The Negative Impact Intense Workouts Have on Your Sleep

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You already know the importance of getting adequate nutrition after you workout to promote muscle growth. But, did you know that the true gold standard of your post workout regimen is getting enough sleep? 

Ironically, this golden ticket that might be the most important is also something that can possibly be hindered by a hard workout. A study conducted by Loughborough University looked into the effect that heavy training has on your sleep. To conduct the experiment the scientists, lead by head researcher S.C. Killer, studied the effects of two nine-day periods of heavy training, on 13 competitive cyclists.

The scientists payed close attention to the amount the athletes trained, and also closely monitored the athlete’s moods, sleep patterns, and performance before, during, and after exercise. The study also took diet into consideration by giving the athletes high or moderate amounts of carbs throughout the study. 

Through their study, the researchers found that as little as nine days of intense training has the ability to cause significant decline in sleep quality. They also observed that the athlete’s moods in regards to exercise and capacity for exercise worsened over that period of time. 

However, the lack of sleep was not due to lack of effort. In fact, the study reveals that the athletes did spend more time in bed throughout the intense training, but, interestingly, the extra time in bed did not result in more sleep, which might suggest that the hard training can lead to tossing and turning. 

The study notes, “The cycle of successful training must involve overload to a state of acute fatigue, followed by a period of rest. The results of such training are positive adaptations and improvements in performance. However, if overloaded training is not followed by sufficient rest, overreaching may occur.”

The result of a lack of sleep when you should be sleeping like a baby after some of your hardest workouts could be caused by stress or adrenaline. Dr. Eve Van Cauter, director of the University of Chicago’s Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center explained the effect of workouts on your body in an article with Outside Magazine.

“Strenuous exercise beyond the usual for a given individual does activate stress responsive systems, including the release of cortisol in the evening and adrenaline and it is well known that difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep may occur,” Van Cauter told the site. 

The study conducted by Loughborough University came to similar conclusion. It is possible that training will elicit a level of stress that induces fatigue and the body responds with enhanced or at least sufficient sleep (restorative theory of sleep) or alternatively the combination of physiological and psychological stresses associated with intensified training programs will result in a reduction in sleep efficiency and/or duration.

According to Outside Magazine, keeping hydrated and fueling properly post workout can aid sleep by “blunting that cortisol response, which may make it easier to sleep even after an unusually epic training day.”

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