How Sleep Improves Cardio Performance

Unless you're on the verge of breaking the Guinness World Record for "most consecutive hours without sleep"--and there's a hefty cash prize involved--a night of tossing and turning is anything but rewarding.

Sleep deprivation affects roughly 60 million Americans each year and is caused by a number of factors, including unbalanced diets, too much stress, and brains that seem to be in overdrive 24-7.

Not getting enough sleep causes a number of consequences--inability to focus on cognitive tasks, heart problems, energy-depletion, and weight gain--just to name a few.

"When you're sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that tells you to eat more, and less leptin, which signals you to stop eating," Michael Breus, Ph.D, told Fitness.

Catching extra sleep is even more important for those who are active because sleep allows the body to recover from tough workouts, and prepares it for the next high-endurance activity. And when you cut the zzz's short, your performance takes a hit.

Even though seven to eight hours of sleep is ideal, the buck doesn't stop there.

"Active women, especially those training for an endurance event, need up to 10 hours for peak performance," reports Fitness. Sound a bit excessive? Actually, it's worth it. "Well-rested people are typically 20 percent quicker at performing physical tasks than those who lack adequate rest."

Looking for a few ways to fall asleep at night that don't involve counting sheep? WebMD offers a few tips for better sleep.

  1. Cut caffeine. The effects of caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off, so cut it out at least four to six hours before bedtime.
  2. Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid. Although alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, it also causes disturbances in sleep resulting in a less restful slumber.
  3. Relax before bedtime. Develop some kind of pre-sleep ritual to break the connection between all the day's stress and bedtime.
  4. Exercise at the right time for you. The timing of exercise seems to play a key role in its effects on sleep. If exercise gives you an energy spike, then it may be more beneficial to work out in the morning instead of the evening.
  5. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Use earplugs, window blinds, an electric blanket--whatever it may be--to create an ideal sleeping environment.
  6. Eat right, sleep tight. Don't go to bed hungry, but avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Some foods can help, though. Milk contains tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting substance. Other foods that may help induce sleep include tuna, halibut, pumpkin, artichokes, avocados, almonds, eggs, bok choy, peaches, walnuts, apricots, oats, asparagus, potatoes, buckwheat, and bananas.
  7. Restrict nicotine. Although a cigarette may have seemingly calming effects, it actually puts a stimulant into your bloodstream that may leave you tossing and turning a little longer.
  8. Avoid napping. Napping often perpetuates insomnia; however, if you must nap, keep it short. A brief 15-20 minute cat nap can actually be rejuvenating, late in the day.
  9. Avoid watching TV, eating, and discussing emotional issues in bed. If not, you can end up associating the bed with distracting activities that could make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Follow these tips to encourage the sandman to make his rounds a little earlier--and add a little extra umph to your next sweat session.


Cincinnati Running Fitness Examiner Sarah Buelterman is a recent graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and resides in Cincinnati.

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