Sleep Your Way To Better Fitness

Besides eating whole, real foods and staying active, getting enough quality sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your mind, body, and overall health.

Sleeping Beauty was ahead of her time, understanding the importance of a good night’s sleep for vanity reasons (beauty rest is never underrated) but what she and many others may not know is that sleep also plays a critical role in supporting immune health, hormonal balance, energy levels, weight control, cognitive functioning, metabolic function, mood, and muscle recovery. Not only can exercise and eating the right foods help you sleep better, but adding the right type of natural supplements can help you unwind and develop better sleeping patterns. 

Why Is Sleep Important?

Our ability to power off and reboot plays a role in how refreshed we feel when we wake up and determines whether we are ready to sucker punch a case of the Mondays in the face, or if we are going to be having an “extra large with a shot of espresso” kind of day. 

Sleep gives your body time to repair, rebuild, and reset its hormones, cells, and many biochemical functions, with little to no effort on your part. During sleep our bodies work on producing and regulating important hormones such as melatonin, growth hormone, and testosterone. In fact, a Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina. 

While your body is at rest, it rebuilds new immune cells, repairs DNA, builds muscle, and repairs tissues, and detoxifies. It also establishes a healthy balance of hormones that control appetite and put the brakes on our urge to overeat. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat (56 percent of their weight loss) than those who were sleep deprived, who ended up losing more muscle mass. 

What If I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Besides winning the morning grump award, you might feel the effects of missing out on a quality night's sleep in other areas of your life. Lack of sleep can compromise your immune health and reduce your ability to manage stress. Poor sleep has been linked to everything from weight gain to heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Lack of sleep can decrease levels of our fat-regulating hormone leptin, while increasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. This can result in increased hunger and appetite the following day and be a contributing factor to weight gain.

When we are sleep deprived, cortisol, a key hormone that deals with stress response in the body, can become elevated. If you aren’t taking adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha or valerian root, your body will likely have a more difficult time recovering from life’s everyday stressors, including hard workout sessions, poor diet, and less-than-ideal stress management techniques. Valerian is useful for easing nervous and muscle tension and anxiety, while ashwagandha can enhance physical performance, reduce cortisol, decrease fatigue and play a role in increasing thyroid hormones, which can revitalize a sluggish metabolism.

How Can I Sleep Smarter?

Sleep in the dark! Whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes (regardless if it’s a lamp, phone/tv screen, or sun) your brain and hormonal system think it’s morning. Your body responds to this light by releasing cortisol (both a stress hormone and a fat storage hormone). Decreasing our cortisol levels allows the body to release melatonin and increase levels of growth and repair hormones, two important hormones for recovery and overall health.

Be asleep by 10:30pm. Your body does pretty much all of its physical repair from 10:00 pm until roughly 2:00 am. If you miss this sleep window, you are missing out on the many health and longevity benefits of sleep.

Use your bedroom only for sleep. Cortisol has a half-life of roughly 90 minutes, so even if you are in bed at 10 pm watching tv or social media stalking, by around 11:30 pm there will still be half the amount of cortisol present in your blood stream…so power off!

Supplement Smarter: If you still find yourself restless at night or just feeling un-refreshed after a night’s sleep, then you should think about investing in some quality supplements that support healthy sleep patterns and hormones. Look for a supplement that contains a mixture of minerals, vitamins, and herbs that can help calm the body and regulate hormones. Look for melatonin, an important sleep hormone that doubles as an antioxidant in the body, as well as relaxing herbs such as valerian and ashwagandha and magnesium, which is also referred to as our body’s relaxation mineral.


by Brianna Diorio

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