If you are a motivated person, especially when it comes to exercise then your choice expression from the title is likely quite obvious. I am an early bird by nature and I love being out in the early morning for my training sessions. And for many years (10+) I have always prioritized my workouts over that extra 30-120 minutes of sleep. But recently I listened to an episode from my favourite podcast – Sigma Nutrition Podcast – and it really struck a chord with me…… sometimes we need a reminder to put us back in check with things we know we should be doing.
I know that sleep it important for overall health and athletic performance so I have always tried to prioritize sleep, but often life gets in the way and so I rise and grind at the crack of dawn (or before) to get my workouts in. I have a passion and hunger that almost can’t be satisfied when it comes to training hard, so it is never a question of whether or not I get up to do the workout, it’s just a question of how much less than 9 hours of sleep I get before I rise. I say 9 hours because I know for me that that 9 hours is a golden number, if I can hit that I feel fantastic (relatively speaking) even in the heaviest training periods.
What does the science say? Let’s start with a biggie – “the major metabolic perturbations accompanying sleep deprivation in humans are an increase in insulin resistance and a decrease in glucose tolerance.” (VanHelder T, 1989 Apr). When carbohydrate metabolism is interfered with the negative effects abound for both high end athletes and the general public, some issues that can result are weight gain, decreased energy and lower power output. Oxygen consumption, heart contractility and cardiac output can also be affected by the effect that sleep deprivation has on our thyroid – TSH is increased and if this becomes chronic it is problematic (Mullington MJ, 2009). Furthermore, notes from one study conclude that response to muscle strength, aerobic and anaerobic performance capability were not affected with 30-60 hours of sleep deprivation, but time to exhaustion and rate of perceived exertion were both negatively affected (VanHelder T, 1989 Apr).
One of the next systems in line to get negatively affected would be the immune system. And being sick can further inhibit sleep quality and quantity. It quickly becomes clear that not getting enough sleep can have a snowball effect leading to issues that decrease the quality of our day to day lives. Now, if we circle back to the title of this article we can start to see how anyone with athletic goals needs to prioritize their sleep. For me this has meant actually planning in days where I can get 9-9.5 hours of sleep. By planning it in I mentally accept it ahead of time, so when I wake up at 5:15am on my sleep in days I can silence the devil on my shoulder and go back to sleep.
I am not advocating people sleep in to the point where it affects other aspects of their lives. But I am very much in favour of going to bed early enough that 8-9 hours is realistic and practical. As an elite level, working athlete with a family I can’t always get 9+ hours of sleep, that is the reality. But here are some things that I recommend to help you get enough high quality sleep on a regular basis:
- Change your schedule (and frame of mind perhaps) so that you are actually in bed and ready to fall asleep at a decent time.
- Take a magnesium glycine (aka bisglycinate) supplement 20 minutes before bed in a dose large enough (200-500mg) to calm your neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems
- Keep your cortisol in check by:
- striving to minimize the life stressors that are out of your control
- looking for supplements such as ashwagandha that help regulate cortisol production
- Practice good sleep hygiene:
- make sure your room is as dark as possible
- lower your thermostat to as cool as possible while still feeling comfortable
- avoid caffeine later in the day (subjective)
- avoid watching tv or looking at your computer screen in the 60-90 minutes before bed*
- consider favouring complex carbohydrates (over fat) at dinner time if you have trouble falling asleep
- don’t perform intense exercise in the hours leading up to bed time
- Keep your immune system strong with a very healthy diet and the strategic use of whole food supplements such as medicinal mushrooms
Consistency is the key with any physical pursuit and/or with achieving great health and longevity, and this includes getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis. If you think you aren’t getting enough sleep and/or your quality of sleep may be poor than do your best to make it a priority to fix it! I assure you it will be an eye opener 😉 when you start to feel the benefits of meeting your body’s sleep needs.
In good health,
*If you must use your electronics before bed then it is a good idea to install a program such as f.lux (PC) or Twilight (androids) that will block out the spectrums of light that interfere with your brains ability to produce serotonin.