Right up there with “eat your veggies” and “drink plenty of water,” the advice to get a full night’s rest is one of the most well-known yet often-ignored pieces of health advice out there. Getting ample sleep is one of those things we all know we should do and wish we were better at, but do you really know the full extent of just how crucial sleep is in terms of your fitness results?
While you may think you’re doing yourself a favor by getting up early to fit that cardio or weight training session in, the reality is, if you’re short on sleep, you’re simply not getting the results you could be.
You probably already know that when you’re tired and propped up on caffeine to get through your day, you’re not the most productive employee or patient spouse or parent, or sharpest self mentally. What you may not have fully realized is how much a sleep deficit is halting your progress at the gym and affecting the number you see on the scale.
To fully understand the impact that quality sleep has on our bodies, we have to unpack what happens to us on a hormonal level when we sleep. During the time we’re getting quality rest, our bodies are recovering from our day, but specifically, rebuilding from our workouts we did the day prior. During sleep, our bodies reap the benefits of growth hormone (GH), which is critical in the body’s ability to both build up tissue and burn fat.
GH is not the only hormone at play though—in fact, sleep also regulates the body’s secretion of gherlin, which controls hunger, as well as insulin, which is key for fighting fat. If you’ve ever noticed your tendency to hang onto extra body fat, specifically around the midsection region, during times of stress and little sleep, this is because your hormones are out of whack due to your sleep deprivation. And if you’ve ever found yourself more likely to indulge in late night binging or give into your cravings for comfort food when you’re low on sleep, there’s a scientific reason for that as well. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sleep-deprived test participants were more likely to reach for high carb, high fat snacks, in large portions at that, whereas well-rested participants opted for smarter portion sizes and healthier options. In other words, you can have a willpower of steel, but get less than ample sleep (most experts say the golden number is between 7-9 hours per night) and you can still feel helpless in resisting that pint of ice cream or bag of chips.
Aside from doing a number on your self-control around food and your body’s ability to burn fat, cutting corners on your sleep will seriously stunt your gains game too. This should matter to you whether your ultimate goal is to build muscle or lose weight, since ultimately, any time we are changing our body’s compositions, turning fat into muscle must occur for us to see changes.
Have you felt the “burn” of lifting weights, or the soreness in your body after an intense workout? That feeling comes from literal breaking-down of muscle fibers, which is what happens when we push our bodies at the gym. While we sleep, our body is hard at work repairing those microtears, building up the muscle to make them stronger and bigger the next day. Cut your sleep short though, and this process doesn’t have time to occur, meaning you never make progress on your muscle growth, and might feel like you’re a hamster in a wheel, not seeing the progress you want.
Bottom line? Be as committed to your sleep routine as you are your workouts. Cutting our sleep short will only halt your progress and slow down the gains and fat loss you should and could be making.
Need some tips for getting a better night’s sleep so you can see progress with your fitness goals, and feel like your best, well-rested self?
· Try to resist the screen: Power down your devices (phones, laptops, TVs, etc) at least an hour if not longer before going to bed.
· Keep your sleeping area dark and cold, which research shows promotes quality, deep sleep.
· Do your best to stick to a sleeping schedule all week long, since your body will respond best to consistent bed and waking time
· Avoid sugary sodas, caffeine, and chocolate after 2pm, since any of these can stay in your system for hours, keeping you keyed up when you’re trying to power down.
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