Sleeping your way to the top, August 2012

  Have you ever felt like you are training at full capacity, eating well and yet progress is surprisingly slow or minimal?

Even the most accomplished athletes may still struggle to achieve their mental and physical best if this core element is lacking. Perhaps there's a piece to this puzzle that's missing and holding you back from accomplishing your goals. 
The good news is that once you've mastered this elusive key component, your progress WILL hasten and you'll experience a sense of well-being like never before. So, what is this magic final ingredient that when mixed with an effective training and nutritional program produces optimal results? Why, just a good night's sleep!

The world’s best implemented diet and training regime won't be done justice unless an athlete can sleep effectively and todays' materialistic society is designed to produce economic growth, not well-rested citizens. But why is this so important in the first place? Sleep is documented to have many diverse benefits- just a few are; stress reduction, improved memory, body weight control, and better mood. Of interest to the athlete, is how sleep affects hormone release, particularly growth hormone.

The two major pathways of hormone release that are affected by sleep deprivation are the hypothalamic-pituitary axes and the autonomous nervous system.

The pituitary is the master endocrine organ, as it controls the secretion of other hormones from the peripheral endocrine glands and is greatly affected by sleep deprivation. That means if you're not sleeping it will negatively disrupt hormone release in general (Not good people!). Modulation of hormonal release is partly controlled by hypothalamic-inhibiting factors, controlling pituitary function.

When asleep, these factors may be activated (as is the case of growth hormone) or inhibited.

Growth hormone has long been the holy grail of bodybuilding. With key benefits such as; muscle growth and repair, improved bone mineral density, immune-system enhancement, body-fat reduction (and improved sleep), it's little wonder this hormone could hold the key to a superior you!

The modulation of the autonomous nervous system activity also affects peripheral endocrine regulation. When we sleep, sympathetic nervous system function is decreased and parasympathetic nervous system activity increases- but if you are sleep deprived, these balance of these systems starts to tip towards the opposite (again, not good!).

Most endocrine organs are affected by this, causing pancreatic insulin and leptin release (an appetite-suppressing hormone).

So we know it's vital, but how do we insure a sound nightly slumber?
Routine is key here!

*Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Sounds basic, but few of us stick to it!

*If you take time to unwind, go to bed a half hour earlier and relax.

*A routine before bed help. Turn off all noise and try getting ready for bed by candlelight or dim lighting. Darkness helps stimulate Melatonin (sleep hormone) release.

*Obvious one here: steer clear of caffeine in the hours before bed.

*If you have trouble relaxing it's possibly because you're out of practice. During the day, go to a silent peaceful place (outdoors is best) and practice clearing your mind. The more you practice slowing down the wheels of your mental machine, the better you'll get at it.

*Stay away from sleeping medication: Often people find it harder than ever sleep to unaided after taking these.

*To achieve a brilliant night's sleep, hold in your mind your ideal happiest, most fulfilling moment or aspiration and don't let your mind wander from it. To go to sleep, feeling content is helpful.

So if you are spending dedicated hours to train and diet, make sure you are likewise dedicating yourself to the task of recovery! Rest to grow, sleep to win! And remember to hit the pillow as hard as you hit the gym!

Sarah Parr
August 2012

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