Whether you’re looking to improve your overall fitness or training for an athletic event, you know you need to make time to regularly work out. You probably also have a sense of how good nutrition fuels your training regimen.
But did you know that getting enough sleep is also a factor in your training? It’s essential to your body’s recovery, as the quantity and quality of sleep affects your physiology and your psychology, both of which can have a big influence on how well you perform — and bounce back from your efforts.
“If one of my athletes doesn’t have a good run, for instance, and I see they’ve been consistent in their training, my next question is ‘How did you sleep?’” says Mike Thomson, a strength and run coach with Life Time in Overland Park, Kan. “If they didn’t sleep very well, it’s going to affect their heart rate during that training session. It’s going to affect their motivation. It’s going to affect their drive. A mind and body that are under-rested will be more likely to tap out sooner.”
Making sure you get enough shuteye is one of the most important things you can do to feel and perform your best, no matter your fitness level or goals.
Why Sleep Matters
Once you drift off, your brain and body get to work recovering from the day and preparing for tomorrow — repairing tissue, building muscle, processing memory and emotion, clearing out waste.
Throughout the night, you move through various sleep stages, including REM (rapid eye movement, when your most vivid dreaming happens) and non-REM, or deep sleep, stages. As you go into deep sleep, your blood pressure and heart rate drop and your breathing slows, explains JD Velilla, Beautyrest resident sleep expert and senior director of sleep experience and technology at Serta Simmons Bedding.
“This allows blood flow to be pulled away from the brain and redirected to the muscles, bringing increased oxygen and nutrients. Deep sleep is all about the system shutting down and prioritizing repair of your body.”
During this time, your body also releases growth hormone, which aids in muscle repair and supports exercise recovery.
While it stands to reason that a disruption in the process that repairs your body’s tissues would impair physical performance, sleep research has primarily demonstrated the effects on more subjective measures. “If you don’t get enough sleep, what we’re finding is that performance is more about your perception — you wake up groggy, you feel off, you feel cloudy,” says Velilla.
You may also be at greater risk for getting hurt. A 2019 study of endurance athletes found that those who were chronically sleep deprived experienced a greater risk of new injury.
“If you’re not recovered well, you may be prone to more sickness or injury because your cells aren’t repairing themselves,” explains Brian Anderson, manager of sleep analytics at Serta Simmons Bedding.
Enough of a Good Thing
For optimal health, getting seven to nine hours of sleep on a consistent schedule is the standard recommendation. There’s a bell curve, however, says Velilla, and some people can fully function at either end of that curve. Add in stress — whether physical or mental —and your position along that curve can shift.
“As an athlete, you’re stressing your body,” says Velilla. “If you pushed it hard at the gym, your body will need more recovery time. If you normally get seven and a half hours, you may need eight or eight and a half hours that night.”
Velilla notes there’s a virtuous cycle between sleep and exercise, with sufficient sleep allowing the body to recover from a good workout, and a good workout supporting a quality night’s sleep.
One important caveat: Strenuous exercise too late in the day can elevate your body’s core temperature, which can make for restless sleep. So just as it’s important to prepare your sleep environment for a good night’s rest, it’s important to be strategic about when you work out.
Lifestyle + Mattress
While we may wish for a magic wand to help us sleep well every night, it’s our habits around exercise, diet, alcohol, caffeine, screens, and sleep environment that really set the foundation. (Learn about good-night’s-sleep strategies here.)
“There’s no product that can make you sleep better, because how you sleep is a direct result of your physiology and what you do to yourself every single day,” says JD Velilla, Beautyrest resident sleep expert and senior director of sleep experience and technology at Serta Simmons Bedding.
That said, a quality mattress can help limit the effects of lifestyle that might otherwise disrupt your sleep. “Regardless of your lifestyle choices, we build our mattresses to maximize your recovery and keep you sleeping longer and deeper,” Velilla says.
One thing to look for when shopping for a mattress is technology that helps keep you cool. If you’re active, you likely run warmer at night, so a mattress that vents off heat will keep you from waking up as your body attempts to lower its core temperature through sweat.
“We put a lot of cooling and moisture-wicking technologies into the mattress to try to aid that cooling process,” says Brian Anderson, manager of sleep analytics at Serta Simmons Bedding.
Also inquire about how a mattress delivers pressure relief. Too much prolonged pressure in your shoulders, shoulder blades, or hips, for example, not only causes discomfort (and tossing and turning), but also restricts blood flow to the skin, which is what helps to repair your tissue.
“We know that about 32 millimeters of mercury of pressure restricts blood flow to the skin and can cause discomfort, so we want to minimize that pressure so you don’t have to wake up,” explains Anderson.
“Regardless of what you do or who you are throughout the day, we try to build a mattress that is ultimately going to aid you in recovering by helping you achieve the best sleep possible given the circumstances,” says Velilla.