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Sleep, Health & Fitness

A sunset on Black Sturgeon Lake near Kenora, Ontario.

When it comes to our health and fitness goals, we all understand the value of nutrition and training.

Are there other factors that influence our progress? Absolutely. We’re going to look at sleep specifically and examine why we think you should prioritize the Z’s.

First we all know sleep helps us restore and re-energize, but many times we don’t make adequate rest a priority. You know that feeling when you start your day on too little sleep? You’re weak, bleary eyed, irritable, unproductive and unfocused? What helps you recover? Rest.

So why is that? Hormones—including cortisol, thyroid-stimulating hormones and insulin—reach peak levels during the night. These hormones repair tissues and build muscles. They’re also essential to body functions such as appetite control, mood regulation and sex drive.

Sleep also helps manage the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is your “hunger” hormone, and leptin is your “satiety“ hormone. When you’re sleep deprived, your level of ghrelin goes up, and leptin goes down. So being tired leaves you feeling hungry. Combine this with some of the other side effects of chronic lack of rest, and we have poor decision making and irritability present when we’re feeling hungry—a nutrition nightmare! When you’re worn out, chances are you’ll reach for quick-and-easy foods that might not help you move toward your goals.

Another good reason to focus on sleep: People who feel well-rested are generally happier, more creative and more productive. Studies tell us that REM sleep actually helps people with creativity. So if you’re feeling like you’re out of good ideas, you might need to sleep better to recharge your creativity. Sleep helps us concentrate on all tasks, and it helps you retain information and solve problems more efficiently.

You can also boost your immunity through sleep. You’re simply better equipped to fight off viruses and other sickness when you’re well rested.

From the Mayo Clinic: “During sleep your body releases proteins called cytokines, some of which promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you’re fighting infection or inflammation, or you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may DECREASE the production of these protective proteins. In addition, infection fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.”

Feeling like you’re constantly sick, or under the weather? Take an extra rest day and get more sleep. You’re less likely to get sick or injured when you’re well rested.

Further, a number of studies support the idea that people with insomnia or sleep issues have a lower tolerance for pain. This might be more meaningful for individuals who suffer from chronic pain, but as you evaluate daily activities or the style of training you engage in, it could be relevant for you too.

I look at how I feel when I prepare to tackle a tough workout. If I’m exhausted, I’m less equipped to deal with the appropriate discomfort I need to bear to become fitter and healthier. I just don’t feel as motivated to push. But when I’m rested, I’m able to almost enjoy the burning muscles as a reminder that I’m getting closer to my goals.

Sleep is essential for health and fitness—so what’s your target? It’s not the same for everyone, but a minimum of seven hours and upwards of eight or nine is a great range. To help our clients figure out how much they need, we’ve asked them to start tracking their sleep and looking for patterns. Did a few days of poor workouts and less-than-optimal food decisions follow several nights of very poor or reduced sleep? Did a solid week of eating and training follow a week of increased sleep?

We encourage you to track sleep just like you track food. As you can imagine, countless apps make this very easy, and iOS devices have a built-in sleep-tracking app if you hit the Health button.

Ironically, the best way to get to sleep faster rest more peacefully is to unplug sooner. That means turning off the cell phone, iPad, computer and TV. Just shut it down an hour earlier and see if doing so helps you get the quality rest you need.

In terms of foods and beverages, try cutting out stimulants earlier in the day or reducing the amount of stimulants—caffeine is the big one. Similarly, reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol alters normal sleep-cycle brain patterns and can also create breathing issues such as snoring and sleep apnea. And we all know what happens when we drink a lot of liquid before bed: We have to break our sleep to urinate. ️️

I recommend you develop your own personal routine to unwind before you head to bed sleep, and try to ensure you get the right amount of sleep you need each night. Balance that rest with regular physical activity, and that activity with healthy food. All this will help you create a vibrant, healthy lifestyle that balances rest and relaxation with vim and vigour.

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