Sleep your way to those gainzzz

Are you working hard in the gym or out on the track and still struggling to see results?

Are you eating all the right foods, in the right quantities, but still not seeing the health and fitness progress you want?

Maybe you should take a nap!

Sleep helps your body recover and rebuild after a workout, so getting those Z's every night is very important. But almost two thirds of British people suffer disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter get less than 5 hours a night! On average, women get roughly an hour less sleep than men a night as well.

Lack of sleep has been linked to increased risk of obesity, believed to be due to hormones and motivation levels for exercise (you're less likely to want to work out if you're knackered). And when you're tired, you also make poorer food choices ("I'll just have a few biscuits to keep me going till lunchtime").

A study of over 2800 women found that poor sleep habits increased difficulty performing activities, lowered grip strength and reduced walking speed.

The European Journal of Applied Physiology found that even just one night of poor sleep can have an impact on athletic performance so getting enough nap time is essential.

But how do you improve your sleep habits? Here are some basics to get you off

  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, ideally from mid afternoon onwards as caffeine effects can last around 6 hours

  • Limit your fluid intake in the couple of hours before bed, so as to avoid unnecessary bathroom trips in the night

  • Avoid electronic screens for 60 minutes or so before sleep, as blue light from these devices can disrupt sleep hormones, making it harder to sleep. Some phones and tablets have a special night time filter, but there isn't much evidence that these help a lot

  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

  • Keep the room temperature on the cooler side, ideally with an open window

  • Finally, if you're still struggling to get your full night's rest, an afternoon nap is always useful (unless you're at work, in which case, probably don't).

If you're going to try napping, stick to 20-25 minutes so you don't fall too deeply asleep. A trick I like to use is having a small coffee just before you take the nap, so that the effects kick in as you wake up, helping you get up and going again fast.