Time in the gym and a well-balanced diet are your first steps to better overall nutrition.

But, as you’ve probably already discovered, it takes more than exercise and food to build a healthy lifestyle. There’s one aspect of health that is easy to overlook because we do it without even thinking, and that’s sleep. Sleep, the deep restful kind, is indispensable to your health.

It’s easy to forget about because you’re not consciously “working” or making decisions during that time. You have to remember that your body performs vital functions even when you’re not aware of them. Sleep keeps your immune system strong, appetite under control, and stabilizes your moods. It’s also key to muscle building and recovery.

Put the Mind to Rest While the Body Gets to Work

Weightlifting, intense aerobic workouts, or injury can lead to micro-tears in your muscle tissue. These tears aren’t bad. In fact, creating these micro-tears is how you build more muscle mass. However, the actual repair, rebuild, and recovery of muscle damage takes place while you sleep.

Sleep can be broken down into five different stages. You move through all five stages during four to six sleep cycles each night. Stage 3, the first of the deep sleep stages, is when your body starts to release growth hormone (GH), the hormone that triggers muscle building and repair.

When you get a full seven to nine hours of sleep, the recommended amount for adults, GH release peaks during the first cycle of the night. During each subsequent sleep cycle, when you enter stage 3 sleep more GH gets released but in smaller doses.

When you’re sleep deprived, you simply don’t spend enough time in stage 3 sleep for this hormone to do the work it needs to. If you go to bed far later than usual and spend seven hours in bed, your GH levels are still altered and muscle recovery slows down. The timing, quantity, and quality of your sleep plays a “permissive role” in building muscle and getting back to peak performance.

Better Sleep for Faster Recovery

So how do you get better sleep?

One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep is to be consistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body will thank you.

We live in a modern age, and there are a few common practices that could get in the way of sleep; for example, watching television or browsing the Internet before bed. Many electronic devices give off a blue light that’s similar enough to daylight to suppress sleep hormones. Some manufacturers incorporate a low light setting to reduce this problem, but you’re better off turning off the screens two to three hours before bed.

Stimulants are another sleep deterrent that has reached new levels in the modern age. Caffeine temporarily blocks sleep hormones. If you want to avoid the jitters keeping you awake at night, avoid caffeine for the four hours before bed.

Comfort may also cause sleep issues, especially if your health plan includes intense workouts that leave you sore. It’s important to keep your spine aligned while you sleep to prevent aches and pains. A pillow with the right support level for your preferred sleep style or one to keep between your knees while you sleep can help increase your comfort while keeping your spine aligned.

With sleep at the top of your priority list, you’re moving yourself closer towards your health goals. Plus, you’ll be more energized and ready to take on challenges.

 

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