As it is something that you spend about a third of your life doing, the power of sleep cannot be ignored. So just what does this mean for your fitness efforts?

Sleep improves athletic performance

A study at Stanford University challenged American football players to try to sleep for at least 10 hours per night. Over the course of eight weeks, the study found that the players had more energy and stamina and improved their average sprint times. The power of sleep doesn’t just affect football players, though. Similar results have also been found with swimmers and tennis players. In addition to improved performance, getting enough sleep also keeps you alert and focused, which can help you avoid injuries while working out.

Controls your weight

During sleep, your body balances out the hormone, called leptin, that controls your appetite. When you are not getting enough sleep, your appetite for foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats increases. Typically, these foods are also high in calories, which can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight or shed those last few pounds. In a study at the University of Chicago, researchers tested two groups of people trying to lose weight: those who were sleep-deprived and those who were not. Although both groups lost similar amounts of weight, that weight came mostly from muscle mass in the sleep-deprived group, whereas the group who had enough sleep lost more fat.

Boosts emotional stability

Getting enough sleep has long been known to boost your mood. Who doesn’t know the feeling of being cranky after a night of minimal sleep? Over time, that effect increases and can contribute to anxiety, depression and other long-term emotional issues. Dr. Jodi A. Mindell from St. Joseph’s University says, “Not getting enough sleep affects your emotional regulation.” Aim for at least 8 hours per night to keep your mood in check.

Improves immune function

Getting enough sleep goes a long way towards helping to prevent illness. While you sleep, your body is better able to fight off infections, as it can focus on this, rather than on getting you through your daily activities. Being sick can put a hold on your fitness efforts, so be sure to get enough sleep so that you are healthy enough to exercise regularly. A preliminary research study found that people who got less than 7 hours of sleep per night were three times as likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus than their counterparts who got adequate sleep.

Restores your muscles

When you work out, the strain creates tiny tears in your muscle fibers. As those tears heal, your muscles become thicker and stronger in an effort to prevent further damage. While you sleep, your body focuses its efforts on healing and cell regeneration, enabling your muscles to build that extra strength. The power of sleep should play a critical role in your fitness routine to give your muscles plenty of time to recover not just from your tough workouts, but from the strain and stresses of your daily activities as well.