When we think of fitness, we mainly think of exercising and eating well. But sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle and having good quality sleep is paramount to being a happy, healthy individual. We look at the ways you can improve the quality of your sleep and potentially improve your work life and sports performance.
Eliminate noises and distractions
When we sleep, our body produces what is called the Human Growth Hormone (HGH). The secretion of this hormone is vital for many important bodily functions such as building muscle, burning fat, and increasing energy levels. If you have completed a particularly tough workout, it is when you are sleeping and producing this hormone that your body is recovering and getting stronger. However, it is only when we achieve good quality sleep that this hormone is released. If you are constantly being woken up by a snoring partner, crying baby, or other external noises, your body won’t have the chance to secrete this hormone and you will therefore wake up feeling achy, groggy, and moody. Sleep is hugely important for recovery and a broken night’s sleep could ruin your chances of improving in your sports performance and could even affect your work life.
Eliminate noises and distractions by turning off any televisions and music and by sleeping in a silent room. If you have noisy neighbours, make sure you close the windows and doors. If your partner snores, seek out ways to remedy this or, if it is really affecting you, you could ask them to sleep in a different room.
Exercise in the evening
While it may seem logical that exercising in the evening would leave you feeling more awake and make it take longer for you to fall asleep, this is actually a myth. Exercise is proven to improve the quality of sleep as it reduces levels of stress and anxiety, and so by exercising in the evening, you could improve the quality of your sleep. Conversely, if you had an off-day in your training, it could be because you had a bad night’s sleep. One will help the other, and finding a good time to train does come down to personal preference. There is no scientific proof to say that it is better to exercise in the morning or the evening, but if you are not sleeping well, it could be worth a try.
Quit the coffee
Coffee has a half-life of 6 hours, which means that 6 hours after drinking a cup of coffee, you will still have 50% of the effects of the caffeine in your system. So, if you regularly drink tea or coffee in the afternoon at work, you will still be feeling the effects well into the evening and when you are trying to fall asleep. Try cutting out any coffee whatsoever in the afternoon and cut back to just one cup of a coffee a day in the morning.
We often read about living a healthy lifestyle and there are countless 'lifestyle bloggers' making a fortune from advocating this way of life. But what actually is a healthy lifestyle? And how can you live a healthy lifestyle?
Why is having a healthy lifestyle important?
A healthy lifestyle is all about the choices you make regarding your daily habits. Do you slump on the sofa and eat an entire packet of biscuits when you get home from work or do you go for a run and eat a healthy dinner? These daily choices determine whether you're healthy or not, and can affect nearly every aspect of your life. Not only will you feel better mentally, living a healthy lifestyle will lower your risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases meaning you are physically healthier too.
The benefits of living a healthy lifestyle
- Reduced risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases
- Improved mood and brain function
- Improved work performance and concentration
- Better self-confidence and happiness
- Improved appearance due to better quality skin and hair
- Improved relationships
- Reduced frequency of minor illnesses such as common cold
- Improved immune system
How can I change to a healthy lifestyle?
Probably the most obvious thing to address when changing to a healthy lifestyle is improving your diet. For a lot of people, the first thought is to make a complete overhaul and take extreme measures such as doing a detox or following an extreme diet. However, this is not a viable or sustainable way of changing to a healthy lifestyle. Consistency is key, so you need to make your changes for life and make sure you get into daily healthy habits that you can stick with long term. Take control of your diet by learning about macronutrients and how counting them can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Eating a snack or a treat every now and then is also part of living a healthy lifestyle, as a restricted diet is not healthy and not sustainable. Balance is important, so make sure you don't remove entire food groups from your diet.
One way to improve your diet is by going vegan. This can be fairly extreme, so make sure you do your research first, and it certainly isn't suitable for everyone. Find a healthy diet that works best for you and your unique needs and you'll be well on your way to having a healthy lifestyle.
- Eat plenty of protein
- Limit unhealthy foods but still allow a treat from time to time
- Limit processed foods
- Cook from scratch wherever possible
- Do not take extreme measures to lose weight
When changing to a healthier diet, many people tend to neglect what they drink and focus only on what they eat. You could be drinking lots of sugar in your drinks if you enjoy branded soft drinks, and there are even worse health effects associated with drinking large volumes of alcohol. If your lifestyle currently consists of going out drinking with friends every weekend, or drinking regularly as part of your daily routine, this is not healthy. In order to change to a healthy lifestyle, you will need to reduce or even eliminate altogether the amount of alcohol you drink. There are many benefits of giving up alcohol or even just drinking less, such as better skin, reduced risk of cancer, and improved mood. Not to mention no more hangovers!
- Limit sugar drinks
- Limit energy drinks
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption
- Drink more water
Third in the pecking order of living a healthy lifestyle after diet and drinks is sleep. If you have poor quality sleep or do not get enough each night, your health will deteriorate quickly and you will have a poor quality of life. The average healthy adult should aim for an absolute minimum of 6 hours each night, but 8-10 hours is optimum for healthy brain function and performance.
