This Is The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Optimize Your Workout

Most people working on personal fitness goals know diet is an important partner to exercise, but did you know that sleep also plays a critical role? If you're working hard at the gym but skimping on shuteye, you're likely shorting yourself on potential results. From your metabolism to food cravings, depriving your body of sleep can impede progress and blunt your fitness program.

Read on to see the ways sleep supports exercise, and how to get the most out of rest to achieve your fitness goals.

1. Sleep gives you energy.

In one study from Northwestern University, researchers explored the relationship between sleep and exercise, finding that the longer it takes to fall asleep and the shorter total sleep duration affects the next day's exercise performance. Another study of Stanford University basketball players found that increasing sleep improved players' speed, accuracy and perceived feelings of well-being.

These results make perfect sense: if you're tired and fatigued, you'll likely have less energy and motivation to push through a workout.

2. Sleep affects metabolic hormones.

The body's complex network of hormones takes many cues from different biological systems, with sleep playing a significant role. Erratic schedules and sleep deprivation can have negative metabolic effects, inversely affecting how sleep influences bodily functions and maintaining a healthy weight.

Not getting enough rest reduces insulin sensitivity, increases risk of weight gain and diabetes. Growth hormone levels drop, making your body less efficient at muscle repair and strengthening. The body's hunger hormones levels change, making you more ravenous. Cortisol levels also rise, affecting blood sugar, bone and muscle, healing, metabolism and more.

3. Sleep helps your muscles.

One of the key roles of rest is to restore tissues at the cellular level and heal damage. Growth hormone release peaks during sleep, as does muscle and tissue repair. A study by New Zealand researchers also found impairments to muscle recovery and glycogen repletion in athletes after sleep deprivation, contributing to reduced performance and energy.

Processes that take place during rest are very important for building muscle and recovery after intense workouts. Cutting slumber could set back your gains from today and affect your performance tomorrow.

4. Sleep makes it easier to eat healthy.

A rested brain is more capable of consciously avoiding diet-busting foods as tired brains are more likely to prefer foods high in carbohydrates, salt and sugar (aka junk foods) over healthy options due to impaired decision-making. A Mayo Clinic study also found that sleep deprived people ate many more calories than when well-rested.

Also, the more you sleep, the less time you have to consume extra late-night calories, keeping your fitness plan on track.

5. Sleep and fitness work hand-in-hand.

The relationship between sleep and fitness is not just a one-way street. Studies have shown that getting consistent exercise over time actually helps improve sleep efficiency and sleep duration for young and old people alike.

Hand in hand, these two facets of a healthy lifestyle work together to support mental and physical health. Sleep provides the energy, motivation and recovery needed for fitness routines, while exercise supports restorative slow-wave sleep and reduces insomnia symptoms.

So, how do you boost your sleep habits to maximize results?

  • Set a bedtime and wake time you can stick to every day within one hour, even on weekends.
  • Relocate your TV, computer, tablet and smartphone outside of the bedroom. Keep your room dark. Try calming music, nature/tonal sounds, audiobooks or meditation if you need help drifting off.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable. Temperatures in the 60s are considered ideal for sleep. Make sure linens are breathable and your mattress is supportive and comfortable.
  • Watch your evening caffeine intake. Workout boosters and supplements can be sneaky stimulant sources as well, so read labels.

Whether you're training for a 5k or trying to shed a few pounds, look at sleep as another component to your fitness program. Healthy sleep also offers benefits extending well beyond the gym, like improved immunity, a healthy brain and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and more. With so much to offer, there's no excuse not to get to bed!

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