Each day many of us juggle work, training, and the demands of day to day life. It may feel like there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done so in an attempt to add more hours to the day, it is not uncommon to take time away from the hours spent sleeping. The popular phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” may initially be motivating but it really misses the mark when we are looking at our long-term goals and health. Sleep might be one of the most powerful and underutilized tools we can use to train harder in the gym, change our physique or simply feel better each day.
How can prolonged sleep deprivation impact you?
Research has shown that lack of sleep over a period of time can impact hunger levels while also potentially increasing circulating levels of ghrelin while reducing concentrations of leptin. Ghrelin signals to your brain that you are hungry and leptin signals to your brain that you are full, so if ghrelin levels are up and leptin levels are down, it becomes far more difficult to stay within your caloric goals. With the possible change in leptin and ghrelin levels and when we are operating in a state of poor or insufficient sleep, it becomes increasingly difficult to make choices surrounding food choices that are in support of our long-term health and goals and as a result, we may have a very difficult time adhering to our diet.
Energy expenditure outside of the gym also plays a role in weight loss however when you are operating in a chronic sleep deficit your energy expenditure can decrease. Less movement outside of the gym can decrease your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) which is the energy you expend for everything that is out of the gym and not sleeping related. Less NEAT which in turn can negatively impact weight loss.
Insufficient sleep may also make it more difficult to maintain lean body mass and promote retention of body fat so if you are training hard and you are spot on with your nutrition, yet you are consistently getting poor quality sleep or not enough sleep, you may see that your progress is slow or stagnant.
If you have one night of not so great sleep, it’s unlikely that it will have an impact on your training session, however, if you are training with prolonged sleep deprivation, it is possible that you will see a decline in your performance especially with more skill-related movements.
When we are looking at performance, we cannot discount the impact that our mood has on the quality and enjoyment of our workouts. Research has shown that mood can be greatly impacted by lack of sleep which can result in lackluster training sessions and mustering the motivation to even step foot in the gym can be a challenge.
How can you improve sleep?
Create a routine
Work to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. This isn’t going to be a perfect practice and there may be times where life happens and you can’t stick to your “norm” but creating a routine that allows you to unwind and slow down around the same time each night can be really powerful. Consider journaling, breathwork, stretching, or reading as practices to add to your routine.
Change your environment
To help with the quality of your sleep and your ability to stay asleep, work on keeping your room cool and dark. So if you live in a city or an area with a lot of light, look to invest in blackout curtains and a fan to keep the light and external noise out.
Mind your tech usage
Watching TV or using tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices can disrupt your ability to get to sleep or you may find yourself staying up later because you lose track of time. Trust me, I know that it’s NOT easy to put away your phone or turn off the TV because those devices can help you unwind. However, turning off screens about 30 minutes before bed can make such a big difference in your quality of sleep and your ability to get to sleep.
Understand how sleep impacts you and what works for you allows you to adjust your routine to fit your needs and your lifestyle. It may seem a bit trivial, but making time to learn “why” sleep is important for you can open up the doors for you to work on making changes in your day to day life.
Kawada, T. (2017, July 1). Sleep Duration and Impaired Glycemic Control. American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 130, p. e311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.01.042
Beccuti, G., & Pannain, S. (2011, July). Sleep and obesity. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, Vol. 14, pp. 402–412. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e3283479109