5 Tips to Improve Sleep and Optimize Body Composition

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We are being constantly reminded how crucial diet and training are to fitness goals. True, eating healthily and training with intensity are two massively important variables – but without sufficient sleep, your physique, performance and mental capacity will suffer.

Here is more on why we need rest, and what you can do to improve yours.

Maximizing Sleep, Recovery and Muscle Growth

If you are looking to build muscle and get stronger then you simply have to get a good night’s sleep. Growth hormone, one of the crucial compounds for gaining size, is largely produced when sleeping.

The Universite Libre de Bruxelles concluded that a period of deep sleep can as much as triple your typical daily levels of growth hormone. This is pivotal, not only to the uptake of amino acids for tissue repair and muscle growth, but for the use of body fat as fuel.

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Testosterone, the daddy of all anabolic hormones, is blunted by a lack of sleep. Research conducted by the University of Chicago showed that reducing your 8 hours over the course of a week can slash T-levels by over 10%.

The output of growth hormone and testosterone are also affected by the level of sleep within a circadian rhythm – your body’s self-regulatory “clock.” This is a daily cycle and revolves mainly around light and darkness in a given environment. In a broad sense, try and match yours with nature – sleep when it’s dark, rise when it’s light.

Dim the lights: your circadian rhythm is largely intended to be cycled alongside the natural change of night and day. Extra light saturation during night-time hours can only wreak havoc with your sleep pattern. At least an hour before bed, switch off lights and electronic devices [mobile phones, TVs, computers, tablets]. If you find your rest periods are inhibited by shift work, then you can purchase blackout blinds and dimmed alarm clocks to assist you.

Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain

Low body-fat is also key to an all-round physique. Numerous studies have come to associate a lack of sleep with fat accumulation, such as the research conducted by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, Japan.

Participants were divided between those sleeping under 6 hours and those sleeping over 7 hours. On average, subjects sleeping for fewer than 6 hours a night had a larger waist circumference and subcutaneous fat mass [visible fat found beneath the skin] than the opposing group. Those who slept for more than 7 hours a night averaged less subcutaneous fat and a smaller waist.

Changes in hormonal function brought about by insufficient snoozing also impacts fat loss. Levels of leptin, your body’s satiety hormone, will decrease. Ghrelin, which regulates and boosts appetite on the other hand, will be raised significantly, which is likely to result in overeating. Couple this with a craving for high-sugar, high-salt foods and you only have a recipe for further weight gain.

Ditch the dodgy diet: highly processed foods with a lot of additives may contain certain chemicals that can disrupt sleep. You would be far better off opting for foods that are high in minerals like zinc, magnesium and tryptophan [nuts, avocados, leafy greens, whole yoghurt, oily fish and turkey]. You can take a ZMA supplement to cover the same ground, but ensuring these foods are present is always a good thing.

Insomnia

Changes in hormonal function brought about by lack of sleep impacts fat loss. Couple this with a craving for high-sugar, high-salt foods and you only have a recipe for further weight gain.

Boosting Brain Function Through Proper Sleep

Poor sleep impacts more than just your physique. Severely-impaired shut-eye has the effect of creating a kind of ‘neural sleep’ that plays back on you when awake, restricting the capacity to process thoughts and problems adequately.

The Belgian-based scientists that produced our growth hormone findings also observed that similar instances of ‘neural sleep’ had been seen in the clinically-depressed, so both your mood and cognition will be protected by a good kip. Lancaster University, UK, conducted a study on the effect of impaired sleep on problem solving and critical thinking. Performance in difficult tasks was aided after a period of sleep – vital not only for training exploits, but in your professional lives too.

Settle down stress-less: modern life can hack away at your well-being. Whether your issues are injuries, work problems or arguments with the missus, try and eliminate these, especially close to bedtime. Stress is a massive factor in reducing the quality of sleep.

Relax by going for a short walk while listening to mellow music [Ben Howard’s a decent bet], stretching and foam-rolling. You don’t want those DOMS keeping you up, and researchers from the Memorial University of Newfoundland discovered that myofascial release [the scientific term for foam rolling] can alleviate muscle soreness.

Bonus Sleep Tips

Cut down on caffeine: caffeine is a proven and worthy training aid, but if your sleep is suffering and you know you are dependent on the drug, perhaps it’s time to cut it out for a short while. Too much caffeine can fatigue the adrenal glands and damage sleep quality. When you do reintroduce caffeine at a safe level you will then be able to enjoy its stimulatory benefits.

See a specialist: if you are suffering from chronic insomnia then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be resolved, be it medical or psychological. Consult your physician and psychiatrist.

Editor’s note: Research shows that caffeine taken 6 hours before bed can hinder sleep. If you’re using a pre-workout such as MTS Clash, make sure to time your intake and workouts properly. It may be best to hit the gym earlier in the day, even if it’s only by an hour.

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Name: Alex Roberts

Bio: Former fat boy turned fitness buff, contributes regularly to The Locker Room sports nutrition blog and has written for Men’s Health UK.