Are poor sleep habits or a potential sleep disorder hindering your fitness goals? The sad reality is that nearly two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in the United States has more than doubled over the past four decades. It has become such a problem that Organizations like the American Diabetes Association (ADA), The Obesity Society, and others are mounting increased educational efforts to fight the growing epidemic of obesity in this country. While diet and exercise are crucial to turning this trend around, sleep may be the forgotten factor.
Sleep Deprivation and Fitness
Over 25% of the US population suffers from sleep deprivation, and much of it is self-imposed. We stay up too late, we’re addicted to our smart devices and we drink too much alcohol. As I sit here at 11:00 pm sipping a glass of wine staring at my computer screen, I am fully aware that I can’t throw stones at a glass house. It’s hard!!! I work well at night and the next episode of Stranger Things is staring me in the face.
Let’s say you simply started to put in the extra effort for sleep. You begin going to bed earlier, you improve your sleep environment, and you try to improve your sleep habits. Would it really help as it relates to fitness?
A study at Stanford University monitored players on their varsity basketball team. “Researchers asked the players to increase their sleep time to roughly 10 hours a night, compared with their normal night’s sleep of 6–9 hours. When they slept more, the players had faster sprint times. Their shooting accuracy also improved, with free-throw percentage increasing by 9% and three-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%.” This indicates that athletes who obtain more sleep have a significant competitive advantage over their competitors. So what can you do to be sure you’re obtaining enough sleep?
Set A Workout Schedule and Stick To It: If you have kids, travel for work, or have any other schedule changing scenarios that can pop up out of nowhere, I can feel your skepticism rising. Our family’s solution was to sit down every Sunday and plan out our week together. Our Weekly Power Hour! My wife and I each picked 2 days during the week that were our days to workout. While one was at the gym or a class, the other was home with the kids. It became pretty obvious that the only times that worked for both of us consistently were either before the kids woke up, or after they went to bed. So, a 6 am time shift twice a week became my routine, and I stuck to it. If I missed it, I missed my workout. If I missed my workout, I would feel terrible about it as I knew my next opportunity was 48 hours away. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get yourself into bed when you have something early you don’t want to miss.
Improve Your Sleep Environment: This can be a variety of remedies specific to your current sleep environment. Some of the easiest ones include:
- Your Bed is For Sleep Only: Put down the phone or tablet, make the dog sleep in its bed downstairs, and save your work for your office. The moment you lay down in bed, it should be the start of your sleep (intimacy is obviously the exception). You’ll be shocked at how quickly you fall asleep as you set this routine.
Eliminate Excess Noise: Easier said than done. If you live on a busy street, there are companies that can professionally soundproof your windows to block out unwanted noise. If you have a snoring partner, a standard sound machine may not do the trick. Comfortable headbands with built-in speakers can deliver white noise directly to your ear for a more effective noise cancellation.
- Use a Humidifier or Air Purifier: The changing of seasons can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. For those who suffer from allergies, asthma, or other sensitivities, an air purifier can do wonders for your sleep. As someone who can barely breath through my nose during spring, an air purifier has been a tremendous help. A humidifier is perfect for the dry winter months, or when are suffering from a cold.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea & Fitness
While our choice of staying up late can impede our fitness goals, this is something that is completely within our control. We just choose not to. For some, this choice doesn’t exist. A recent study found that people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) already experience difficulty in getting a good night’s rest, but they may also tend to take in less oxygen during waking activities such as exercise.
Your body uses oxygen to recover during the night. Natural hormones that are “released endogenously by the endocrine system—yes, the muscle-building variety—are stunted when the body is unable to fully recover at night.” Unless the disease is diagnosed and treated, individuals with sleep apnea are operating at a severe disadvantage compared to others with similar fitness goals.
Whether you are a professional athlete, an avid fitness connoisseur, or someone who is just looking to begin a healthier lifestyle…..we’re all looking for that competitive advantage that will help us achieve our goals. Shakes, supplements, personal trainers, it’s all available and sometimes with a hefty price tag. Do not over look the simple importance of a good nights sleep.