Sleep. Who needs it right? Our time is much better spent partying, drinking, playing video games, and whatever else happens after midnight.
The reality is however, if fitness is your goal, a lack of sleep may be making you fat and keeping you from building muscle.
Diet and exercise are the main drivers of progress, but sleep isn’t too far behind. Sleep affects everything. Your hunger, hormones, ability to train and recover effectively are all directly related to the quality of your sleep.
Facts are, if you’re not getting 6-10 hours of sleep per night you’re likely leaving a lot of gains on the table (and fat on your waist).
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Hormones, Fat Loss, and Muscle Gain
The five hormones affected most by lack of sleep are leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, testosterone, and growth hormone.
Leptin is mainly determined by the amount of fat mass you have. The higher your body fat percentage, the higher your leptin levels. This is good when it comes to fat loss because the higher your leptin levels, the easier it is to lose fat.
The problem is that dieting and weight loss naturally reduce leptin. This is one of the reasons why the longer you diet, and the more you lose, the harder it becomes to lose fat. And guess what else lowers leptin levels? That’s right, lack of sleep.
A lack of sleep also increases the body’s production of ghrelin. This is the hormone responsible for making you feel hungry. The more ghrelin that’s produced, the hungirer you feel. This is why people report feeling hungrier the day after a poor night’s sleep. By decreasing leptin and increasing ghrelin, the body makes it damn near impossible to lose fat.
Sleep deprivation also increases the body’s production of cortisol. And while increased cortisol is not a bad thing, chronically elevated levels (like those associated with sleep deprivation) are.
Cortisol is frequently associated with fat gain because it activates the reward center in your brain that makes you crave food. And not the good kind either.
A lack of sleep can directly hinders the body’s ability to build muscle. Testosterone, the number one hormone when it comes to hypertrophy, is directly related to sleep quality. Studies have shown that decreases in testosterone production of 10% or greater can occur from sleep deprivation.
Growth hormone (GH) production, which helps the body burn fat and build muscle, is also reduced by getting less sleep. Most of the body’s GH is produced while you’re sleeping, and increased cortisol actually slows GH production. So not only do you produce less GH because you sleep less, but by sleeping less your increased cortisol levels hinder your GH production even further.
A lack of sleep can directly affect your performance in the gym, and your recovery. Not only does less sleep inhibit the body’s ability to build muscle, which helps burn more fat, but it also impairs your performance in and out of the gym.
Being under-slept leads to less energy, less focus, a slowed reaction time, and shortened attention span. All this decreases the intensity and effectiveness of your workouts, and can put you at greater risk for injury.
It also limits the time your body has to recover from physical activity. When we sleep, the body doesn’t need to expand energy on certain processes we need while were awake, so it can use that energy to build and repair muscle. Less sleep means less time your body spends repairing and recovering.
How to Sleep Your Way to Gainz
Now that we know why sleep is so important, let’s look how to increase the quality of our sleep.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Your body will get use to this, and will release the appropriate hormones at these times to help you fall asleep and wake up.
- Time your meals appropriately. Going to bed too full or too hungry can interrupt your natural sleep patterns. Try and eat your last meal about 3-4 hours before sleep as this will provide ample digestion time without leaving your hungry.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. 1-2 drinks has been shown to provide some health benefits, but too much alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns. You may think it helps you helps you sleep when it actuality alcohol lessens the quality of your sleep. Similarly too much caffeine later in the day can make it harder to fall asleep. By limiting your consumption of both, you can greatly increase your quality of sleep.
- Turn off all electronics 30 minutes before sleep. The light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with the brain’s ability to produce melatonin, the hormone needed for deep sleep.
- Read or meditate. Do something less stimulating and relaxing before bed. This could include things like reading, meditating, deep breathing, or anything that helps calm you down.
- Sex before bed is another natural sleep aid. Intercourse inhibits the release of cortisol. Less cortisol in the body will help you feel more relaxed.
- Control Your Environment. Keep your room as dark as possible. Light inhibits melatonin production, which helps you fall asleep. Also make sure to find a comfortable temperature. Being too hot or too cold can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult.
Sadly we live in a society that places less and less emphasis on sleep, as we try to squeeze more hours out of the day in the name of productivity or whatever else we think is more important.
But the reality however, is that sleep is more important. So instead of sacrificing sleep for other activities, try hitting the sack early. Your body will thank you.
More questions about sleep? Shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to answer.