep an even higher priority. One of the great things about sleep is that it will always rise to the challenges we place on it—we just have to give it the opportunity!