In America, we seem to forget that regular exercise does more good than to just burn fat and make our buns look good on the beach. A healthy exercise program also reduces stress, rejuvenates our physical self and strengthens coordinated communication between mind and body.
I teach all of my clients and athletes that the most important element of training is recovery. In that area, the proper amount of sleep at night is vital for the brain to properly reset and our physical body to replenish itself. Shallow sleep, from a training perspective, puts us at risk for disease, muscle loss, weight gain and states of ongoing chronic stress. Diving into the shallow end of the sleep pool also ages us prematurely and slows us down on a cellular level.
Slow-wave sleep is a term for the deepest level we can attain, says the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. As a trainer or exercise enthusiast, it’s important to strive for and understand the benefits of slow-wave sleep. The primary function of reaching this deep state for the proper amount of time is to allow the brain to recover from all of its daily activities.
No brain recovery means poor body connection and poor training results. Not achieving adequate slow-wave sleep exposure increases catabolic hormones like cortisol, that we break down, and decreases the major anabolic factors like testosterone, IGF-1 and growth hormone (the ones that build and repair).
Lack of slow-wave sleep negatively affects your ability to recover, build muscle, adapt, maintain mental sharpness and stay healthy while training. Our diminishing ability to maintain slow-wave sleep as we age only compounds the problem.
Gradually tone down your activity levels heading into your pre-set bedtime. Turn off lights and the television as it gets closer. Stop reading, texting, emailing or working on problems right before bed so the mental activity doesn’t continue to manifest while sleeping.
Trade the unhealthy activities right before bed for a short meditation. This will create a gap between daily stress and healthy sleep.
Remember the last time you went camping? The sun goes down and within an hour sleepiness starts to set in — even at 8 p.m. This is our natural Circadian Rhythm expressing itself when not influenced by artificial light. The reason you feel alert at night is that artificial light and a high level of activity are keeping you from producing the chemicals that make you tired. Switch over to candlelight before bed rather than just clicking off a light before trying to sleep.
Always be sleeping between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. without food or alcohol in your system to divert valuable energy. According to Ayurvedic expert John Douillard in his book Body, Mind and Sport, these are the hours the body turns on our internal cleansing cycle. This means the body is going to work detoxifying and rejuvenating tissues.
Sometimes we get much stronger by doing less and better results often come from working smarter — not just making workouts harder.
Matt Hoskins is the head trainer and founder of the Boulder-based Cheetahfit Training and Massage Center.