Stress & Sleep
The majority of the main emphasis of most strength & fitness programmes is always placed upon the physical training & nutrition side of things. Of course both of these are hugely important areas but our lifestyle areas have the biggest impact when it comes to results and achieving your best performance.
When I talk about lifestyle areas, I’m referring to your sleep, stress management, work/life balance, hydration, daily movement and environment. Today I want to discuss the importance of sleep and stress, in my opinion and work as a coach these two areas have the biggest effect on people and therefore need addressing first and foremost.
We’re all more than aware that we should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, but how many of you actually follow through on that? If we want to train, exercise & ride hard & most of us probably want to get 101 things done every day we need to be making our sleep an absolute priority.
When we sleep our bodies are repairing & recovering. By sleeping the muscles repair & our hormones work to regenerate us physically & mentally. Our internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm should dictate our sleep cycle which should tie in with sunrise & sunset.
When we sleep our stress hormone cortisol lowers & our sleepy hormone melatonin increases. If you don’t sleep enough or get good quality sleep then these hormones aren’t going to function as they should & you’ll end up finding stress levels are higher than they should be! Your hunger hormones also become very affected if you don’t get enough sleep as your leptin & grehlin hormones, the hormones that tell us if we’re full up or hungry, end up being all out of sync,
Aiming for 8 hours of sleep should be a basic we all strive towards. The better quality & more time you sleep the stronger your immune system will be, the body will have a lesser requirement for calories, we will recover optimally physically, and it helps to avoid injury & niggle. Studies have shown that those who don’t consistently receive 8 hours of sleep struggle to process information & judge situations as well as those who do. Mental clarity & sleep go hand in hand!
1 really important thing to think about when it comes to sleep & this is something I encourage all of my clients to do is to make sure you set a good sleep environment. Reduce light and screen time so your melatonin hormones can rise, if you’re constantly on your screen or watching TV with bright light your melatonin hormone will not function properly and therefore you won’t end up feeling sleepy.
Keep your phone and other devices away from your bed if you can, and if you struggle to sleep sometimes sleep apps that provide you with soundtracks or meditation flows can help you to drift off & relax!
Making sure you get sunlight in the morning has been shown to set up the body mentally and physically for the day. Your body's internal clock works with the daylight cycle and if you can increase the amount of sunlight you receive during the day you’re going to be more alert by resetting your body's internal sleep clock. This can help you to get better quality sleep so make sure you get that sunlight in the morning.
Some of my clients have been through the stages of the menopause. They struggle to switch off in the evenings, so find reading on something like a kindle or watching something helps to turn the brain off. However, as I said screen light does suppress the melatonin hormone, but blue light glasses can really help to reduce the amount of screen light you’re getting. A few of my clients have invested in blue light glasses and it’s transformed their sleep. Worth a try!
Having a consistent bedtime routine is really important so that your body starts to know when it’s time to wind down in the evening. Think about how you switch off, and make sure you head up to bed at a sensible time, if you can keep away from screen light, maybe try reading a book or journalling to calm your mind and give yourself the best possible chance of having a good quality night of sleep! If you are not sleeping enough, your stress hormones are going to be majorly affected so I would always suggest you address your sleep as no 1 priority. The better you sleep the better your performance physically & mentally, the better your mood & the happier you'll be!
Stress is a really complex subject. For most of us we probably think that e if we’re stressed we will feel it but that is not necessarily always the case. When I talk about stress, I’m referring to both physical and mental stress, for example, an intense workout or an argument with your husband. The brain doesn’t separate different kinds of stress. It all goes into the same pot which is the cortisol pot, and as you now know if stress is always high the cortisol hormone is going to be highly elevated.
Think of stress as that pot.
Everything in your life creates stress and adds to the pot, whether it’s family life, work, horses, and if that pot begins to overflow that’s going to leave you feeling exhausted, rundown and potentially even hitting burnout. What we need to do here is try to reduce the amount in the pot and spend more time doing things that help us to relax and make us feel good, and this is where having fun is so important. Doing things that make you smile, feel good, laugh and create happiness is absolutely essential to help you reduce your overall stress.
A big area of stress for many of us can be our work life. We spend around 1/3 of our entire life in our work environment, so if you are finding that your professional career is seriously overfilling that pot then I highly encourage you to take a good look at your work/life balance.
Sometimes big changes do need to be made, and I have had clients change their jobs in order to create a better work-life balance & find long term happiness. I appreciate this isn’t always an option for everybody, but considering how much of our life we spend at work it’s important to make sure work leaves you feeling good, not just chronically stressed out.
Exercise has been shown to reduce stress too & the more you can get out and move the better! Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be an intense workout or going for a run it could just be getting out for a nice walk or going for a wander, say on the beach in the evenings.
A good way to know if you are stressed is by your energy levels. If the body is in a heightened state of stress and the central nervous system is struggling, you’ll feel exhausted, chances are you’ll physically be sore & you'll struggle with high levels of fatigue. Balancing stress and managing that pot is not an easy thing to do, and it’s a constant work in progress. Some stressors such as our horses are obviously enjoyable, but it is important to keep the balance between positive & negative stress to avoid hitting that point of overwhelm or having too much stress overfilling that pot.
By creating personalised training & lifestyle programmes, I help my clients balance their stress and rest, and that is something that you should be considering for yourself.
Remember if you're not sleeping well or enough & your stress is high your central nervous system is going to be seriously affected & when our CNS controls how we think, feel & move that is not going to be a good thing. I hope this helps you to start to create more awareness around your sleep habits & stress levels & realise how much of an impact these 2 areas have on your performance & long term health.