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When it comes to our diet and exercise programs, quality sleep is paramount, an essential component for any level of physical activity.
Whenever most of us think of improving our lives to accommodate our ever-busy schedule of activities, we tend to think of diet and exercise. After all, we need energy and we need to be at an optimal weight to perform well.
But few include sleep as an equal contributor in this effort; in fact sleep is often sacrificed to get more done—a very counterproductive strategy! Research clearly indicates that insufficient sleep can thwart recovery from exercise as many of the benefits of exercise are realized during deep sleep. Poor sleep also prevents skills from improving after lessons or practice, and even lead to weight gain by disrupting our basic metabolism. Inadequate sleep can derail even the best efforts at losing weight.
Let’s see how insufficient sleep might affect your goals:
Sleeping less than seven hours per night can disrupt your body’s ability to properly regulate appetite and caloric intake. The hormones responsible for hunger and the feeling of “being full” after a meal are thrown out of sync, resulting in overeating. The tired brain compensates by consuming too many empty calories—usually starchy, sugary foods.
Whether you’re a golf or tennis enthusiast, a child learning to ride a bike or play baseball or soccer, a marathoner, or a student studying—much of a good night’s sleep is dedicated to honing the skills and knowledge you acquired that day. The capacity to learn something new, retain it and then use it effectively and creatively requires high quality sleep throughout the process. A tired brain can’t readily absorb new knowledge or skills, nor can it be creative and form new insights.
Several elaborate studies establish that repetitive motor skills involving sequences of muscle movements (think golf swing) improve without additional practice during sleep! Poor sleep impairs skill development. So hours at the driving range today are all for naught if not properly “sealed” with a solid night of sleep—tonight.
Whether it’s keeping up with the kids, your boss, or your employees, sleep directly affects your energy levels. Even mild sleep deprivation alters our body’s metabolic function—including how we store energy after a meal and then retrieve energy during physical activity. Poor sleep may hasten the time you “hit the wall” or reduce the time to a point of exhaustion, especially in longer physical and emotional activities. When tired, we also tend to cut back on our levels of exertion due to a lack of energy, further hampering progress.
Sleep is crucial after a general workout, or while recovering from an injury. During our deepest sleep about 80% of the day’s allocation of the human growth hormone is released. Human growth hormone is essential for increased muscle mass, bone strength, energy balance and strong immune response. Poor sleep has been shown to disrupt the secretion of the human growth hormone, dramatically altering our physiological response to exercise and daily activities. Ironically, many athletes end up overtraining as a result of a perceived lack of improvement, often resulting in injury.
Poor sleep is a risk factor for depression. When tired, we react more strongly to negative situations and our coping skills are dulled, especially when dealing with stress. Often, a vicious cycle ensues—stress negatively affects the quality of our sleep, and poor sleep leads to an inability to deal with additional stress. We should strive to simultaneously reduce the level of stress in our lives and ensure that we get lots of high quality sleep!
When tired, we tend to experience lapses of attention and slower reaction times. These can lead to an increased risk for automobile or workplace accidents.
Think of a healthy lifestyle as an equilateral triangle consisting of a balanced diet, regular exercise activity and 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. Neglect in any one of those efforts will negatively impact the other two!
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