Why You Need Sleep and How to Get Better Sleep

I’m not a morning person. I always set an alarm — or three — to ensure that I wake up exactly when I need to. Then, I end up pushing the snooze button time and time again as I attempt to get a little more shut-eye. When I’m finally awake and out of bed, I’d rather not talk until I fully emerge from my sleepy stupor.

Sound familiar? Well, there’s no magic pill to make you feel more rested. The key is to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Why sleep is important

Without sleep, our body isn’t able to function properly. In fact, sleep deprivation mimics the effects of alcohol consumption. Studies show that lack of sleep cuts response speeds in half much like being intoxicated. In addition to moving slower, performance on some tests was equal to or worse than a blood alcohol level of 0.05.

Sleep consists of five stages that repeat throughout the night every 60-90 minutes. Your body cycles through these stages 4-6 times each night. When your shut-eye is interrupted or you get less than the recommended 7 hours, each interruption restarts the sleep cycles. Constant interruption prevents you from getting to deepest, most beneficial stages of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Sleep itself, especially the REM cycle, replenishes energy and gives the body time to repair. It also keeps hormones in balance and improves memory, especially information retention.

Sleep deprivation and weight gain

If you have ever exercised on just a few hours of sleep, you probably know that sluggish feeling during your workout. The weights feel heavier, during cardio bursts your heart rate spikes, and all you want to do is lay down and take a nap. When you’re sleep deprived you might also notice different — mostly sugary — food cravings which are your body’s way of keeping energy levels as high as possible.

Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are all connected. When we don’t get enough sleep, our fitness routine suffers and we experience unhealthy food cravings. These unhealthy habits lead to weight gain instead of that weight loss we’re after. Pair adequate sleep with healthy eating and challenging workouts, and you’ll see the results you are looking for much faster.

Less sleep, more eat

A lack of sleep affects your hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin’s job is to stimulate appetite and promote fat storage. In opposition, leptin is the hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to stop eating. It also tells your body when to burn calories and when to store fat.

When participants in a sleep study were subjected to sleep deprivation, they experienced suppressed levels of leptin and increased levels of ghrelin. This caused them to eat excessive amounts of food without their body signaling it was full. As you might assume, having irregular or poor sleep habits can lead to frequent overeating and weight gain.

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How a good night’s rest helps weight loss and fitness goals

When you’re trying to live a healthier, happier lifestyle by incorporating exercise and proper nutrition, sleep is key. Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night) will help you see results faster because you’re able to control portion sizes and have increased energy.

  • Better control of what you eat: Getting more sleep can help balance your hormones, allowing you to better control how much you eat. When your hormones are acting as they should, you’re less likely to snack when you aren’t hungry and your body will signal when it’ time to stop eating.
  • More energy: More sleep can also lead to increased energy. When you sleep, your body temperature drops and your caloric needs decrease. This is when your body will recover and replenish your energy for the next day. If you don’t sleep, your energy reserves remain depleted and your energy the following day suffers.

In order to reach your fitness goals, you need sleep. This is especially important if you frequently do the HIIT workouts found in the 8fit app.  While you sleep, your body repairs your muscles at the cellular level, which gives you more energy the following day. Adequate sleep allows you to give 110% in every workout.

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How to get a better night’s sleep

There are a number of ways to facilitate a better night’s sleep. Here are 8fit’s 7 tips:

  1. Go to bed earlier. If you’re going to bed past midnight, try to gradually move your bedtime up 30 minutes at a time. Try 11:30pm, then 11pm. This will allow you to get more sleep and wake up feeling rested.
  2. Keep your room dark. Bright light sends signals to your brain that it’s daytime. Keeping your blinds closed and lights dim at night time helps tell your brain that it’s time for sleep.
  3. Shut down anything with screens. The blue light that’s given off by your cell phone, computer and TV actually prevents your body from producing sleep-inducing melatonin. Try to shut these off an hour or two before bedtime and don’t sleep with the TV on.
  4. Stick to a schedule. Our bodies work best when they’re on a schedule. When you consistently go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 7am, your body adapts to this and you’ll naturally feel tired around 10am and possibly wake up without an alarm around 7am.
  5. Stretch before bedtime. Yoga poses and stretching release tension that builds up throughout the day. Stretching for just 5-10 minutes before bed can help your body relax and help you go to sleep sooner.
  6. Don’t eat before bed. A heavy meal or excessive snacking before bed can make it hard to fall asleep. Try to finish eating at least 2 hours before bed to give your food time to digest. (There are some exceptions to this rules, especially if your goal is to gain muscle).
  7. Get a good mattress. If you’ve ever slept in an uncomfortable hotel bed, you know how important your mattress is for quality sleep.

After making all of the positive adjustments above, you might notice improved sleep quality. But, if you aren’t, make sure you’re avoiding some of these common sleep inhibitors:

  • Sugary foods or caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime. Consuming sugar before bed creates a spike in blood glucose levels and therefore energy. Caffeine is a stimulant used to keep you from falling asleep, so it’s no wonder that you shouldn’t drink it right before bed.
  • Drinking alcohol. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, during the second half of the night it has been shown to cause sleep disruptions by blocking REM sleep.
  • Drinking too much water. Staying hydrated is great, but chugging a lot of water right before bed will trigger your body to wake up for a bathroom run in the middle of the night. Instead, hydrate throughout the day and try not to drink a lot of water right before bed.
  • Turning up the heat. Studies show that keeping your head cool is helpful for deep sleep. Keep your home thermostat low before bed (somewhere between 60-70°F) and get cozy under a blanket.
  • Sleeping with your pets. They’re cute and cuddly, but allowing your pets to sleep in your bed might cause a less restful sleep. A study by the University of Kansas Medical Center surveyed 148 pet owners and found that 30 percent of them were awakened by their pets at least once per night.

How 8fit can help

We can’t force you to go to bed at a reasonable time or magically improve your sleep, but we can’ help you with fitness and nutrition. 8fit workouts are tailored to your fitness level, ensuring that the workout is challenging and tiring. We also offer yoga classes in the app which are perfect for your bedtime routine.

On the nutrition side, 8fit meals are low in sugar and won’t spike your blood sugar. Healthy amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates give you the energy you need throughout the day but won’t keep you up at night.

These healthy habits during the day – paired with our tips above – will lead to better sleep at night. Better sleep will help you feel better, get stronger and achieve your fitness goals more quickly.