Q: What are the real benefits of getting more shut eye, and how can I naturally fall asleep faster after an evening workout when my endorphins are running high?
Brandon Marsh answers:
A: It’s no secret that most people don’t get enough sleep. Let’s face it. Eight hours each night is no easy feat for any athlete’s hectic schedule. The good news is not everyone needs eight hours. The ideal test to determine just how much your body needs would be to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up without an alarm clock. Unfortunately, that’s a luxury most of us will only see in our dreams. So, what’s the answer?
Growth and repair — More sleep can help naturally elevate your human growth hormone levels. Growth hormone production can assist with muscle-building recovery. When the body is in rest and repair mode, the muscles that have been broken down are now able to build themselves back stronger than they were before that tough training session.
Sex drive — Possibly due to the healthy hormone growth production, sleep can help enhance your sex life. That’s a nice bonus, right?
Recovery — It has also been shown that more sleep can help curb inflammation. I don’t need to tell you that inflammation in the body — whether caused by hard workouts or from life stressors — will not get you to a healthier, fitter state.
Weight management — Most people who are burned out and going through the day in a haze, turn to food for energy. This often leads to overeating and weight gain. By getting proper rest, your energy levels are more stable and hunger signals kept in check. Sufficient sleep can also help improve cognitive function, so you’re more clear-headed to make smart eating choices.
How to fall into a slumber (and stay there!):
1. Make your room as dark as possible. You might need to invest in some black-out curtains or a sleep mask.
2. Quiet your surroundings. Ear plugs work well if the neighbor’s pet cockatoo relentlessly keeps you up at night.
3. Read yourself a bedtime story. Trade in the TV remote, phone or computer for a book. It doesn’t have to be a thriller novel or one to remember; just something that helps your mind wander and relax.
If you just finished an evening cardio session…
First, take a cool shower to lower your body temperature and relax those muscles. When a late-night workout leaves you feeling a bit stressed, an herbal extract such as rhodiola can help bring back the balance. Otherwise, it’s most important to refuel post-workout with some easily digested carbs. According to a 2007 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who ate a meal containing high-glycemic carbs fell asleep quicker than those who didn’t. You can also try a sleep aid like melatonin to help relax the body so you can get some extra shut eye.
Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. ‘Like’ them on Facebook or follow on Twitter: Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and Amy @AmyCMarsh.