Not only is it important for your daily functions, sleep is important for recovery too. If you do a great workout at the gym or go for a long run or cycle, having a good night's sleep is vital for recovery so that your muscles can grow and your tissue and immune system can stay healthy.
Not getting enough sleep is not the only unhealthy habit you may have; the quality of your sleep is important too. If you sleep with a television or music on, this is not conducive to a good night's sleep and it will mean your hormones are negatively affected. If you are continuously awoken throughout the night by loud noises, a baby crying, or a snoring partner, you will definitely suffer from bad moods and lack of concentration the next day. You can track your sleep using a fitness tracker or wearable to analyse the quality of your sleep and see if you are constantly being disturbed throughout the night. Getting a good 10 hours of high quality sleep every night is key to living a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, you cannot 'catch up on sleep' at the weekend - you have to be consistent!
- Try to get 8-10 hours sleep every night
- Don't try to catch up on sleep at the weekend
- Get into a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time 7 days a week
- Eliminate disruptions to your sleep by not sleeping with television or music on
We spend a lot of our time at work, so your healthy lifestyle needs to translate into the office as well as at home. If you can, try to work out while at work, as working out at work can help prevent health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. If you sit at a desk all day, try to get up and walk around every hour and if you have a manual job where you are on your feet all day, make sure you take rests.
There is lots of advice out there on how to workout at work and it is easier than you think. By following healthy work habits, you will greatly improve your chances of benefiting from a healthy lifestyle.Try to avoid snacking and avoid the temptation of all the unhealthy food in your workplace! Bring a homemade lunch with you each day so that you can control your portions and know exactly what you're eating.
- Get up and stay active while at work
- Avoid temptation by bringing your own food to work
External factors (family, friends, stress)
After all is said and done, there will always be external factors that you cannot control and which can undo all your hard work. If your home life is hectic and stressful, there is not much chance that you will be able to live a fully healthy lifestyle. Try to address the things that are causing you to have bad habits, such as grabbing a ready meal because you don't have time to make a healthy dinner or not getting enough sleep because of stress.
There are ways to manage depression which don't involve going to see a therapist, such as meditating, doing vigorous exercise, and finding a new hobby. All of these are very important for living a healthy lifestyle, and can make a huge difference to your well being. You can manage stress with exercise by going for a long run to clear your head or taking your frustrations out at the gym.
Fitness tracking started with written logs and spreadsheets in the 1980s but has now evolved into an industry that’s set to be worth $19 billion by 2018. Smart watches can track your steps, sleep, heart rate, and more, and we're becoming more reliant on them than ever. But are we becoming addicted to their feedback? And is that necessarily a bad thing?
Benefits Of Using An Activity Tracker
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Fitness trackers help you to put a plan into place. They give your walk meaning and they help to create a routine which adjusts to fit your daily activity. Fitness trackers give you a fantastic insight into where your fitness is at and where it should be going. They can also provide motivation; if you're 2,000 steps away from your goal, you're more likely to go for a walk around the block to make up the steps.
Fitness trackers give your workout accountability. Every activity will be there for you to view via the app and some trackers even share directly with your social media, so everyone knows what you’ve been getting up to. Fitness trackers also mean you can’t cheat yourself and will give you in black and white exactly what results you got from your last training session.
The leading benefit of tracking your steps, distance, sleep, calories and heart rate amongst other measures is to keep you motivated to do more. Whether it’s to earn a Fitbit gold star or score higher than your friends on Nike Plus, fitness trackers enable that extra incentive that gets you moving more, eating healthier, and going to bed earlier. Putting numerative data on your movement means you’re able to see progress and adjust your activities accordingly.
Those with a competitive streak love a fitness tracker because even if they’re not competing against their friends, they can compete against themselves. Quantifying your fitness makes it easy to monitor progress and up your game when needed. The better you are, the more bragging rights you earn and you’ll have the data to back up your brag.
Activity Trackers In Numbers
- Fitbit users walk 43% more than non-Fitbit users.
- 13.5 million health and fitness trackers (HFTs) were sold in 2014 and the numbers are shooting up every year.
- Currently, around one in seven (14%) Brits own any wearable technology.
- Fitbit (the largest wearable company) has 9.5 million active users.
- Employees equipped with wearable technology reported an 8.5% increase in productivity and a 3.5% increase in job satisfaction.
- Most people who use wearable tech are young; 48% are between 18 and 34.
- Growth in the wearables market is expected to increase 35% by 2019.
Are We Addicted?
The problem with fitness trackers comes with the obsession over numbers which aren’t necessarily 100% accurate, which can then rather ironically lead to some unhealthy habits. Is it good for your mental health to be obsessing over calories and steps every waking hour?It's possible that obsessing over fitness statistics can lead to overtraining, and it's always more important to listen to your body than your tracker. Having it as a support system is great, but never forget that it's all just for fun and is nothing to lose sleep over.
We all know that getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night is important for being healthy, but why? And how does it affect our training?
How important is sleep to building muscle?
Not only does your body go through different stages of recovery as you sleep, how your body rested affects how you perform and eat the next day.
