How Does Sleep Affect Your Health And Fitness?

How Does Sleep Affect Your Health And Fitness?We all know that regular exercise is good for you, but did you know that your body makes its healthy adaptations while you are recovering from physical activity?  After conquering a challenging training session in the gym, your biological systems are immediately active in recovery processes, to enable your body to endure future physical stress.  Put simply, your body works to make sure it is fitter for the next challenge; in scientific terms, we call this the “supercompensation” phenomenon.

To get the most out of your training, you must optimise the supercompensation effect.  Sounds fancy, but the equation is pretty simple: your training should progress gradually over time so that it continues to be challenging as your fitness increases, and these training loads must be balanced with adequate recovery for enhanced fitness and health.  The ultimate form of recovery is sleep.  Here are three little-known factors that may be affecting your sleep and your training outcomes:

  1. Sleep quality is just as important (and maybe more important) than sleep quantity.  It is often claimed that eight hours of sleep is the magical number for optimal health outcomes.  However, the research indicates that it is sleep quality that is more closely related to life satisfaction, and feelings of depression and anger (Pilcher et al. 1997).  Further, having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep can increase your risk of developing diabetes by 57% and 84%, respectively (Diabetes NSW 2010).
  2. Lack of sleep has similar effects on the body to alcohol intoxication.  According to the National Sleep Research Project, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness can affect the body as if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.05%!
  3. Poor sleep not only makes you fatigued, but negatively impacts upon all major systems of the body.  Regular physical activity has been repeatedly shown to have incredible positive effects on all aspects of health.  On the other hand, poor sleep compromises your immune system, your cognitive skills (such as problem-solving, logic, and reasoning), your motor skills and movement efficiency, and your capacity to cope with stress (HelpGuide 2011; Walker et al., 2002).  So if you’re training well, but sleeping poorly, you might be cancelling out the benefits from all that hard work!

There is a lot that we still don’t know about sleep – why we need it, how does it restore body functions, and so forth.  What we do know is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, or if the quality of your sleep is poor, your training, your fitness, and ultimately, your health suffers.

Tell us, readers, what are your tips and tricks for getting a good night’s sleep?