Ask any fitness instructor, gym bunny, fighter or runner how they keep in shape and their answer will likely revolve around diet and training regimes. Which, in a sense, it should. After all, eat less and exercise more is the standard weight loss / fitness advice from medical professionals and enthusiast alike. Yes, lower calories and increased activity do lead to weight loss, but that just isn’t the whole of the story, especially for those looking to increase muscle mass rather than simply losing weight.
What’s missing? Sleep.
Sleep is the missing ingredient. With our busy modern lifestyles, fitting in work, childcare, a social life and a good training programme, many of us simply do not get enough sleep, and it truly is a key aspect toward achieving your training, weight and fitness goals. It stands to reason that as an athlete, you need more calories and nutrition to cope with pushing your body further – so logic suggests that your body probably needs more sleep, too.
Research suggests 7 hours is a good baseline, but unsurprisingly, many of us are simply not achieving that on a regular basis. Initially, this lack of sleep has a negative impact on training time. A poor nights sleep can leave you not feeling motivated, to tired to do is justice, and unable to perform to the level you need to stretch yourself and keep building muscle.
What’s more, sleep helps to increase protein synthesis, which aids in muscle building and repair. This means not only is it harder to reach your fitness goals, but a sleep debt can actually increase the risk of muscle injury; thereby further decreasing training time and creating a vicious cycle. Growth hormones are released during slow wave sleep, and yes, you’ve guessed it, bad sleep means much less low wave sleep as well as increasing cortisol, which also acts to slow growth hormone production.
Studies suggest that bad sleep / not enough can also affect the way your fat cells behave. After a few days of insufficient sleep, your body changes the way it uses insulin, which your body uses to help fat cells function properly and prevent fat storage. When this is out of whack, the fat cells act less efficiently, leaving lipids in your blood stream which then end up as fatty deposits in areas they shouldn’t be in.
Worse still, sleep deficit can trigger cravings for more and more food for energy, and not necessarily the right type of foods either.
Leptin and Ghrelin, the two hormones primarily responsible for appetite, are directly affected by insufficient sleep. More ghrelin is produced, and less leptin, which results in increased hunger. Ever been exhausted and felt a big slice of sugary cake would do the trick? It won’t, but the quick burst of sugar energy makes it feel like it does. Even when you know that, lack o f sleep is known to impair judgement, meaning all of your good intentions can go right out of the window at a time when actually your body needs you to make the healthiest choices. Not good for weight loss, and not good for those trying to improve sporting performance with a good, high protein diet.
Aiming for 7 – 9 hours a night should improve reflexes, accuracy, strength and stamina. How to make sure this happens?
Create a routine. Lie ins might seem like way to reduce sleep debt, but a regular schedule will make it easier to sleep at night as you body settles into a regular rhythm.
Reduce both alcohol and caffeine consumption, particular late in the evening when it can be very disruptive.
Try to schedule training to give you some ‘wind down’ time before sleep so that you are fully relaxed and refuelled and ready to easily fall asleep.
Keep your sleeping quarters away from any training areas to create a restful mindset that isn’t racing with ideas of improved work outs!
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