Research by the Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that having less than seven hours of sleep per night can reduce and undo the benefits of dieting in order to lose weight in combination with an exercise regime. In the study, participants were put on different sleep schedules. When their sleep was cut back the amount of fat lost was cut in half, they felt significantly hungrier, were less satisfied after meals and lacked the energy to complete their exercise regime. Overall, their fat loss was reduced by 55% after inadequate rest.
Another study on sleep monitored Stanford University players for the varsity basketball team. Researchers asked the players to increase their sleep time to roughly 10 hours per night, whereas they were used to sleeping for 6-9 hours. After they had slept more, the players had faster sprint times, their shooting accuracy improved, their free-throw percentage increased by 9% and three-point-field-goal percentage by 9.2%.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that poor sleep can increase the levels of our stress hormone cortisol. This increase in cortisol will impact the body's ability to repair damaged muscle tissue, increase weight gain and elevate blood pressure.
Sleep deprivation has also been seen to decrease production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. In short, less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy, and poor focus at game time. It may also slow recovery post-game.
A recent study found that going for 18–20 hours without sleep had the same negative impact on performance as a blood alcohol level of 0.1 (0.08 is considered legally drunk in the US).
What is recovery in training?
Whilst we are sleeping our bodies release hormones which are essential for fitness recovery. The series of events that occurs once we shut our eyes is divided into 4 distinct categories.
Sleep Stage 1:
The first stage of sleep is characterised by drowsiness, slowing brain activity and shutting your eyes. This stage of sleep is the most easily disrupted. When it comes to muscles, at this stage they are still quite active and the eyes will roll around, often opening and closing. At this stage breathing becomes more regular and heart rate begins to slow, sudden jerks are common in this phase as sleeping takes over waking.
Sleep Stage 2:
Stage two typically constitutes 45-50% of sleep for adults. During this stage muscle activity decreases along with the consciousness of the outside world.
Sleep Stage 3:
Stage 3 sleep is the deepest stage of sleep your body enters. Your brain is resting with very little activity, so the blood supply available to your muscles increases, delivering extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients which facilitate their healing and growth. Your pituitary gland also releases a shot of growth hormone which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Muscles and tissues are rejuvenated and new cells are regenerated during this phase of sleep.
REM sleep is the phase of sleep which is characterised by rapid eye movements. This phase of sleep is where the brain is most awake, but the rest of the body becomes almost paralysed. This is thought to be a built in measure to protect us from hurting ourselves during vivid dreams, as this is the phase of sleep where most dreams and or nightmares take place.
Our sleeping pattern isn’t chronological and we may go through these cycles multiple times, however when it comes to recovery, we can see that stage 3 is our most valuable sleep stage.
How many hours of sleep does an athlete need?
Most people need about 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but when you’re training this can be significantly more. Just as athletes in training typically need to consume more calories, athletes in training typically need an extra hour of sleep, if not more.
What happens to recovery if we don't get enough sleep:
- Chronic sleep loss can result in a 30 - 40% reduction in metabolism.
- Sleep loss causes an 11% reduction in time to exhaustion.
- 2 days of sleep restriction can lead to 3 times the increases in lapses of attention and slowed reactions.
- 1 rep max bench press is reduced by 20 lbs after 4 days of disturbed sleep.
* According to research conducted by Zeo sleep manager.
Roger Federer (Tennis)
Lindsey Vonn (Ski)
Usian Bolt (Sprinter)
8 - 10 Hours
Sarah Hughes (Skater)
Lebron James (Basketball)
Venus Williams (Tennis)
8 - 9 Hours
Tiger Woods (Golf)
4 - 5 Hours
Rafael Nadal (Tennis)
8 - 9 Hours
Maria Sharapova (Tennis)
8 - 10 Hours
Michelle Wie (Golf)
10 - 12 Hours
Steve Nash (Basketball)
These athletes clearly recognise the benefits of a good night's sleep on their performance, with Tiger Woods being our very own anomaly.
What are the effects of lack of sleep?
Not only will lack of sleep put your recovery under threat, it can have considerable effects on your health. Research has found:
- Going to bed too late doubles the risk of breast cancer.
- The risk of heart disease is increased by 100% if you get less than 7 hours sleep per night.
- If you are sleep deprived you are 20% more likely to die in the next 20 years.
How can I improve my recovery with sleep?
- Increase your magnesium intake. Magnesium, found in foods such as halibut, cereal, mixed nuts, soybeans and spinach will help to improve poor sleep.
- Eat a diet which combats inflammation. Eating a diet rich in colours will help to combat inflammation, which can lead to a restless night's sleep. Turmeric spice is a great aid for this.
- Take naps. If you struggle to sleep at night, napping throughout the day could be the answer to aid your recovery.
- Cut out stimulants at least 5 hours before you try to sleep. Caffeine can keep you awake at night or give you a restless night's sleep. Caffeine is a known central nervous system stimulant that takes 45 minutes to be completely absorbed by the body, and it takes approximately three to four hours to be completely eliminated and in some people, this could be even longer. Even if you're one of those types of people who can drink coffee and go right to sleep, it may still interfere with the quality of your sleep.
- If you still struggle to sleep after a tough training session, get checked with your GP for sleep apnea.