Sleep and exercise: a cycle that’s only as vicious as you make it

ImageHow much does the amount of exercise you take impact on the quality of your sleep? And sleep on exercise? More than you’d think . . . Monica Shaw reports:

When Fiona started up this sleep blog it got me thinking about my own relationship with sleep. I’m a little obsessed with the subject, even going so far as to monitor my sleep with my Fitbit (and before that the Sleep Cycle app on my iPhone). Much of this has to do with my interest in physical fitness: I swim and do CrossFit  and I love to walk. All of these activities are infinitely more enjoyable when I’ve had a good night’s sleep (which I suppose goes for most things in life).

The fitness angle is a particularly interesting one because sleep isn’t only a bonus, it’s actually essential if you want to progress in your chosen sport. It’s all about recovery and repair.

  • Sleep triggers the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a role in muscle and cellular regeneration.
  • Sleep can enhance your athletic performance.
  • Sleep reduces your risk of basic illnesses like the common cold, which obviously we want to avoid, whether we’re training for a marathon or trying to write a novel!
  • It also gives you the energy you need to push yourself just a little further and make real gains.

Doing any form of exercise on not enough sleep means being sluggish, doing a half-assed job, not performing as well as you could, and not making any progress. All you’ve really done is worn yourself out even more, which kind of defeats the purpose, and makes a good night’s sleep all the more essential.

I’d say my ratio of good night’s sleep to sub-par night’s sleep is about 5:2 (not to be confused with the other popular 5:2 ratio). And those 5 sleeps are a thing of pure bliss. I feel my best self when I’ve had a good sleep. It’s for the same reason that I care so much about physical fitness and eating well. It’s all about feeling awesome, and all of these things that go into it – sleep, exercise, relaxation, nutrition – they are all part of a self-fulfilling cycle. Sleep is as beneficial to exercise as exercise is to sleep. And when you get a good run going of both, it has numerous knock-on effects as you spiral up. Good sleep means more motivation. And good sleep makes everything, especially exercise, more enjoyable.

To that end I wanted to share a few things that have worked for me in my pursuit of better sleep.

I sleep my best when

  • I exercise daily
  • I don’t eat within two hours of going to bed
  • I don’t drink alcohol
  • I don’t have caffeine after noon
  • I eat a dinner that’s mostly protein-based
  • I avoid starchy carbs at dinner
  • I listen to a meditation podcast before bed (I’m a big fan of Headspace)

I’m not without my sleep challenges. Here are a few I’m trying to sort out:

  • I experience night sweats (especially if I’ve consumed any alcohol, but even sometimes when I haven’t – is my duvet too heavy?)
  • I wake up 2-3 times per night to pee! (Can I train myself out of this?)

Any and all suggestions are welcome. What helps you get a good night’s sleep?

Monica Shaw is a food and fitness enthusiast and the author of Smarter, Fitter a blog that’s all about the pursuit of feeling awesome – through real food, an active life and good people to share it with. She’s also written an ebook on dairy, soy and gluten-free smoothies: Smarter Fitter Smoothies.
Monica and Rocky

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One Response to Sleep and exercise: a cycle that’s only as vicious as you make it

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