Train while you sleep!
I have some good news for you. Sleeping builds muscle and helps you lose fat!
The adverts were right: you can actually make progress by just lying down and closing your eyes!
Sleeping: the forgotten piece of the puzzle
Sleeping and downtime get a pretty bad press these days when it comes to being a ‘go-getter’.
Today the modern capitalist world is all about doing, taking, achieving, moving.
Want to be a CEO or climb the corporate ladder? You have got to be a morning person, apparently. Want to get promoted? Get to the office early and leave late, screw sleeping and a social life, sleeping is for wimps anyway.
I’ve yet to read the article profiling CEO’s who get up at 9am or have more than 6 hours of sleep.
In fact it is telling that in all these CEO profiles or ‘day in the life’ pieces about successful people they feel they have to emphasis what time they wake up or how little sleep they need, as if this is the key to it all.
Have you ever noticed that? “My alarm goes off at 5 am, but I don’t even need it as I am always up by 4:45 checking my e-mails whilst doing Pilates”.
We get it, you’re a finely tuned success machine who doesn’t ‘do’ sleep like mere mortals.
I for one am a bit sceptical when someone’s ‘typical’ day apparently starts at 4 30 am and ends at 1am with no break. For a week or two, maybe, but all the time?
In the misguided spirit of ‘having it all’, basically if you have to sacrifice something, sacrifice your sleep. You don’t need it, right, it’s just dead time when you could be out there conquering the world!
Getting enough sleep should actually be a priority
From a training point of view, getting enough sleep cannot be over-valued if you actually want to get somewhere.
A lot of focus is placed on training routines, nutrition, energy boosters, magic equipment, new technology etc. The forgotten, but maybe the most important part of the puzzle, is that you need to sleep and recover to make progress.
Just like a machine, you body needs servicing and time to cool down between uses, otherwise it is going to burn out.
There is a finite (and quite short) time period where you can keep pushing yourself without letting your body recover and repair itself; pretty quickly you’ll reach the ‘overtraining’ zone where you start going backwards or get injured and ill.
You make progress while you’re sleeping, not when you’re training
When you workout you are putting a stress on your body; you’re effectively damaging your muscles and central nervous system (in a good way, provided you don’t go too extreme) that will force your body to adapt and improve for next time.
So in fact the period after your workout is when you are at your weakest; the training has tired you out and that in itself has not improved your performance, or built muscle.
That happens during your recovery time, of which sleeping is the most crucial part. Once you have broken yourself down and built yourself up again through proper nutrition and sleep, that’s when you have actually improved.
If you don’t sleep enough, or give yourself a chance to recover, your body will actually stay in that post-workout, weakened state.
Pushing yourself and doing more is a great attitude to have, but it needs to be balanced by sometimes doing less, in order to move forward.
The amount is subjective
As with everything the amount of recovery or sleep you need is determined by your genetics. Just because someone says they don’t need to sleep six hours every night doesn’t mean you are being lazy by needing at least eight.
You just have a different genetic requirement (though I stress to add I doubt there is a healthy adult who ‘genetically’ needs 10 hours a night every night; you’re probably crossing into lazy territory there).
There is such a thing as having natural ability to recover, which is also tied to your training experience level, your nutrition and whether you follow something like a post-workout stretching routine.
Through adaptation, your body also has a great capacity to improve its recovery efficiency. Experienced trainers can workout harder and more often than beginners because their bodies are used to it.
Ultimately though, there is a limit to what your body can handle before it needs a recharge.
But [insert celebrity/fitness company/advertising] says that overtraining doesn’t exist!
One thing that fitness companies can’t (yet), package, market and sell is sleep (although there is an industry in pills, soothing music, special pillows etc.).
Sleep is also not a particularly sexy topic either; you can’t put a dynamic or inspirational image of someone sleeping on a product advert or packaging.
Growth and consumption are the pillars of liberal free market capitalism, so therefore everyone is constantly pushed to have more, use more, do more.
It is in a supplement selling company’s interest to tell you that there is no limit, and that by doing and consuming more you can get to your goals quicker.
As I expanded on in my post on overtraining, burn-out is very real for a natural trainer not using drugs. Everything has a balance and nothing comes for free in nature.
Getting enough rest and recovery is part of training smart: sleep is just as big a part of the cycle of progress as consistent hard training and eating healthily.
But I don’t have time to sleep as much as I want
I’m sure there’s some of you reading this who are saying, “that’s all very well, and I would love to have loads of sleep every night, but with everything going on in my life I just don’t have enough time to sleep as much as I want”.
I fully appreciate there are many people who have incredibly hectic lives, juggling important commitments that mean sleep has to take a backseat. And it is a shame, because everyone should have the right to be well rested.
However there are equally many people who can decide how to manage their time. If you are lucky enough to be one of these people then it comes down to a question of priorities.
How important is your health and fitness to you? Do you want to achieve your training goals?
If you do, then make getting enough sleep a priority. Don’t get hammered every weekend or stay up late every night on a YouTube marathon.
If that is too difficult for you then that’s fine, it’s obviously your prerogative to do as you like.
But please don’t complain when you’re not as in shape as you would like to be.