Great! Now that the title has your attention, read on to learn how you can literally sleep your way to a better body!
As fitness fanatics and training enthusiasts we are always clawing at new ways to add that extra edge to our physical goals; be it in appearance, performance, or both. However, when it comes to this massively overlooked and under-valued factor, we pay very little attention to how this magical strategy can completely turn the tide in our struggle to fitter, healthier, leaner, bigger and stronger. What am I talking about? I am referring to SLEEP!
We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales and commonly spouted adages of how important getting good sleep can be. “You need to sleep in order to grow big and strong!” But is sleep really as important as it’s made out to be?
Poor sleep quality is linked to everything, from increased stress levels to decreased immune function, to weight gain or muscle loss and reduced sport or cognitive brain performance. “What? Did you seriously mean weight gain and muscle loss?” Absolutely!
We’re generally so concerned with and cognisant of our food intake, supplement usage and exercise performance since these are the things that are often most focused on by magazines, the internet and fitness gurus. However, the only mention that the topic of sleep gets in the list of important things we need to align in order to get the body of our dreams and the fitness performance so fervently desire is, at best, a quiet whisper.
So let me say this in a way that will surely catch a wake-up (or catch some more “Zs” as it were):
“One just one, bad night’s sleep (less than 8 hours of uninterrupted) can increase insulin resistance (which leads to disease and fat storage)? It also makes you eat and crave bad food, skip gym sessions or not perform at your best, both cognitively (brain) or physically (in the gym).” 1
What does the research have to say about how lack of sleep can affect the progress of our fitness success? Let’s have a look.
- An increase in fatigue: Of course, we would be more fatigued if we did not get an adequate amount of sleep. However, this consequence of sleep deprivation greatly affects our caloric expenditure, by greatly decreasing it, and massively hampers our physical performance (as well as reducing our desire to exercise at all). You cannot get better or grow if you are not giving our all.2 4
- Increases in Ghrelin Levels and decreases in Leptin levels: Ghrelin is otherwise known as the hunger hormone. When ghrelin levels increase in the body, your appetite is greatly increased, and this makes you want to eat more. An overall increase so far as 28% in these levels has been recorded as a result of poor sleep. Leptin is the opposite hormone to ghrelin. Leptin signals to the brain that you are full, and you need to stop eating. When this decreases, you continue to eat, even if you aren’t hungry. Not only have studies shown a decrease of up to 20% in leptin levels, but some have even shown that your desire to eat calorie dense, high carbohydrate and fat meals increases. This can be seriously bad news for our overall body composition.3
- Reduced immune function and lower testosterone levels: A single night subpar sleep can radically reduce your immune function. In other words, you may possibly get sick more often and make it extraordinarily difficult for your body to recover from training, which is already risky business for those dieting down.5 As for testosterone levels, a recorded study has shown that low testosterone is, at present, a common health issue amongst men. This has been inextricably linked to poor sleep. Low testosterone levels means more fat and less muscle. Need I say more?
So what’s the solution? How can you better improve your sleep quality?
- Stop the stims: Not entirely, obviously, but try cutting off your stimulants and stimulant intake by the mid-afternoon. This does not just include pre-workouts (if you train in the evenings, a stim-free pre-workout would be a great alternative to use), but coffee too.7
- No more blue light: At least an hour before going to bed, eliminate all your exposure to blue light by shutting off laptops, phones, tablets, and TVs. Be aware that blue light exposure tricks your brain into thinking that it is daytime. If you really cannot go without technology before bed, try downloading Flux onto your laptop and devices and, wear orange lensed or blue light glasses. These block off the blue light rays from your devices into your eyes.7
- Meal timing actually helps: It has been observed that a large meal eaten before bed can alter your circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep. Conversely, going to bed with a strong hunger can also inhibit efficient and adequate sleep. Therefore, try eating a light meal 90 minutes before bed. This would be a good middle ground.7
- Magnesium, Melatonin and GABA: These are all supplements that are really beneficial when it comes to improving sleep quality. Once they are added to your supplement arsenal in their recommended doses (starting with box recommendations will do), watch how your sleep notably improves.
So, when you are calculating your calories, drawing up your meal plans, designing your training programs and sorting out your supplements, be sure to add the necessary steps it takes to prepare a night of eight quality uninterrupted sleeping hours and watch all your body and fitness goals kick into high gear.
- Mawer R, MSc, “How To Transform Your Physique With Sleep – Mastering Growth Hormone (Evidence Based)”. Retrieved 30 Jan, 2019. https://www.rudymawer.com/blog/boost-growth-hormone-sleep-like-baby-evidence-based/
- Dinges, D. F., et al. 1997. Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine.
- Spiegel, K., et al. 2004. Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of internal medicine, 141(11), 846-850.
- Goldman, S. E., et al. 2007. Poor sleep is associated with poorer physical performance and greater functional limitations in older women. Sleep – New York Then Westchester-, 30(10), 1317.
- Cohen, S., et al. 2009. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine, 169(1), 62-67.
- Granata, A. R., et al. 1997. Relationship between sleep‐related erections and testosterone levels in men. Journal of Andrology, 18(5), 522-527.
- “Science Tells All: Get Shredded While You Sleep”. Retrieved 30 Jan, 2019. https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/get-shredded-while-you-sleep.