Sleep as a new frontier of training

Elena Casiraghi, PhD
Tell me how you eat and I'll tell you who you are says a famous proverb. And if this is true for food, it is even more true for sleep, a factor that significantly influences daily efficiency in life. A habit, that of sleeping, which to tell the truth we could also replace with the terms "rest", as well as "recovery". As in sports, also in everyday life, resting activates psycho-physical well-being. The phase of recovery from our labors thus lies at the basis of the efficiency of our daily activities. In other words, the quality used to carry them out. And you may be amazed to learn that not only how much we sleep counts, but also how we sleep. Let's discover more.

Day and night: a single bond

Once it was thought that the only activities of the day influenced the quality of sleep, worries, anxieties, thoughts of all kinds. Today instead science has shown that how we sleep also influences our mind and our actions by including the two events in a two-way communication relationship. Our mind determines how we sleep, our sleep, consequently, will influence our mind and more importantly our well-being. There is more. What we do during the day will affect the quality of our night's rest.

To feel good, therefore, it is necessary to be friends with our daily nutrition, exercise and, last but not least, sleep.

It is in fact during sleep that the stimuli induced by the training session are activated, not during training. The latter only create the potential to achieve fitness. It is impossible to think of maximum performance without taking into account the athlete's sleep at night.

What sleep is for?

Before we show you how to optimise the quality of sleep, it is essential to know the value of sleep. To simplify, we can say that night sleep purifies the brain. Sleeping at night allows our organism to save energy; in fact the energy expenditure in this window of time is reduced to a minimum. Just what it takes to "survive". And most of the energy the body draws from the liver glycogen, the reserve of glucose droplets crammed into the liver. An important damage to it leads to an increased craving for sugar-rich foods during the next day. An instinct of our body to restore these reserves.
Sleep at night, among other things, also serves to fix certain "data" learned during the day in our memory, to re-elaborate the most repressed desires (what the psychoanalyst Freud called "drives"), to discard all those "data" that are not useful to us so as to create new space in our cerebral "disk". At night, moreover, some hormones indispensable for sports performance and which are at the basis of recovery are also synthesized. Losing hours at night, therefore, would mean reducing - or cancelling - the training stimuli. For example, athletes who do not sleep at night or who have a disturbed sleep are often subject to injury, suffer from muscle catabolism and have a weakened immune system.

How a sleep disturbance affects metabolism

It is therefore clear that an alteration in sleep at night - if prolonged over time - leads to a hormonal imbalance. In addition, there is an increase in the synthesis of the hunger hormone grelina, which leads to increased hunger and food intake. There is more. A lack of sleep or a night's sleep with numerous waking times leads to increased synthesis of the stress hormone cortisol, which should be kept within an optimal zone, neither too much nor too little. An excess of cortisol makes us feel more stressed, nervous, anxious, fatten faster, lose weight with greater difficulty, lose muscle mass and tone and, last but not least, decreases the efficiency of our immune system. In other words, we could get sick more easily and heal with greater difficulty. Just to mention a few problems that lack of sleep or a worsening of its quality could induce.
Insomnia affects men and women equally. But there are times when the lack of sleep at night is characteristic of the female metabolism. These are not pathological states, however. On the contrary, it is a completely normal event that can affect women from around the age of 45, i.e. during the premenopausal and menopausal period. The blame lies with the estrogen hormones, which can lead to sleeping disorders. The good news, however, is that there are scientifically shared strategies that can promote a better quality of sleep. Starting with nutritional ones.

The (nutritional) rules for a good night's sleep

It is fixed in our mind that food only serves to supply calories, or energy, to our body. In reality, the food we consume can do so much more. It can even affect sleep. What we eat before going to bed therefore counts. That's why it's good to know what nutritional strategies can help us rest at night.

1. An extra gear with magnesium: this mineral seems to promote the quality of sleep, thanks to its ability to relax muscles and regulate neurotransmitters that send positive signals to the central nervous system, normalising, among other things, the synthesis of melatonin, the wake-sleep hormone. Some studies suggest that around 200-400 mg of magnesium every evening could be beneficial to enjoy this benefit.

2. Watch the caffeine and the foods that contain it: known as an exciting substance, caffeine has a capacity to halve in the blood within 4-6 hours after taking it. The advice, therefore, is to take the last coffee of the day after lunch, especially if you are experiencing problems with falling asleep. Anyway, a valid suggestion for everyone can be to avoid caffeine after 4 p.m. Another one is not to exceed 2-3 cups of coffee in a day. It is also good to pay attention to the consumption of chocolate and cocoa, which are rich in Theobromine (a substance similar to caffeine). Attension also on black tea, cappuccino, colas and any dietary supplements containing caffeine.

3. All the energy of vitamin C: if you are supplementing this vitamin, take it preferably with breakfast or lunch. Vitamin C has an energizing effect on the cells, a real burst of energy. It is therefore best to avoid it in high concentration in the evening hours.

4. The food that promotes sleep: let's say it right away, skipping dinner or taking many fewer calories or carbohydrates than one's own energy needs worsens the quality of sleep. Therefore, do not leave a portion of this nutrient missing from your dinner as it can induce sleep problems and early awakening. Some sources of protein also seem to be able to stimulate a better quality of sleep because they are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that performs an activity similar to serotonin, the hormone of calm and pleasure. This hormone is in turn essential for the synthesis of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is the case with chicken meat, egg white, cod and fish in general, as well as soya and cow's milk and yoghurt. Before going to bed, therefore, a glass of cow's milk or a jar of white yoghurt (as long as you are not lactose intolerant) could be a good secret to help you rest at night and, at the same time, curb the physiological muscular catabolism that is activated during long periods of fasting, for example at night. And to leave nothing to chance, you can add a scoop of milk protein powder (such as the so-called milk protein or whey protein or casein powder). Together, the milk proteins will promote sleep and on the other hand will nourish the lean mass by reducing catabolism.

/related post

Technogym and design: a key match, from equipment to interior design

The leading fitness brand offers architects and designers a series of design premium services to bes...