So what’s more important to our health; sleep or exercise? Sleep? I’ll bet you’re hoping it’s sleeping right? Well you can relax because yes it is 🙂 There, now you can relax and read the rest of this knowing that sleep is the answer lol. Now this does NOT mean that you can stop exercising or that exercise isn’t important because it is. It’s vital to our health actually. Our bodies are meant to move and that old cliche is super true: “If you don’t use it you lose it.”
Before we jump into sleep and discuss why it’s the “winner” of the two, we need to at least break down what exercise does to us and what the body does on a daily basis just to keep us alive and moving. See, our bodies take a lot of work to keep up with. Cells repairing, digesting food, moving blood, hormones, enzymes, breathing, walking, talking, thinking, dreaming…it’s non stop. In fact, recent studies have shown that there are an estimated 11 Trillion functions happening per SECOND in our bodies. I don’t know about you but I really can’t fully understand what that even means. It’s kind of like trying to imagine how much the earth weighs, like, even if you could come up with a number what does it even mean? There’s no real way to fully grasp it.
That’s what 11 trillion/second feels like to me anyways. It’s a number, it’s really big, and the whole per second thing just takes it out of my imagination completely. Now take all these processes and functions that are happening and add exercise. It’s a stress on your body (a necessary one but a stress nonetheless) and all those processes happen even faster and there’s more of them! It’s like your car when it’s idling in the driveway, there’s thousands if not millions of things happening to make it run. When you floor it to pass a semi truck or drive on a windy road there’s just a lot more things the car has to do to get the job done.
This is what exercise is to us. We’re increasing the demands of the body, we’re increasing our ability to produce work and we’re increasing something called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is our “base” metabolism. The more we exercise the higher our metabolism, the more we metabolize the more things happen in our body. That 11 trillion number starts to get even bigger and even more happens every second for as long as we live!
So what’s this have to do with sleep? Everything really. Can you imagine having to do all these things non stop for your entire life!? Well it’s happening regardless and THIS is why we need time every single day to have rest. All those trillions of transactions create stress and waste within our bodies and we need time every day to deal with it. Just like your car after you take a road trip, it needs down time for maintenance and repairs so it’s ready for you the next time you need it.
We need sleep every night because unlike a car, we pretty much need our body to work for us every day. Now I don’t know about you but I like to keep my body working as smoothly as possible. It sucks to “break down” and be injured or ill or just getting through the day. Can you imagine if all your car could do is idle? I mean it starts but it can’t really do much, maybe charge your phone LOL. I know we’ve all had those days where we’re just in “idle” mode. Just getting by on energy drinks and a fake smile.
Sleep is the key to get you back into high performance mode. When we get a solid night’s sleep we allow our bodies to be maintained. Just like a car in the shop to get an oil change or a tune up. When we sleep our bodies fall into a “Sleep Cycle”. Our central nervous system (CNS) starts by telling our brain to be quiet. It secretes hormones and neurotransmitters to ready our brain and body for recovery. Our bodies begin to relax, our muscle tone decreases and the body knows it’s safe.
Next we slip into the second stage where our brains actually start filing the day’s memories, categorizing them and applying meaning to our thoughts. Can you see why if you don’t get to this second stage of sleep how you might develop memory issues, a little anxiety, depression and/or apathy (you just feel numb)? Lot’s of psychological dysfunctions are based on people NOT being able to reach this stage of sleep over time.
Stage three is where our bodies get a turn to do some deep cleaning and repair. We are almost paralyzed in this state. Our muscles turn to lead and we are in “deep” sleep. Its when all the physical damage begins to be repaired. When we exercise we are causing small “micro-trauma” to our muscles, ligaments and tendons. This stage of sleep is critical not only for repair but our bodies will actually become stronger the next day. This is where you get your “gains”. Again, not being able to get to this stage of sleep on a regular basis will cause your body to start the next day still slightly injured and you’ll stop seeing results at the gym. Over time, you will become more prone to injury and can develop chronic inflammation where you just always hurt all over, feel stiff and just plain tired.
The last stage is the most famous: REM (yes like the band) or Rapid Eye Movement. This is where we dream, transition back to Stage One of sleep and start the cycle over again. It’s also a phase where our brains heal and repair, we store memories and nurture all the millions of neurons.
Okay so I’ll say it again. Exercise is important, critical in fact, to living a long and healthy life. However, if you’re seeing your results at the gym begin to lag or if you feel like you’re doing all the right things and simply not feeling “it”, you might need to focus on your sleep. Doing more reps, taking another class, starting another new diet or supplement will NOT make up for a poor night’s sleep…ever. If you find yourself not being able to sleep, whether it’s falling asleep or staying asleep or both, please don’t ignore it. Feel free to reach out and we’ll do our best to help you 🙂