When there is work to be finished and social obligations extend the early evenings into later nights, prioritizing sleep tends to take a backseat. I know I'm guilty of it...
For all athletes, it is vital to understand the ways sleep and exercise can benefit one another. A good night’s sleep can improve athletic performance, and regular exercise can improve natural, consistent sleep patterns. In fact, experts have suggested that exercise could be an alternative approach to pharmaceutical medical treatment of sleep disorders like insomnia.
Consistent sleep habits correlate with higher levels of physical activity- and the correlation is not short term! One study found that inadequate sleep predicted low levels of activity up to seven years after the pattern had formed (Kline 2014). Of course, a good night’s sleep has important short term benefits on exercise performance as well. It is not shocking that improving sleep improves daytime activity levels, but why is this case? To discover the answer, some studies have used sleep deprivation to study the effect of inadequate sleep on subsequent athletic activity.
Interestingly, it was found that sleep deprivation did not change the cardiovascular function, or aerobic capacity and anaerobic performance capabilities. However, the time it takes to perceive fatigue is vastly decreased. In other words, less sleep certainly negatively alters performance. This is probably because sleep deprivation lowers the body’s ability to efficiently use glucose- the basic unit of energy we get from food (VanHelder, Radomski 1989). In addition to decreasing the time it takes to perceive exhaustion, sleep deprivation also decreases the quality of recovery (Taheri, Arabameri 2012).
Just as exercise is benefitted by a good night’s rest, sleep is benefited by exercise!
Several studies have analyzed the effect of exercise and sleep with parameters measuring time to fall asleep, sleep duration, sleep disturbances, daytime function, and overall quality (Kelly 2017). In comparative studies of participants that exercised or did not exercise found that sleep latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep, was significantly reduced in the exercised group.
Sleep disturbances were found to be reduced with a daily exercise routine, and daytime function was also found to be improved (Kelly 2017, Yang 2012). During and following a workout, the body produces endorphins to reduce pain. One such endorphin known as anandamide, elevated by exercise, regulates the body’s tolerance for stress. These chemicals work together to act as natural relaxants (Pathway Genomics 2020). The overall improved quality of sleep is due to both exhaustion from physical exertion, and stress relief brought on by exercise-induced endorphin release.