Sleep Your Way Fit

New UCLA research connects rest to fitness gains.

Once viewed as a nuisance to productivity, sleep is now considered a critical component of wellness. While we're sleeping the body is hard at work strengthening the immune system, flushing out toxins, and repairing muscles. Sleep can even help you get better results from your workouts.

Recent research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, in partnership with Equinox, sheds new light on the relationship between sleep and fitness. In the study, 32 healthy and active Equinox members (between 22 and 44 years old) worked out with a trainer once a week while doing thrice-weekly cardio on their own.

In addition to that, a subset of study subjects also took part in sleep coaching; participants were taught how to get better sleep while traveling and when to turn off tech before bedtime, among other things. After a few sessions, coaches adjusted participants' sleep schedules based on their body's natural circadian rhythm and solved for sleep-disrupting obstacles, like pre-bed stress, with mindfulness techniques.

After 12 weeks, both groups saw various measures of their fitness (such as body composition and aerobic performance) improve, but the participants who received sleep coaching had bigger gains—nearly all of their numbers improved two-fold. "They had a lower body fat percentage, more lower-body muscle strength, and a higher maximum oxygen uptake and lactic acid threshold," explains Christopher Cooper, Ph.D., a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and lead study author and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "So for example, if you were training for a marathon and saw these measures improve, you could run faster."

"Ultimately, this means that for the same amount of work, you get a better return on your investment," adds Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA who developed the sleep coaching component.

While experts need more research to know for sure how the coaching impacted sleep, Cooper says the implications are nonetheless important for anyone who's training.

Small improvements in your fitness performance, like changes in body fat or maximum oxygen intake, can make a big difference," says Cooper, which could be what it takes to set a new PR.

For an idea of what the study participants experienced in sleep coaching, take our quiz below.

Your Personalized Sleep Coach

Take this short quiz inspired by UCLA and Equinox’s study to learn more about your individual sleep needs. Plus, find out if your current routine could benefit from tweaks to boost health, alertness, and performance.


1. How much sleep do you get each night?

You likely need more rest.
A small percentage of people can function on five or six hours, but most need at least seven, says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA. If you're convinced you don't need much, try Martin's clever test to know for sure: Next time you're on vacation, see how long you sleep without an alarm and schedule. "If you still go to bed at midnight, spring up at 5 a.m., and can feel energized throughout the day without caffeine or other stimulants, you're one of those biologically short sleepers," she says.

Right on track.
Most people function at their best with this amount of sleep. If you don't feel sleepy throughout the day or need several cups of coffee to stay alert, keep up this amount. But if you're still tired, you might need more. "A lot of people require as much as nine hours and that's perfectly normal," says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA.

More is usually still healthy.
We live in a culture that wears lack of sleep like a badge, so it's easy to feel concerned if you only feel refreshed after eight or more hours. But it's perfectly healthy to sleep this long if that's what your body needs, says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA. The only red flag to watch out for is persistent fatigue. "If you're clocking in nine or ten hours each night and still feel exhausted, check in with a specialist, as you might have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea," she says.

You likely need more rest.
A small percentage of people can function on five or six hours, but most need at least seven, says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA. If you're convinced you don't need much, try Martin's clever test to know for sure: Next time you're on vacation, see how long you sleep without an alarm and schedule. "If you still go to bed at midnight, spring up at 5 a.m., and can feel energized throughout the day without caffeine or other stimulants, you're one of those biologically short sleepers," she says.

Right on track.
Most people function at their best with this amount of sleep. If you don't feel sleepy throughout the day or need several cups of coffee to stay alert, keep up this amount. But if you're still tired, you might need more. "A lot of people require as much as nine hours and that's perfectly normal," says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA.

More is usually still healthy.
We live in a culture that wears lack of sleep like a badge, so it's easy to feel concerned if you only feel refreshed after eight or more hours. But it's perfectly healthy to sleep this long if that's what your body needs, says Jennifer Martin, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board and associate professor of medicine at UCLA. The only red flag to watch out for is persistent fatigue. "If you're clocking in nine or ten hours each night and still feel exhausted, check in with a specialist, as you might have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea," she says.

2. How tired are you by 10pm?

Circadian tendency: Lark
If you've hit the sack by 10 p.m. and generally wake up around sunrise, you're probably a lark. "It's important for this group not to push themselves to stay up too late if they're already feeling tired late evening," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

Circadian tendency: Third bird
Sounds like you might be someone between the classic lark and owl types. "These people tend to have flexibility in their sleep schedules, but they typically can't handle extremes like working night shifts or waking up super early," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

Circadian tendency: Owl
"If you usually get to bed around or after midnight, it would be ideal if you can schedule commitments like meetings and even workouts after 8 a.m.," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

Circadian tendency: Lark
If you've hit the sack by 10 p.m. and generally wake up around sunrise, you're probably a lark. "It's important for this group not to push themselves to stay up too late if they're already feeling tired late evening," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

Circadian tendency: Third bird
Sounds like you might be someone between the classic lark and owl types. "These people tend to have flexibility in their sleep schedules, but they typically can't handle extremes like working night shifts or waking up super early," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

Circadian tendency: Owl
"If you usually get to bed around or after midnight, it would be ideal if you can schedule commitments like meetings and even workouts after 8 a.m.," says Martin. To get a better sense of your natural circadian preferences, keep a sleep and alertness diary during days off or on vacation. "Absent from schedules and obligations, you'll realize the times of the day when you're most alert or sleepiest and can tailor your sleep times accordingly," she says.

3. What are you usually doing before bed?

Switch off your tech.
Though it's good to wind down with a pre-bedtime routine, this one will leave you too alert. "Not only do devices emit blue wavelength light that can make it harder to fall asleep, the content of emails or Instagram posts stirs up too many emotions, which can leave you wide awake," she adds. Switch off tech at least two hours before bed and unwind by settling in with a book, doing a meditation, or taking a warm bath.

Keep at it.
"Bedtime routines are a signal to our body that it's time to go to sleep soon, so we naturally begin to relax," says Martin. "When you're at ease, you're able to not only fall asleep, but stay asleep and have more quality shut-eye." She suggests sticking to the same routine so that the brain "expects" sleep to occur at the end.

Find a bedtime routine.
If you're having trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, or don't seem to be rested in the morning, this habit may be to blame. "Going to bed right away doesn't give your body enough time to wind down, which can leave you awake or lead to restless sleep," says Martin. Find a calming ritual-a warm bath, meditation, reading, or aromatherapy-to do 30 to 60 minutes before turning off the lights.

Switch off your tech.
Though it's good to wind down with a pre-bedtime routine, this one will leave you too alert. "Not only do devices emit blue wavelength light that can make it harder to fall asleep, the content of emails or Instagram posts stirs up too many emotions, which can leave you wide awake," she adds. Switch off tech at least two hours before bed and unwind by settling in with a book, doing a meditation, or taking a warm bath.

Keep at it.
"Bedtime routines are a signal to our body that it's time to go to sleep soon, so we naturally begin to relax," says Martin. "When you're at ease, you're able to not only fall asleep, but stay asleep and have more quality shut-eye." She suggests sticking to the same routine so that the brain "expects" sleep to occur at the end.

Find a bedtime routine.
If you're having trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, or don't seem to be rested in the morning, this habit may be to blame. "Going to bed right away doesn't give your body enough time to wind down, which can leave you awake or lead to restless sleep," says Martin. Find a calming ritual-a warm bath, meditation, reading, or aromatherapy-to do 30 to 60 minutes before turning off the lights.

Photo: Getty Images