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Importance of sleep for weight control and muscle recovery

By Nick Cameron

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So you've scoured the internet forums for the best training routine, you've got your diet en pointe and supplement program down to a tee. But sadly friends, none of this will compensate for insufficient rest, and crucially sleep.

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Achieving a good nights sleep is essential to both our activities and to our health. As fitness enthusiasts, we're all glad to hear that during sleep the body produces a spike in our most precious and influential muscle building chemical; growth hormone. Therefore, generally speaking, the more frequently you get your 'ideal sleep time' (which we'll come on to), the faster your muscles will heal and recover from exercise.

So as mentioned, the release of optimal levels of growth hormone is pretty critical for our physical and mental development; the chemical itself rises during deep sleep, around 30-45 minutes after falling asleep, whilst an equally important process also happens during this time; protein synthesis (provided protein is consumed prior to sleep). Energy consumption reduction and brain cell restoration are two other aspects which we benefit from, with a good nights sleep. How long should you sleep for? Well, that's for you to decide! Research says that teenagers benefit from 10 hours, whilst mature adults can function optimally on as little as 6 hours. But as I've said before, like many things in fitness, a little bit of trial and error will help you find what works for you. Just be wary about the very true reality of a "sleep debt" - which is much like being overdrawn at the bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid. Again, research tells us that we simply don't adapt to getting less sleep than we need - while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired.

When you go mean on your rest time and neglect your Zzzz's not only will the following day's training session be hurt by your lack of sleep, but you also hamper a number of processes in your body that only occur during periods of deep sleep. You are likely to become buddy's with our muscle building enemy cortisol; a hormone that breaks down muscle and is present in higher levels when you are mentally stressed.

So what happens when we don't get enough sleep?

Cortisol elevation - One of the first major problems that is associated with a lack of sleep is an increased daytime cortisol level. As you may have already known, cortisol is a hormone that is released within the body that works to break down body tissues. In times of stress, you will find cortisol levels very high since the body is getting ready for the fight or flight response mechanism.

Impaired glucose control - ongoing sleep deprivation is responsible for a number of changes to our hormonal release and even metabolism. Often in very fatigued states the body senses this change and perceives a low supply of energy as a result, kick-starting internal drives to eat.

Exercise performance - Finally, you must not overlook the connection between the amount of sleep you get and your overall exercise performance. When you are short on sleep, it's quite typical to find yourself struggling to maintain the usual level of exercise that you normally would tolerate quite well. In addition to this, since sleep is the primary time period when the body recovers from exercise, it's subsequently the time when you will be rebuilding your torn muscle tissues. Without this recovery time, you're going to go into your next exercise session at a massive disadvantage. A car with a full tank of petrol will always drive further than a car with half!

So think smart folks; train hard, eat well, and rest up. Like the old saying goes, great physiques are broken down inside and built outside of the gym!


By Nick Cameron

LA Muscle Personal Trainer

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