In addition to proper nutrition, hydration and recovery days, sleep can be one of the top factors that can make or break your fitness performance.
In a recent study looking at sleep quality and athletes, researchers noted that people who are in training tend to experience more sleep issues than non-athletes, due to training load and stress. The study also suggests athletes require more sleep than those who don’t work out because they have higher recovery needs.
But knowing that you should sleep and getting that sleep can be two very different things. When dreamtime proves elusive, there tends to be a slew of common sense strategies people use — yet it’s possible that, for some, those allegedly proven tactics are actually making the problem worse. Here are some habits you might be putting in place that are keeping you from getting enough shuteye:
1. TAKING MELATONIN AT THE WRONG TIME
Around sunset, your brain produces melatonin, a hormone designed to start a cascade of sleep-inducing reactions. But if you’re frazzled or anxious, the hormone might not be as abundant as you’d like. Because of that, many people turn to taking a melatonin supplement.
But they often pop it like a sleeping pill right before bed, thinking it’ll take effect immediately, according to W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Melatonin in the body tends to take around 3–4 hours, so if you’re taking it at 9 p.m., you might not sense any effects until about 1 a.m. — by then, you could be so frustrated by insomnia that you’re up watching TV instead, which will lower that melatonin back down.
2. GOING TO BED ONLY WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPY
Schedules become variable especially as seasons change — you stay out later on those bright summer nights, for example — and that can lead to hitting the sack when you’re tired. But too much variability can leave your body unsure about when to actually sleep, according to Mia Finkelston, MD, family practice physician.
“We can handle some changes to our usual routine, but not as much as you might think,” she says. “When you go to bed only when you’re tired, you’re introducing too much unpredictability into your sleep schedule. And that can catch up with you.”
3. COUNTING SHEEP (OR ANYTHING)
Some yoga and meditation breathing techniques rely on counting each inhale and exhale, so it makes sense that you might try to import that to your sleep routine. But Winter says some people find counting to be an anxiety-provoking exercise, instead of the de-stressor it’s meant to be.
“Maybe you get anxious if you hit double digits and you’re not asleep yet,” he says. “Or, you might have fallen asleep around 30 the night before but now you’re nearly at 50 and still counting. Then you might wonder if you’re doing something wrong.”
When that happens, it can sabotage your sleep efforts. Instead of counting, he recommends visualizing a well-known process that’s calming to you. For example, one of his patients “bakes” every night — she envisions getting out the measuring cups, chopping up ingredients, arranging the bowls for flour and sugar — and has found the process so effective, she jokes that nothing ever makes it into her imagined oven.
4. CHECKING THE CLOCK
Although it might seem like it would be a relief to know you have five hours left until you have to get up, looking at the clock is a bad habit, says Finkelston. It can be so counterproductive that she’s even advised some patients to put their alarm clocks in another room or the closet.
“To recognize how much time you have left to sleep, you have to wake up to a certain degree,” she says. “That might be just enough to kick you out of your cycle and cause some insomnia.”
READ MORE > HOW BAD SLEEP SABOTAGES YOUR FITNESS GOALS
BETTER HABITS, BETTER SLEEP
In general, it helps to play around with different strategies to see what works for you, says Winter. If melatonin is your jam and it’s working, that’s great. But if you’ve tried it for week or so and you’re still staring at the ceiling for an hour, then try switching it up instead.
“The last thing you want to do is try to force something to work, because then you’ll be agitated when it doesn’t,” he says. That can increase levels of cortisol — the hormone responsible for your stress response — and you’ll be back where you started.
Instead, try implementing good sleep practices, where consistency is key. Limit screen time before bed, set a regular bedtime and get up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekends, sorry). Winter suggests starting a “wind-down routine” about a half-hour before bed, which can help send a signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.
In Training, Consistency Is the Key to Your Fitness Goals
Consistency is arguably the most important component when working to accomplish goals, in or out of the gym. Without consistency, programs are unorganized, the body has a harder time adapting, and forming habits may be more challenging.
Build and Follow Workout Programming
Whatever your goals may be, they require a consistent level of training for you to reach them. One way to ensure consistency within the scope of your goals is to build a program. Programs make it much easier to stay on track because you won’t have to think about what you’re going to do at the gym today—it’s already written out. Most programs are designed to be followed for a set amount of time, typically about 4 weeks. Depending on the desired goal, the program will have a different focus—hypertrophy, endurance, strength, and so on. Each day is designed with the goal in mind, while ensuring that you are training in a way that minimizes imbalances within the body. If you aren’t following the program consistently, the chance of it working is reduced.
Theoretically, if you have a program and you don’t follow it, the body is not going to be able to adapt to the program because there isn’t an opportunity for progressive overload, which is when the amount of stress on the body is gradually increased over time, leading to increased strength and performance.
Work Toward Adaptations
Biologically, a lot of things happen in the body during exercise. Over time these reactions change the body to become stronger, grow, or run more efficiently. Different factors affect adaptations in everyone, so it’s impossible to predict when these changes will occur. But being consistent with training will increase the likelihood of seeing adaptations sooner.
Different modes of exercise elicit different adaptations. Endurance training will produce different changes than resistance training. While there are far too many adaptations to discuss in this blog, a few examples reported by the CDC include the following:
Improved ability of muscles to use fat as energy Stronger ligaments and tendons Increased VO2 max and lactate threshold Increased number of capillaries in muscles Cardiac muscle hypertrophy Increased force production
Each of these changes is beneficial for different scenarios. The body is either becoming more efficient or stronger, or performance is enhanced. However, these long-term benefits are seen only after consistent training over a period of time.
We are creatures of habit. The more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. We experience this when we learn to walk as babies, when we learn to drive, and when we exercise. It’s normal to feel out of your element when you try something new, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel.
