Snoozing Your Way to fitness

close up photography of woman sleeping
Photo by bruce mars on

Failing to get sufficient sleep seems to be the common-cold of current times; work stresses, worries about our finances – all play a part. “Now approximately 10-15% of us, suffer with our sleep”, says Matt Broadway-Horner a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist from his consultancy firm ( , and what’s more this problem is more common in women than men. Matt says; “half of these sufferers report symptoms I’d consider severe”

Well-being coach Dan Roberts ( says; “Insomnia is increasingly common in our over-stimulated, always-on, stressed-out modern world. But a lack of sleep can profoundly affect your mind function, decision-making and memory – all of which are crucial in fitness performance. A sleep deficit also has a powerful effect on your mood, so can be a key factor in stress, anxiety, depression or just feeling flat and uninspired.” These negative emotions will interfere with the commitment and energy that are required for working-out

How much sleep?

The right amount of sleep varies from person to person, but the average is about seven hours. Dan says that consistency is key too; “there’s no point getting five hours a night on weekdays and catching up with a 10-hour sleepathon at weekends. Your body needs downtime to repair damage caused during the day, while your mind needs night-time inactivity to process the day’s events (which is why we dream)”

Exercise can help you sleep

Dan explains how powerful exercise can be when it comes to easing you into slumber; “taking regular cardio exercise like running, spin classes, cycling or tennis for instance can help you to get a better night’s sleep. So too can calming, meditative exercise like yoga or tai chi

“With Cardio-Vascular exercise you can actually burn off stress and anxiety. CV makes you physically tired, in a good and healthy way. More calming exercise, like Yoga, deactivates your stress response and activates your relaxation response.” If you are struggling with getting to sleepthough it’s advisable to not do your workout too close to bedtime as this may make you too warm and too energised to sleep

Sleep your way to better performance

So exercise can help you sleep – but sleep can help your exercise? Personal Trainer, Gavin Walsh believes that to reach your goals for physical fitness you need to be mentally fit too and that sleep is key, he explains; “Sleep is an often over-looked fitness tool. However, it is highly important, and should not be ignored if you don’t want performance to suffer. You’re more likely to achieve a Personal Best if you’ve had 7 hours + sleep”

If we don’t sleep enough we just won’t be at our peak in terms of health and fitness levels. In fact sleep deprivation studies on mice have demonstrated that if you’re kept awake long enough, in time your immune system and overall well-being simply breaks down

If we don’t sleep enough we just won’t be at our peak in terms of health and fitness levels. In fact sleep deprivation studies on mice have demonstrated that if you’re kept awake long enough, in time your immune system and overall well- being simply breaks down

“Lots of studies show lack of sleep can lead to impaired reaction times and decreased endurance”, says Fitness expert Nick Critchley. He believes that performance suffers when sleep is lost; “sleep-time is when we replenish our neuro- transmitters as well as being a time for repair and regeneration of tissues used during intense exercise”

Sleep for focus

Gavin says research demonstrates that it can take up to 7-8 hours of sleep for our bodies to process the toxins we accumulate on a daily basis. “These toxins can help reduce focus as they interfere with our mind-set. The toxins include processed foods, alcohol, air pollution and even poor quality water. The accumulation of these toxins and sleep deficit can throw our hormones to play havoc. For example, cortisol, a stress hormone increases with a lack of sleep which can further take-away from our focus on our sport or fitness activity”

Sleep and Diet

Eating the wrong foods, putting on weight or just feeling more sluggish can have a hugely detrimental effect on our ability to exercise. Sleep, or lack thereof, can lead us into negative eating patterns, Dan explains; “If you struggle with food cravings or binge eating, one of the key triggers is being over-tired. When we are exhausted our strength is depleted and our willpower is low, so it’s much easier to succumb to cravings – especially for the kinds of sweet, sugary foods we crave during periods of low energy. You may also crave carbohydrates like crisps, pasta or rice or caffeinated drinks because your brain thinks you need quick, easily digested sources of energy. Getting the right amount of sleep will help keep these cravings at bay”

Sleep and Injury Risk

Gavin tell us that not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of getting injured because you won’t be paying enough attention to form; your stride and posture may suffer and this in turn can lead to twists and strains. He says, “If you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, then there is less chance that you’ll be working to your full strength during training. This lack in power and focus will have a damaging effect on how you move and your posture. All of this is crucial when at the gym performing highly demanding technical lifts; your risk of injury will certainly be increased.” Gavin acknowledges that it’s not just down the gym that problems might arise; “when running or taking part in any sport, if you’re feeling tired you’re much more likely to end up with an injury, and this could see you out of action for months”

Well-being CBT therapist Matt Broadway-Horner gives some tips for the perfect night’s sleep..


• Develop good ‘sleep routine’. So make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark (use a blackout blind if you have to – even a small amount of ambient light interferes with the body’s sleep-controlling mechanisms)

• Switch the TV off an hour before bed and read, listen to soothing music or take a long, hot bath