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Kickoff's certified personal trainers and registered dietitians share detailed analysis, discussion, and how-tos about the questions we get most often

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What matters most when it comes to fitness results: exercise or nutrition? Neither.

The most important thing is sleep.

Sufficient, high quality sleep provides a bewildering array of benefits; lack of sleep inhibits muscle gain, drives fat gain, and causes innumerable other problems. At Kickoff, we don’t believe a client can reach their potential without great sleep. Countless studies and athlete experience have shown that sleep, wellness, nutrition, hydration, injury prevention and exercise are all required for optimal fitness results, but sleep forms the foundation because it enables all the rest.

That’s why sleep occupies the base of the Kickoff Pyramid, our model for driving optimal fitness results.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive into each step of the Pyramid in detail, starting with a number of posts on sleep.

Why sleep matters so much

Insufficient sleep is associated with countless problems (see Harvard Medicine for in-depth discussion), but some of the most critical include impaired:

  • Illness prevention

  • Energy (including during workouts)

  • Alertness

  • Mental and intellectual capability

  • Memory

  • Aging

  • Libido

  • Life expectancy

  • Metabolism - in fact, a lot of the value of exercise is that it makes you tired, helps you sleep better, which in turn accelerates your metabolism further

A number of factors drive an even greater need for sleep:

  • Working out (another reason we put sleep at the base of the Pyramid!)

  • Intellectual problem solving 

  • Stress

  • Recovery from illness

We have seen the direct relationship between sleep and fitness results in our Kickoff clients:

  • Clients report having a great workout 90% of the time when they got at least 7 hours of sleep the night before, versus 55% of the time when they got <7 hours

  • Clients who report getting sick are much more likely to have reported less sleep in the past few days

Ok, I get it - sleep is important. So what?

1. Shoot for 7-9 hours per night. That's what the National Sleep Foundation recommends. Interestingly, humans gradually need slightly less sleep as they age, from birth to age 100+, but we all need a lot, and we generally do not get what we need, at any age.

2. Don't sacrifice sleep to workout.

Sometimes you might have to sacrifice workout time to get the sleep you need.  Ideally don’t miss out on either.

Instead sacrifice:

  • Unproductive work hours: e.g. set a deadline of 5 or 6pm when you’ll head to the gym and define the tasks you really must get done by that time - focus on them and only them

  • TV 

  • Social media 

  • Surfing the web (though we all know getting lost in wikipedia articles about the South Pacific can be pretty fascinating once in a while :)

  • The other things in life you’re trying to cut back on anyway

3. Furthermore, avoid pushing through when tired at night. 

Go to sleep when you get tired if you can.  While you can often obtain an “extra wind” where your body will jumpstart your metabolism in order to wake you up, it comes at a high cost. It’s borrowing energy from your immune system, and it’s borrowing from tomorrow. Stanford Dr. Roger Washington described this all-too-common situation in his book Sleep Matters and on an interesting episode of the podcast Fat Burning Man. Humans evolved over millennia to be able to overcome sleepiness in times of stress - this saved lives in more dangerous times.  Yes, the health effects were horrible (see above), but at least you weren’t eaten! When you push beyond sleepiness (to finish work, to keep drinking, to finish a movie, etc.), you are exploiting this self preservation technique for far less gain.  The immune system is hit hardest. The cost is not worth it!

Get some sleep!