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Gym Gains and Sleep: Lift, Sweat, Sleep, Repeat

Gym Gains and Sleep: Lift, Sweat, Sleep, Repeat
20 January 2022 James Brooke

TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counsellor, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, shares his guide to the relationship between sleep and exercise, and why improving quality and quantity of sleep could lead to gym gains.

The start of a new year, week, and even a new day all have the ability to make us rethink our approach to health and wellbeing, with eating healthier and exercising more topping the resolutions lists. And yet one key component of good health tends to be overlooked – sleep.

Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counsellor says: “We all want to be healthier, fitter and look better than ever, and increasing the amount of exercise we enjoy is a huge part of this.

“There really are a myriad of health benefits that come with enjoying different types of exercise. Weightlifting has become hugely popular in recent years and has been shown to improve bone density and muscle definition in all ages; running helps to build strong bones, strengthen muscles and improves cardiovascular fitness; and Pilates helps to strengthen muscles whilst also increasing flexibility.

“However, it is important to look holistically at lifestyle adjustments when embarking on any exercise routine. Repeatedly pushing your body to the limit without a thought to proper diet or rest and recovery for example, may hinder any long term ‘gains’ you were hoping for.

“The relationship between sleep and exercise works both ways; enjoying regular exercise can improve both quality and quantity of your sleep and, conversely, sleep plays a vital role in our body’s ability to recover and repair after a tough workout.

“Being well rested is also key to ensuring the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain involved in rational thought – remains in control, which is crucial if you want to stick to your training schedule.

“In essence, good quality and quantity of sleep is vital to maintain both the physical and mental power to push yourself to the gym.”

Read on for Thomas’ guide to sleep and exercise and learn how sleep could be key to unlocking those all-important gym gains…

Muscle recovery and more

When we exercise, regardless of the exercise type, we’re placing strain on our muscles and as such, experience hypertrophy (small, microscopic tears within the muscle tissue), which leaves us feeling sore after a tough workout. In order to heal, the body essentially stitches up the tears, alleviating any feeling of soreness, whilst strengthening muscles over time.

The success of this healing process is dependent on many components, including sleep. In fact, most tissue growth and repair takes place when you sleep. Protein synthesis – the creation of new proteins that then become muscle tissue – happens during sleep. During non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep the brain is resting, so more blood is available to circulate to the rest of the body, bringing oxygen supplies and nutrients that cells then use to heal.

Naturally occurring growth hormones are also released during non-REM sleep. As our bodies enter this stage of sleep, signals are sent to the pituitary gland – the part of the brain in control of our hormones – to release growth hormones. This then stimulates tissue repair in the ‘torn’ muscles, which is what helps cells to regenerate. Thus, sleep allows our bodies to rest and recuperate, which in turn, facilitates the repair and strengthening of the muscles that we put under stress during our workouts.

A good night’s sleep also helps to boost our immune system and overall energy levels – both of which are key to tackling a tough training programme.

And so it follows, that a lack of sleep will inevitably put us at risk of sustaining injuries to our muscles and causing potential long term damage.

Brain power

When talking about the relationship between exercise and sleep, it’s important to consider the most powerful ‘muscle’ in our body – the brain.

Sleep (or the lack of) has the ability to impact which part of our brain is in control on any given day. So in fact many of our daily decisions are actually pre-determined simply by the quality and quantity of sleep we’ve enjoyed the night before.

The prefrontal cortex plays a central role in cognitive control functions and influences areas including attention and impulse inhibition – crucial if you want to stick to your training schedule. Good quality sleep will boost the strength and functional connectivity in this area of the brain, meaning the more sleep deprived we are, the less in control we are of our rational thought process and decision making.

Most often, the difficult part when planning a gym visit is making the decision to go in the first place. If you have had a long day at the office and you’re faced with the choice of heading to the gym or watching TV on the sofa, the decision will be made based on which part of your brain has more power. If you are well rested and the prefrontal cortex has control, then sticking with your training schedule and heading to the gym – which will offer more long term benefits than sitting on the sofa – will be an easier choice.

Ultimately, enjoying both quality and quantity of sleep on a regular basis, affords us the motivation to make decisions based on our long term goals and plans.

Form first

In sleep as well as in the gym, good form is the golden rule.

On average, we spend a third of our lives asleep, so it’s important to ensure we’re sleeping on a supportive mattress with a quality pillow that keeps our head, neck and spine aligned. Ideally your mattress should adapt to you, keeping your spine straight whilst spreading weight and absorbing pressure to provide relief in any painful areas of your body.

A mattress that is too soft will cause your back or hips to slouch and your spine to fall out of alignment, whilst one that is too firm will put pressure on your joints and may potentially cause discomfort or pain – the last thing you need when you’re training hard in the gym.

Investing in quality sleep products means you are less likely to wake up in the night as a result of pain caused by an uncomfortable sleeping position, instead, enjoying a longer and better-quality night’s sleep which will allow for faster muscle recovery and growth.

There are many different types of mattresses so it’s important to visit a store and discuss your needs with a trained expert, before investing

How to ensure a good night’s sleep

The secret to a good night’s sleep begins – surprisingly – as soon as you wake up. A solid morning routine can help improve productivity by helping you better prioritise your time and anticipate what lies ahead.

A sleep schedule will also make it easier to adopt healthy habits long-term; ideal for when trying to stay fit. Getting up and going to sleep at consistent times each morning and night helps your body fall into a good routine, so aim to wake up at the same time every day and avoid hitting snooze, as this will leave you feeling groggy.

Sleep environment is key to good sleep too. Ideally, your room should be dark, cool and quiet, for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Around 18°C is the ideal bedroom temperature, and cotton bedding and pyjamas (as opposed to synthetic) will allow your skin to breathe and help to keep you comfortable during the night.

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TEMPUR® researches, develops, manufactures and distributes mattresses, pillows and other sleep products to improve the sleep experience worldwide.

TEMPUR® Material is the original pressure relieving mattress product made up of viscoelastic – billions of ultra-sensitive open cells that exist between a solid and a liquid state – TEMPUR® products provide the ultimate comfort and support, helping you to get a great night’s sleep night after night.

Born from NASA technology, TEMPUR® Material was originally developed in the early 1960’s, to cushion pilots against the rigors of test flight. TEMPUR® scientists realised the enormous potential of this material and began experiments in the early 1980’s to perfect it for sleep. After millions of pounds in research, the technology was perfected into the TEMPUR® Material we know today. As a result TEMPUR® was recognized by NASA and certified by the Space Foundation in May 1998.

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