Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Diet and Exercise.
That’s seemingly all anyone wants to talk about in regards to health and performance.
While these are, in fact, quite important in promoting optimal health and performance, there is a huge link missing here.
Everybody thinks they know how important it is, yet as a whole our society doesn’t’ place nearly enough emphasis on getting adequate sleep.
I’ve mentioned in prior posts, your progress toward your health and performance goals are going to be greatly dependent on your ability to recover from training and even every day stressors.
Well, the truth is, sleep is the cornerstone of recovery, and if you want to be successful in reaching your health and fitness goals, you may need to make it a greater priority.
So, today we are going to take a look at 3 ways in which a lack of sleep can limit your progress, or steal your results.
- Sleep and stress have a very close relationship
Stress and sleep have quite an intricate relationship. If we allow them to, they feed off one another, creating a vicious cycle.
How does it work?
In my article, Managing Stress, I broke the bad news on how stress is simply an inevitability. Whether the stressors can be viewed as “good” or “bad,” the body treats all stresses the same, and each person’s body essentially has a limit on how much they can handle.
We discussed how everyday we are subjected to physical, mental, and emotional stressors. These stressors, both “good” and “bad” accumulate through out the day. However, during deep sleep, our bodies get a chance to take a break from stress and recover. Stress hormone levels decrease and your body recharges.
However, when we fail to get enough deep sleep and our bodies miss their chance to recover, stress continues to accumulate.
If this continues, eventually our body’s stress limit is surpassed. This leads to chronic fatigue, poor recovery from workouts, jacked-up hormone levels, and ironically even further decreased quality of sleep.
It truly is a dangerous and vicious cycle.
- Sleep has a profound influence your hormone levels and metabolism
The influence sleep has on your hormone levels and metabolism is going to have a significant contribution toward your progress in reaching your health and fitness goals.
Now, hormones can be a rather complex topic, so I’ll refrain from doing my best impersonation of a science book and we’ll stick to a few bullet points.
Cortisol is a stress hormone commonly associated with fat gain.
Now, under normal conditions, with adequate sleep, cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day. Levels are high in the morning, as cortisol serves to help us wake up, and lower in the evening, allowing us to wind down and go to bed.
However, with a lack of quality sleep, cortisol levels become elevated throughout the day. This will often leave you feeling tired in the morning and a little too wired in the evening, making it hard to get up for work or class and difficult to wind down before bed.
In addition, these elevated cortisol levels over-stimulate the reward center of the brain, the amygdala, leading to cravings for high-calorie foods and ultimately fat gain.
In addition to screwing up our cortisol levels, poor sleep will also have a significant effect on our hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates the feeling of hunger, while leptin stimulates the feeling of fullness. The balance of these two hormones is crucial for those looking to lose fat or maintain a healthy weight.
A lack of sleep, however, will suppress the release of leptin, leaving you with the feeling of an empty stomach, while stimulating the release of ghrelin.
This increase in production of ghrelin will not only stimulate hunger, but also work to slow your metabolism.
High levels of ghrelin combined with elevated cortisol levels will leave you feeling hungry all the time, as the two hormones effectively work to shut off the areas of the brain that signal satiety, or fullness.
Growth hormone levels will have a huge impact on your body composition. In fact, many have referred to it as a “fountain of youth.” It helps build muscle, burn fat, and fight the aging process.
Sounds pretty freakin’ great, right?
Well, growth hormone is primarily released during deep sleep.
So, if you are getting poor quality sleep, or just simply not enough sleep, you are going to see a swift decline in growth hormone.
On top of that, the elevated cortisol levels resulting from poor sleep will work to further suppress growth hormone levels.
Simply put, low growth hormone and high cortisol levels are not a cocktail for success.
Poor sleep is also going to have an effect on your body’s ability to properly use insulin, and the effects don’t take long to show.
A study at the University of Chicago showed a 30% decrease in insulin sensitivity after just 4 nights of poor sleep.
This is something that can easily happen to any one of us during the work week. It’s easy to use coffee and other stimulants to get through the days and plan on catching up on sleep on the weekends.
However, this mindset will put you on a slippery slope.
When your body becomes less sensitive, your body is forced to produce more and more insulin to prevent sugar from accumulating in the blood. This excess insulin will cause you to begin storing fat in the upper back, “love-handle” areas, and around organs, such as the liver.
Overtime, elevated insulin levels can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Sleep impacts your physical and mental performance
Now, this one may seem pretty obvious to you.
I’m sure you’ve received numerous lectures your parents, coaches, and teachers on getting a good night’s rest before a big game or exam.
Well, to be honest, there’s quite a bit of conflicting evidence as to whether one poor night of sleep has any effect on performance the next day, with the except of hand-eye coordination.
So, one night of poor sleep probably isn’t going to do too much to hinder your training the next day.
Chronic sleep issues, however, are a different story.
If you fail to get adequate sleep night after night, you will see a continued decline in coordination, agility, motivation, and energy. This will obviously affect your performance in the gym, on the athletic field, at work, or in the classroom.
The Bottom Line
Ok, I’ve thrown ship-loads of words at you today.
The bottom line is that sleep is going to play a huge role in how you look, feel, and perform. It’s quite likely you need to place a greater emphasis on getting quality sleep if you want to progress toward your goals.
So, start to evaluate your current sleep habits and begin to make sleep a higher priority.