Daylight savings time is coming up soon and for me, the extra hour of sleep is definitely welcomed! As an outdoor runner, shorter colder days also mean a change in my exercise routine. I love running on my favorite trail in the crisp morning air and getting a close view of the changing leaves. Incidentally, I find myself adjusting my workouts to align with the season. Instead of continuing the steady but somewhat leisurely pace summer afforded, I switch to shorter more intense workouts during Autumn. Sprints, hill repeats, and intervals are my focus. The biggest change, however, is that I allow for more sleep. For myself and others with structured workouts, seasonal changes, and increased opportunity for a better sleep routine can serve a purpose in training. Here’s how:
Better Sleep & Improved Productivity
Most people are chronically sleep-deprived and can benefit from a better sleep routine. While we’re typically able to function with a less than full tank, our productivity suffers. This also applies to fitness. Sleep deprivation affects your body’s ability to store glycogen (energy). The result can be sluggish workouts or a less than optimal performance. Athletes who had too little sleep report reaching a point of exhaustion 11% earlier than those who were well-rested. Lack of sleep can also affect decision-making time. Quick reflexes and accuracy are key components of athletic performance. A 2001 Stanford University study involving 11 basketball players demonstrated this. The athletes increased their nightly sleep time to a minimum of 10 hours in bed. The results were faster sprint times and improved shooting accuracy amongst participants. They also reported an improvement in overall physical and emotional wellbeing during the study.
Better Sleep & Hormone Stabilization
Studies show that chronic, partial sleep loss has an impact on even young adults ability to perform basic metabolic functions such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretions. The amount of sleep you get has a tremendous effect on the levels of several hormones in your body. Growth hormones are secreted by your pituitary gland in larger amounts during sleeping versus waking hours. These hormones stimulate cell regeneration, reproduction, and growth. High levels of growth hormones mean a more efficient metabolism and better muscle development. Lack of sleep raises cortisol levels in the blood. Known as the ‘stress hormone’ it modulates many of the changes that occur in the body. When sleep patterns are interrupted, the body’s response is to go into fight or flight mode. Too much of this ‘good thing’ circulating in the bloodstream can lead to health problems. Cortisol also breaks protein down into glucose in the body. Extra glucose is stored as fat which is not nearly as efficient as muscle and therefore negatively affects your fitness level.
Researchers also noted that metabolic and endocrine changes stemming from a significant sleep debt mimic many of the hallmarks of aging. Diabetes, memory loss, and hypertension happen at younger ages when sleep is neglected.
Exercising creates small tears in the muscle. This is to be expected, however, but taking shortcuts on shut-eye can interrupt the repairing process crucial to building healthy muscles. Athletes need not only extra calories to support their efforts, but they need more rest to recover from the stress of training. Experts suggest a better sleep routine with at least an extra hour of sleep. If this can’t be managed at bedtime, a nap during the day is another option. This will also help with injury prevention.
Missing sleep can actually be painful. The sleep routine of 32 women was examined for seven days. Women who were disturbed throughout the night reported a significant loss of pain inhibition and an increase in spontaneous pain.
Taking a seasonal approach to fitness allows the body to experience different training cycles. Whether you are a competitive athlete or a weekend warrior, there is something to be said for taking cues from mother nature when it comes to your level of activity. Our bodies need rest and the fall and winter seasons provide the perfect backdrop.