3 Ways a Lack of Sleep Could Be Harmful to Your Health
Your training and nutrition are dialed in. You’ve been working long and hard to get in shape. But you’re still not seeing results like you should be.
You may just be neglecting one of the most often neglected aspects of fitness: Your recovery. More specifically, you’re not sleeping enough.
Below are three major ways that a lack of sleep can negatively impact your fitness and your health — as well as three ways to get a longer and more restful night’s sleep.
It‘s Messing With Your Hormones
We live in a world where a “no days off”, workaholic attitude is considered a badge of honor. I respect anyone that’s so dedicated that they’ll do whatever it takes to reach their goals, but when it comes to fat loss, sometimes “whatever it takes” means that you need to do less — which is why prioritizing a workout over getting a good night’s sleep can potentially have a counterproductive effect on your goals.
There are two hormones that play key roles in hunger and satiety: leptin and grhelin. Grhelin is known as the “hunger hormone”, while leptin is the “satiety hormone”.
Research has shown that inadequate sleep can lead to increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin. Translation: a lack of sleep means you’re more likely to overeat, because it’s causing your hormones to actively work against you by making you feel more hungry.
“Sleep restriction was associated with average reductions in the anorexigenic hormone leptin, elevations in the orexigenic factor ghrelin, and increased hunger and appetite, especially for calorie-dense foods with high carbohydrate content.” — Spiegel et al.
The bottom line here is that if you’re routinely sacrificing your sleep in the name of working out (or doing anything else) into the late hours of the night, you could actually be doing more harm than good.
Life is busy for many of us, but try to find a balance somehow that allows you to train and get a decent night’s sleep. This can boil down to simply making your workouts more productive by focusing mostly on the exercises that will benefit us the most, thereby reducing the amount of time you need to spend training in the first place.
Remember: we do need to train hard, but we don’t need to train long to make progress.
More Opportunities to Overeat
If you were to sleep 7 or more hours per night, that would mean you’ve got about a 17-hour window to eat while you’re awake. But let’s say you routinely under-sleep and are getting an average of only 5 hours per night. Over the course of a week, that’s a total of 14 extra hours you’re awake. Over the course of a year, that comes to a whopping 728 hours — or 30 extra days.
That’s a month’s worth of opportunities to be eating more than you may need to maintain a healthy bodyweight.
“According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average adult woman expends roughly 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, and the average adult man uses 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.”-K. Aleisha Fetters
Presuming we currently maintain a healthy bodyweight somewhere between these calorie ranges, if an extra two hours spent awake each night causes us to consume a greater amount of calories than we need, this will cumulatively result in excess body fat due to constant overeating.
Don’t get me wrong; losing a little bit of sleep every now and then isn’t going to have much of a negative effect on your body composition at all —but just like seemingly minor three dollar purchases, while they’re insignificant in isolation, the overall impact of small behaviors being repeated over long periods of time can make a big difference.
Your Workouts Could Suffer
A study reviewing the effects of sleep deprivation on exercise performance found that the sleep deprived group became fatigued more quickly when compared to individuals who were getting normal amounts of sleep.
In other words: let’s assume that all else is equal between Lifter A and Lifter B. They’re both asked to perform a set of bench presses; if Lifter A is sleep deprived but Lifter B is well rested, Lifter A won’t be able to hit as many repetitions as Lifter B. Lifter B is able to push themselves harder, meaning they can move more total weight, which will therefore create a better opportunity to build muscle as compared to Lifter A.
We know that the more lean muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you’re burning at rest. By missing sleep, you’re also missing the chance to optimize your workouts — which can have a massive effect on your overall body composition.
Three Solutions to Your Sleep Loss Problems:
Have a Caffeine “Cut off” Time
Some of us are much more caffeine sensitive than others. I know people who can drink half a Red Bull and feel wired. Others, not so much. So the effects of cutting caffeine — and how early in the day you cut it — will vary depending on the individual’s overall sensitivities.
But on average, I’ve found that cutting out anything caffeinated within 6 to 8 hours of bedtime to yield positive results, both for myself and for those I’ve worked with over the years. So that means if you’re trying to go to sleep by 10, your caffeine cut off should be somewhere between 2 and 4 o’clock.
Minimize Blue Light Before Bed
Blue light can have a negative effect on our body’s ability to shut down for the night because it blocks the production of melatonin — the hormone responsible for making you want to sleep. So by binge-watching late night television (another favorite pastime of mine), we could be self-sabotaging our chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
A good rule of thumb is to cut out the blue light about two hours before bed. That includes the TV, your phone, fluorescent and LED bulbs, and any kind of computer.
I know that’s easier said than done, and for some people, the lack of any kind of background noise whatsoever can cause just as much restlessness as the ill-effects of blue light exposure. So another option could be to invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses. These are easy to find online, and putting them on before bed may allow you to get a better night’s sleep — whether you’ve got Netflix on or not.
Try Eating Some Carbs
This is far from a permission slip to eat a whole bag of potato chips before bed, but there are a couple of scientifically backed reasons to support that having a reasonable amount of carbs within a few hours of bedtime could positively influence your quality of sleep.
Eating carbohydrates can help reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. So if you’ve got a day job that tends to leave you stressed out well into the hours of the evening, having a healthy serving of carbs with your dinner could help to regulate your mood. So could getting another job, but we’re taking this one step at a time here.
Carbs can also increase levels of tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to serotonin, which the body needs to produce melatonin.
As for what types of carbs and how much you should be eating, this is a highly individual matter. We all have wildly varying dietary needs, but generally speaking: stick to fibrous, slower-digesting complex carbs. This includes whole grains, legumes, and many different vegetables.
If you have anxiety or experience chronic stress, you will be more sensitive to the effects of processed carbohydrates and sweets, and also low carbohydrate diets. Try having a moderate amount of whole food, minimally processed carbohydrates with each meal to steady your blood sugar and calm your stress response. — All Great Nutrition
Sleep deprivation has many causes and effects that will vary from person to person, but just like any other problem, the initial steps we must take to find a solution remain the same: identify the cause, create a plan, and then execute it.
If lack of sleep is a problem for you, then it’s my hope that you took something away from this to help you do just that.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep.