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Enter Sandman, or The Importance of Sleep on Exercise

Let's face it, most of us are exhausted. Even during a pandemic, we live in a bizarre, backwards world in which those who get less than their daily recommended dose of shut-eye are praised for their tireless work ethic, while those who actually do manage to get a decent amount of sleep each night are often ashamed of that fact. It's as though the quality sleepers view their ability to get a good night's rest as evidence that they are not as important and persevering as the rest of the people out there burning the candle at both ends out of duty to work, home, and community. This strange cult-like obsession with being busy has robbed us of a precious resource that is crucial to our mental and physical health, and this is especially true if you are embarking on a new fitness routine. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but if you are exercising regularly and not getting enough sleep, you are actually undermining all of your hard work and effort.

As stated before in my earlier blog on pain and exercise, the actual process of muscle adaptation that is at the heart of any fitness program does not occur during exercise, but after, while the body is at rest. And a good deal of that muscle repair occurs during sleep, specifically deep sleep, when the body is producing its highest levels of HGH, or human growth hormone. Human growth hormone, as its name implies, is the hormone released by the pituitary gland that stimulates bone growth when we are young and is responsible for regulating our metabolism, blood sugar levels, and weight once we have reached adulthood. This hormone is essential for the cellular repair that creates lean muscle mass and decreases body fat. So, the more sleep you get, the better your body gets at producing growth hormone, and the greater your ability to recover for the next workout becomes. And since growth hormone also helps to reduce the risk of disease by helping the body to maintain healthy sugar and cholesterol levels, getting a good night's sleep is an often-overlooked key to maximizing the health benefits of exercise.

In addition, we all know what it feels like to push through fatigue. It can be seriously tough. So, while a lack of sleep may not physiologically cause your cardiovascular system to work harder, it will make any exercise you do feel much harder, which will cause you to fatigue a lot faster. And if you haven't been producing those optimum hormone levels for repair and recovery, your muscles will feel sore for a longer period of time, which means that your progress will be much slower than it would be if you were getting your shut-eye. In addition, fatigue is often what leads to exercise-related injuries, which can really have a negative impact on your entire fitness program.

So how can you make sure that you're getting a good night's sleep? Well, here's the deal: you have to make sleep a priority, which is something that is hard for many of us to do. But if you've ever tried to power through that hard workout or take that high-energy fitness class after a night of sub-par sleep, then you know how much of a struggle a sleep-deprived sweat session can be. The good news is that if you are serious about your health and fitness goals and want to get better sleep, getting exercise can actually help you do that. Exercise can alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, which have all been shown to negatively impact sleep. In addition, moderate to vigorous levels of exercise done early in the day or afternoon can improve sleep quality by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and several studies have shown that exercise reduces the risk of chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. However, be sure to schedule your workouts carefully, since moderate to vigorous exercise can actually negatively impact sleep if done too close to bedtime, which brings me back to yet another previous blog about the importance of planning. If you want to exercise in the evening, studies suggest, yoga, pilates, or even a late night stroll.

All in all, sleep probably deserves a lot more attention than most of us are giving it, and we all need to make an effort to make sleep a priority, even in an ever-changing world of work-from-home, freelance jobs, virtual learning, and shifting schedules. Your body will thank you, and you'll find it a whole lot easier to stay Always in Motion.

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