Written by: Timothy Schultz, CPT
(Estimated reading time: 5 mins)
No, this isn’t a clickbait article or some silly gimmick. Read on and you’ll realise you’re leaving a whole lot of progress in the bedroom. No, not that kind of progress…
Achieving your fitness goals boils down to optimizing 3 areas (in no particular order):
Recovery is the ugly stepchild no one wants to acknowledge – it encompases things such as soft tissue work and stretching but most importantly, sleep. It’s not sexy but you will achieve better results, faster by improving your sleeping habits – much more than any supplement or the latest and greatest belly wrap can offer. Not convinced? Read on friend.
Why is sleep so important?
It doesn’t matter if your goal is to drop a dress size, build a thicc booty or squat 700 lbs – if you’re not sleeping enough every night your results will be diminished and your body will be quite literally fighting against you and your hard earned progress.
Adequate sleeping habits will directly enhance the efficiency of your metabolism – building more muscle, burning more fat and gaining more strength.
The opposite is also true and all too common (exacerbated by our modern busy lifestyles) – a lack of sleep will slow your metabolism, increase feelings of hunger and craving of energy dense foods, reduce energy expenditure, increase blood pressure, increase cortisol and can result in insulin resistance.
When discussing metabolism it’s important to understand the two biggest long term regulators of food intake – insulin and leptin; which are released proportionately to how much body fat you have (more fat = more leptin). These two hormones act with inhibitory effects on food intake while at the same time increasing energy expenditure (dieters everywhere rejoice!). Ghrelin on the other hand is like leptin’s evil twin, it is an appetite stimulating hormone with levels rapidly rising before meals and falling after eating (2).
Leptin and ghrelin are two sides of the same coin working as opposing metabolic counterparts to maintain body mass homeostasis. Sleep duration has a massive impact on the regulation of leptin and ghrelin levels, several studies have shown this so let’s dive into some now. Jump to the next section on how to improve sleeping habits if you already understand the importance of sleep and its impact on your metabolism, if not read on friend.
If the extreme popularity of caffeine isn’t an indication of our sleep deprived society, the fact that over 30% of Americans aged 30-64 report sleeping less than 6 hours per night (2) should be. On average we sleep for 6.8 hours as opposed to a century ago when we were getting 9 hours of sleep (1). This reduction in sleep is likely the result of our busy modern lifestyles and the general thought that cutting sleep to the bare minimum is pretty harmless (no harm in one more Netflix episode, right?).
Laboratory studies have revealed that sleep deprivation alters the metabolism of glucose as well as the hormones that are involved in regulating your metabolism, meaning decreased levels of leptin and an increase in ghrelin levels (1). Ghrelin levels increase with a lack of sleep – not a big deal right? Well, a randomized crossover study was done restricting sleep for 2 nights (4 hrs/ night) followed by 2 nights of increased sleep (10 hrs/ night). This study showed a significant reduction in leptin levels (18%) and a skyrocketing 28% increase in levels of ghrelin. This same study resulted in a 24% increase in participants hunger rating as well as a 23% increase in appetite rating. The analysis of this appetite rating showed the participants increased their cravings for high carbohydrate, salty and starchy foods by 45%! (1). Good luck adhering to any diet with a raging appetite for energy dense foods due to increased ghrelin levels.
Not convinced? Read on!
Penev et al. published a recent study showing that short term partial sleep deprivation (under 5.5hrs/ day) in normal individuals increased consumption of calories from snacks with no increase in total energy expenditure (1). Another study via Patel et al. showed sleeping 5 hours or less was associated with a 3.7 fold increased odds of obesity among males and a 2.3 fold increase among women in comparison to folks sleeping 7-8 hours a night (1).
A study performed at the University of Chicago followed participants for 4 weeks in a modest caloric deficit. The first 2 weeks they slept 8.5hrs and the last 2 weeks they were given 5.5hrs sleep, caloric intake remained the same. The participants lost an average of 6.6lbs through each 2 week block. During the weeks with adequate sleep they lost 3.1lbs of fat and 3.3lbs of fat free mass (mostly protein). Now, here is where you should wake up to the importance of sleep – during the inadequate sleep weeks they lost 1.3lbs of fat and 5.3lbs of fat free mass! (3)
While total weight loss remained the same, the reduction in sleep lead to 2lbs more muscle lost! Muscle is the holy grail when it comes to fat loss, your priority during fat loss is to retain as much muscle as possible as it is metabolically active tissue (it consumes calories at rest). Meaning the more muscle you have the more calories your body burns at rest, aka the more food you can eat and still lose weight (yay!).
Trying to lose weight is hard enough, don’t shoot yourself in the foot with a crashed metabolism and raging hunger due to inadequate sleep.
Steps to improving sleep (and making more gainzzz)
- Aim for 7-10 hrs of sleep every night waking up at the same time every day. This will help to set your body clock making it easier to fall asleep and get out of bed in the morning.
- Create a pitch black bedroom. Use blackout curtains and turn off all lights or appliances with lights on them.
- Create a quiet environment to sleep in or consider utilizing a source of white noise (I personally sleep with a fan on, even in winter!).
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine too close to bedtime. Also avoid drinking too many liquids before bed (getting up to pee is a great way to disrupt your REM sleep).
- Abstain from watching TV or playing on your phone/ tablet within an hour of bedtime. Utilize blue light apps on your phone if can’t resist. These bright lights will restrict melatonin production making it harder for you to get your snooze on.
- Keep pets and children off the bed while sleeping. Movement will cause you to come out of REM diminishing the quality of your sleep. I have to admit, with a new puppy I break this one regularly… Life is about balance right? 😛
- Consume some carbohydrates a couple hours before bed. Firstly, no you won’t get fat eating carbs after 6pm (I hope this fallacy isn’t believed anymore), total daily calories matter – the timing of them, not so much. Ingesting some carbs before bed will give your brain adequate fuel while you sleep (your brain doesn’t get to sleep and needs glycogen to function). If your brain needs fuel, your body will release adrenaline and cortisol in an effort to receive glucose from your muscle tissue. Obviously a boost of adrenaline is the last thing you need for a good ol’ snooze fest.
- Consider a low dose of Melatonin while travelling to minimize jet lag, it may be useful for shift workers as well but hasn’t been shown to be beneficial for regular sleep. Prescription sleep aids are not recommended as they often prevent deep sleep and you’ll most likely wake up tired and groggy. Remember to always read the label of any supplement and take as prescribed.
Stop majoring in the minors and focus on what gives you the most bang for your buck. Sorry, you’re not hardcore sacrificing sleep to wake up at 4am to do cardio – you’re killing your metabolism in the process. Training, nutrition and recovery – these are the cornerstones for making progress, don’t sacrifice one for the other.
I’ll leave you with a quote from next “diddily-door” neighbour, Ned Flanders – “Diddily Doodily Get That Snoozily”.
- Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2010, 270832. http://doi.org/10.1155/2010/270832
- Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine, 9(0 1), S23–S28. http://doi.org/10.1016/S1389-9457(08)70013-3
- University of Chicago Medical Center. (2010, October 5). Sleep loss limits fat loss. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2018 from sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101004211637.htm