NOTE: If you prefer an audio version of this, the podcast is here: Get More Sleep or Die Fat and Weak on Four Pillar Fitness
Do you get enough sleep to support your health, fitness and/or performance goals?
Most Americans don’t.
Over half of Americans report getting less than 7 hours of sleep at least once per week.
That’s about the minimum you need to support positive fitness and health outcomes.
According to the CDC, 35% of Americans are sleep deprived.
Losing sleep or not getting healthy sleep makes a whole lot of bad stuff happen to your body.
Some kinda bad, some really crappy.
Let’s start with the basics.
When you’re sleep-deprived, it’s kind of like being drunk.
You’re low energy, emotions suck and you tend to make some pretty bad choices.
Like picking a fight with some guy in the corner of the bar or giving your number to a stalker.
But hey, we’re talking about you here, not some guy I know.
Lack of sleep actually changes the way your brain works.
It dulls activity in the frontal lobe of the brain.
You know, where you make decisions and keep control of your self.
Not to mention that sleep deprivation increases the stimulation from food in the reward centers of the brain.
It also seems to increase your desire for high-calorie, high-carb and high-fat foods.
So suddenly, the ice cream sundae with melted butter with a side of fries looks really good…
In one study, 12 men were only allowed four hours of sleep. Their calorie intake went up by 22% and fat intake almost doubled when compared to when they had 8 hours of sleep.
But it’s not just that you’re making bad decisions because your brain is messed up.
There’s chemistry at work, too.
Biochemistry, that is.
Sleep messes with hunger hormones.
The increased appetite that most sleep-deprived people report most likely has to do the 2 big hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is the hormone that says “hey! Let’s eat!” It’s released in the stomach, with a direct hotline to the brain. Levels rise when the stomach is empty and fall after you eat.
Leptin is ghrelin’s opposite and completes the cycle by signaling fullness to the brain. It completes the cycle, Jerry Maguire-style.
Okay, that’s not Jerry Maguire, but you get it.
With sleep-deprivation, the body makes more ghrelin and not enough leptin. This likely has a connection to elevated cortisol levels and the brain’s perception that added fuel will be needed to compensate for a lack of rest and recovery.
One study of over 1,000 people found that the sleep-deprived had 14.9% higher ghrelin levels and 15.5% lower leptin levels.
Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight and get in shape knows that when your appetite is roaring, managing your food intake gets real tough, real fast.
As if that’s not enough to get you to sleep more, here’s a little from the Annals of Internal Medicine.
2 groups of people were fed the same diet same diet over a series days and nights
1 group with adequate sleep, one cut back on sleep
Adequate rest group saw half the weight they lost come from body fat. Sleep-deprived group saw that amount cut by 55%.
Univ of Chicago researchers coined the phrase “metabolic grogginess.” After just 4 nights of bad sleep, your metabolism can slow because the hormones regulating your fat cells suffer.
After 4 nights, insulin sensitivity dropped by more than 30%.
Without adequate sleep, you become insulin resistant. When you’re insulin resistant, your body does a terrible job processing lipids and fatty acids in the bloodstream. So it just stores it as fat.
Not enough yet? Ok, here’s more.
Too little sleep triggers cortisol spikes. Cortisol is a critical hormone for certain things, like giving you the immediate jolt of energy to either run from or fight the saber-tooth tiger (or your screaming, idiot boss.)
However, excess cortisol in the bloodstream causes problems. For this discussion, the one we’re worried about is the fact that it signals the body to conserve energy for use while you’re awake. That translates to your body holding on to body fat!
Fluffing the pillows yet? No?
Like the old TV ad said “but wait! There’s more!
Sleep deprivation may lower your resting metabolic rate (RMR.)
In one study, 15 men had their RMR measured.
They were then kept awake for 15 hours.
When their RMR was re-measured, it was 5% lower.
Also, their metabolic rate after eating was 20% lower.
That’s a big deal.
RMR is the measure of all the calories you burn without having to exercise or move around.
If your metabolic rate after eating falls, you’re more likely to store food energy as body fat.
AND…if that’s not enough…
It turns out that sleep-deprivation may also work on your genes to make you fatter!
Not those genes, the DNA ones.
A study in Sweden tested 15 otherwise healthy people of normal weight.
Each person ate the same food and did the same amount of activity.
Each person got one full night of sleep, then one night awake.
Researchers tested subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle tissue samples from each after each night.
Blood samples were also used to check blood sugar, amino acids, fatty acids and other metabolites.
They were testing to see if DNA Methylation had occurred.
DNA Methylation is an indicator of whether specific genes have been expressed, or turned on or off.
They discovered that the genes regulating metabolism, muscle mass and fat gain or loss were negatively affected by losing just one night of sleep!
Sleep is anabolic!
There’s a reason that newborns sleep so much. They’re soaking in the wonders of growth hormone, or GH! Since babies are in a constant state of rebuilding, since they’re growing so fast. Sleep jacks up the GH so they can get “baby-jacked!”
While you’re not a newborn, you still need your GH. And sleeping is the best way to crank it up! Unfortunately, the occasional catnap won’t do it. You need to sleep 7-9 hours a night to even hope to get your sleepy-time GH.
Sleep makes you a better athlete!
At Stanford University, a study tracking the basketball team found something else remarkable. The team added 2 hours a night to their sleep totals over several months. Their average speed increased by 5%, free throw accuracy improved by 9%, reflex speed improved and they felt happier.
On top of all of that, sleep just makes you feel better.
Your energy levels will be higher, you’ll be more alert and you’re less likely to be an a-hole to the people around you.
Less likely, but you never know.
So how do you ensure you’re getting sound, restful sleep?
Assuming you’re not a vampire or werewolf, and don’t have a problem like circadian rhythm disruption or sleep apnea, try these things:
- Shut down your computer, cell phone, and TV at least an hour before you hit the sack.
- Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Think relaxation and release, rather than work or entertainment.
- Create a bedtime ritual. It’s not the time to tackle big issues. Instead, take a warm bath, meditate, or read.
- Stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same times every day, even on weekends.
- Watch what and when you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which may cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep. And steer clear of soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5 to 6 hours.
- Turn out the lights. Darkness cues your body to release the natural sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.
So get yourself 7 to 9 hours of z’s a night. Your physique and your health will thank you!
Keep the faith and keep after it!