Are your fitness efforts being wrecked by lack of sleep?
All three - exercise, diet and sleep - are absolutes. But when you think of each as pillars of health, sleep is fundamental. You need a minimum of seven hours of good sleep every night for a healthy mind and a healthy body.
But adequate sleep doesn’t just help you to perform well at the gym. Here’s why catching those zzz’s is so crucial - and what happens when you don’t get enough sleep.
1. It changes fat cells
Without adequate sleep, your body suffers from ‘metabolic grogginess’ (great term, not-so-great for your body). This basically means that your body’s hormones are no longer able to control fat cells as effectively. Insulin is the hormone responsible for removing fatty acids and lipids from your bloodstream to prevent fat storage - and it drops when you’re not properly rested. This leads to insulin resistance and fat storage in all the wrong places.
2. It boosts athletic performance
Whether you’re an athlete or budding gym-goer, sleep is your best friend. A study by Stanford University School of Medicine found basketball players who slept for 10 hours a night for five to eleven weeks improved their average sprint time, boosted their shooting accuracy and suffered less daytime fatigue.
3. It aids workout recovery
Poor rest makes it harder for your body to recover from a workout. It slows down the production of growth hormone (produced in slow wave sleep) and increases the stress hormone cortisol, which affects mood, digestion and various other bodily functions. It also makes it harder for your body to make muscle (which we know is the enemy of fat) and can make you prone to more injuries.
4. It improves memory
You may be snoozing, but your mind is working hard. During the night you strengthen memories and ‘practice’ skills you learned during the day. This is called consolidation, which the American Physiological Society has studied extensively. Learning a new tennis swing? Polishing up a new dance routine? Whatever it is, you’ll perform better after sleeping.
5. It affects your appetite
Stepping away from that cookie jar has nothing to do with willpower. Hunger is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, produced in your body’s fat cells, is responsible for suppressing hunger. The less leptin you produce, the more you feel hungry. The less sleep you have, the less leptin you produce. Similarly, the more ghrelin you produce in the stomach (which goes up when you’re sleep deprived), the more appetite is stimulated.
How to get better sleep
Moral of the story: if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re setting yourself up for weight gain and rendering workouts ineffective. You may be able to function perfectly on only five hours of sleep per night but you’re doing your body no favours. So how do you make sure you’re getting enough rest? We’ve got some tips…
- Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm (also know as our body clock) that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat and other physiological processes.
- Monitor your food and drink. Going to bed hungry or full may keep you up in the night. Likewise, drinking too much can wake you up for toilet trips. Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which can wreak havoc on sleep quality.
- Make your room a sleep haven. This means no TV in bed - that blue glow does nothing for your natural circadian rhythms. The only thing you should have in there to ease your sleep are books (non-fiction is best). Making your bed only for sleep means your body immediately rests when you’re in there - no distractions.