Current research suggests that to make a habit stick it must be performed for 68 consecutive days. The idea of sticking with something brand new for 68 days may feel overwhelming for some people. When taking on a new challenge, focusing on taking it day by day might be a helpful mindset. Yes, we might be aiming to create a lifelong habit; however, thinking about just starting a habit to last for years could seem daunting. Start by doing it for one day, and then two, and then three, and so on.
Once you feel comfortable with one small change, add another small change, and so on. Small changes are more sustainable over the long term and add up to form new habits. There will likely be days that your plan doesn’t work out how it was supposed to, but that doesn’t mean all progress is lost.
Our bodies adapt gradually to exercise. In the end, consistency will help you reach your goals. Without it, you might not have enough structure to allow for growth. Work first on figuring out your goals, determine the best route to achieve them, and get started with one step. If you’re not sure how to get started, the trainers at NIFS can help you set goals and develop programs tailored to those goals.
This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
Sleep Deficiency Hinders Weight Loss, So Try Better Sleep Habits
Do you wake up feeling tired? Well, you’re not alone. One in every three Americans does not get the recommended sleep needed for optimal health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Sleep deficiency is known to cause weight gain, but also contributes to a whole list of more serious health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes, just to name a few.
Why Sleeping Is So Important for Weight Loss
Believe it or not, each and every day the most important thing that you do all day is sleep. Yes, you heard right! Sleep quality and duration are so important that they directly affect everything else you do in life.
“We are nothing but slaves to chemical processes,” says W. Christopher Winter, MD, in an article for Livestrong.
Nearly one third of our lives are spent asleep. During sleep, it is peak time for our bodies to repair muscle and release hormones that control natural processes, including appetite. All this is being done without any conscious energy being consumed.
Consequently, a deficiency in the sleep column affects everything; more specifically, it cuts weight loss and exercise performance by nearly 20%. This spirals into a decrease in hormone production, (which occurs when we sleep), and ultimately affects our daily eating pattern. Popular studies show that weight gain occurs because more calories are consumed on the following day, because of lack of hormone release. Therefore, a continued deficit during the night will only lead to months and years of unnecessary weight gain. On the flip side, if you aren’t already experiencing weight gain, you may just be unable to lose weight at all. So you don’t have weight gain, but no weight loss occurs, either.
Practice Better Sleep Habits
The best advice is to practice better sleep habits, getting optimal rest and avoiding insomnia.
Start with controlling your sleep environment by setting it at the appropriate temperature. Experts suggest trying between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Try eliminating all computers and television sets from your room as well, since any source of light tends to disrupt sleep patterns. Aim for consistency rather than trying to catch up on hours you might have missed the preceding day. Don’t be afraid to take short naps when feeling fatigued. These should be anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes long to help improve alertness, performance, and mood. Lastly, never consume caffeine in the afternoon because it has the ability to stay in your system and interrupt the natural onset of sleep several hours later (See our blog on giving up caffeine).
The final verdict is in. A poor amount of sleep greatly hinders weight loss and sets you up for other health problems. So do yourself a favor: turn out the light, tuck yourself in, and get some much-needed Zzzs.
This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
Out with the Old: Change Your Workout to Improve Wellness
Take yourself back to the 1970s when Arnold Schwarzenegger was preparing for the Mr. Olympia contest. Everybody wanted to try his incredibly intense workouts. It has been rumored that Arnold’s workouts were so intense that at least three different trainers would have to give him separate workouts in order to keep up with him.
Following in the king’s footsteps, anyone who wanted to be a bodybuilder or get into shape undeniably thought that working out six days a week, two times a day, was the way to make this happen. Luckily for us and all of America, workouts have evolved from the old-school mindset to the new school.
Varying Your Workout Old School: Sticking to the same workout for months.
Although this was the go-to, this pattern isn’t always going to work. When you do the same sets and reps for every workout, you miss out on allowing your body to change.
New School: Implementing the SAID principle.
The SAID principle is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. When the body is put under different stress, it starts to adapt. In other words, the body is trying to get better. By providing your body with different types of sets, reps, and loads, you are able to tap into more of your muscle fibers, increase strength, and avoid plateaus.
Targeting Training Old school: Focusing only on the trouble spots.
This type of focus won’t work for the majority of people who are coming to the gym to work out or lose weight. When there is variety in your workouts, there is room for growth and development. Focusing only on the areas that are the weakest isn’t going to help the areas that are already strong continue to get stronger.
New School: Correcting trouble spots while also training strong areas.
Correcting a weakness and building on a strong point at the same time will enable you to improve your body as a whole. A way to correct those problem areas is to figure out exactly why they are causing you problems. The Functional Movement Screen captures fundamental movements, motor control within movement patterns, and competence of basic movements uncomplicated by specific skills. It will determine the greatest areas of movement deficiency, demonstrate asymmetries, and eventually correlate these with an outcome.
Cardio vs. Strength Old School: Focusing only on cardio will increase weight loss.
While it’s important to incorporate cardio into your workout regimen to help build and keep your cardiovascular systems stronger, it is not the only type of exercise that is needed for weight loss. Focusing only on cardio will lessen your chances of building muscle.
New School: Getting a healthy dose of both cardio and strength training will improve overall health.
Much like how a car stays warm after it turns off, the same can be said about your body after you finish a workout. EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) explains how your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories. Resistance training can provide a greater EPOC effect than running at a steady speed.
Out with the Old and in with the New
Training methods will come and go, and at some point the new-school methods will become old school. At NIFS we offer a wide variety of programs, assessments, and education to help turn those old habits into new routines. Stay positive, be willing to accept change, and explore to find what works best for you!
This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.