There’s no arguing that sleep is a fundamental part of life, but did you know that it’s said the average adult will spend one third of their lives asleep.
That means if you live for 90 years you’ll have spent a total of 30 years a sleep (maybe more if you’re an alarm clock snoozing, early to bed, lazy Sunday morning kind of person).
Its mind boggling really, to realise that we spend such a huge portion of our lives in a state of sleep.
However, when you dig into what happens when you sleep and how the amount of sleep you get can impact all aspects of your life you can begin to understand why.
Sleep is a vital process that helps your body to reenergise its body’s cells, clear waste from the brain and support learning and memory.
In particular importance is how your quality of sleep can directly impact your health and fitness by affecting your ability to;
Manage your hunger
Make appropriate food decisions
Think about it…
A good night’s sleep can make you feel ready to take on the world, whereas a fitful night of poor sleep can see you overeat, under exercise and generally feel like crap.
How many times have you woken up after a bad night’s sleep, only to go on and;
Forego that workout session
Make bad food choices
Have that extra drink
Get takeout food instead of cooking
Generally fall off the plan
This article will explore how sleep can impact your fat loss, muscle building and decision-making skills before giving you actionable tips to get a better night’s sleep.
Sleep, Weight Loss & Weight Gain
You may have noticed that when you’re sleep deprived you make bad food choices, eat more and generally stray from your diet in most ways, but let’s dig into why this happens.
Researchers (1) found that participants suffering
“with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin [levels]” with researchers concluding that “these differences in leptin and ghrelin are likely to increase appetite”.
To understand the implications of this research lets detour a little to look at Ghrelin and Leptin.
Leptin = Often known as the 'satiety hormone', leptin is a hormone that helps to regulate energy balance by controlling hunger.
Ghrelin = Ghrelin on the other hand is a hormone in the body responsible for stimulating appetite.
Usually these two hormones work together to make you feel hungry when you haven’t eaten and then make you feel satiated once you have eaten. When they work properly they help control your overall food intake and provide you with balance.
What the researchers found is that when you have less sleep than you need, these hormones no longer function as they should, with ghrelin (and hunger) increasing and leptin (and feelings of satiety) decreasing.
For obvious reasons this spells trouble for you when it comes to controlling your hunger, preventing overeating and generally making good food choices.
Shedding more light on this, another study found that (2) sleep deprivation impaired the function of parts of the brain vital to decision making which could impair your ability to make informed decisions about which food to eat.
Again, increasing the likelihood that you will opt for junk food over more nutritious foods when tired and hungry. All this works together to increase the chance of you gaining weight due to being in a calorie deficit.
But what about muscle building?
Sleep, Muscle Building & Exercise Recovery
You know that sleep is important, but did you know it can and will affect the quality of your workouts?
One study (3) showed that participants who were sleep deprived and restricted to 3 hours of sleep a night saw a significant impact on their performance in the bench press, leg press, and deadlift.
Sure, this is to be expected, 3 hours of sleep is extreme and not something I imagine anyone will be doing, at least not intentionally but if for any reason i.e. travelling you are severely sleep deprived then expect your performance in the gym to suffer until you’re sleeping pattern returns to normal.
This is backed up by a study (6) that shows, even sleep deprivation of just 1 hour a night during the week can negatively impact body composition and whether weight lost is fat or muscle, additionally the study discovered that ‘catching up’ on sleep at the weekend does not reverse the effects of missing 1 hour per night during the week.
The bottom line: getting regular, quality sleep is very important if you’re serious about changing your body.
Sleep, Diet & Food Choices
We’ve touched on this already in the previous points but it’s worth reiterating the impact that a lack of sleep can have on your decision making and in turn your food intake.
In a study detailed in Psychology Today (7) researchers from Sweden found that sleep deprivation impacts decision making and self-control having a potentially disastrous on decision making in regard to food intake.
The researchers are quoted as saying;
“We hypothesized that sleep deprivation's impact on hunger and decision making would make for the 'perfect storm' with regard to shopping and food purchasing—leaving individuals hungrier and less capable of employing self-control and higher-level decision-making processes to avoid making impulsive, calorie-driven purchases.”
The results of their study backed up their hypothesis showing that sleep deprivation did indeed alter individual’s food choices by impairing their thinking i.e. self-control, whilst at the same time making them more impulsive, hungrier and more prone to food cravings.
Given all of this, let’s look at how much sleep is enough sleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
There exists a lot of debate on the best sleep schedule.
Some preach the virtues of rising early and sleeping early to get a good start on the day and work whilst others sleep.
Others tend to stick to more ‘conventional’ patterns that fall into place with their working habits.
Whilst others still prefer to stay up late and in turn get up later the next day.
Of course, a lot of it depends what works best for your lifestyle and we each have our own preferences and habits, but when it comes to the question of how much sleep you need as an adult the research is pretty unanimous.
Research (8, 9, 10, 11) currently consistently agrees that 7-9 hours is optimal for healthy adults with more than 9 hours not showing any significant benefit and less than 7 putting you at risk of various health factors including weight gain, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, heart disease and more.
Know this, let’s look at practical steps you can take to improve your sleep.
8 Practical Tips to Help You Sleep Better
Some people drop off to sleep with no problems regardless of what they’ve been doing, others however can find it much more difficult. What follows are simple, actionable strategies you can try tonight to improve your sleep.
Implement a routine by going to bed and waking up at regular times, even at the weekend
Darkness is your friend. Make your room as dark as possible when sleeping
Keep your room cool, if the temperature is too hot or too cold can make it more difficult to sleep
If you get up during the night avoid turning on the lights. This will help you fall back asleep more quickly after you’ve gotten up to go to the toilet
Before you sleep avoid eating too much, drinking caffeine or ingesting other stimulants
Avoid bright light or anything overstimulating 1 – 2 before bed, instead trying reading, stretching, listening to music and/or meditation – I know this can be difficult so try starting out doing this 30mins before bed and build it up from there.
Workout during the day, if it’s a rest day try and get outside in the sunshine and go for a walk
Keep it as quiet as possible. Obviously, this is not always within your control but try to eliminate as much noise as possible. As a last resort you can use earplugs if you live somewhere noisy.
Over to you, will you give it a go?
Let me know how you get a good night’s sleep in the comments section.