The Importance of Sleep For Performance

The Importance of Sleep For Performance

It may surprise you to discover that sleep has much more of an effect on your overall well-being than you might think. We’re mostly all aware that it can have an impact on your mental health and alertness.

A lack of sleep can you make you blurrier and out of it, thus perhaps hurting your performance at work, school or even just daily life.

But sleep patterns and how much sleep you’re getting can really change your physical performance, and training.

The Two Friends
Think about it this way. Let’s pretend we have two friends who are training to be healthier and maintain their desired body shape. They both eat well and stick to a strict workout plan that allows them to tone and maintain their body.
One of these people seems to be able to pull it off so easily. They don’t struggle with their diet and workout plan, and they are actually able to tone and shape their body over time. They also maintain their weight.
The other friend struggles. They have such a tough time shaving pounds off and can’t seem to figure out why. Even though they’re eating the same types of foods and getting plenty of exercise, they aren’t losing weight in the same way.

Why is this? Well it could be:

  • Improper and ineffective training
  • A lack of willpower
  • Hereditary
  • A lack of sleep

Yes, a lack of sleep. That last point isn’t something people think about when it comes to diet and exercise, but we’re going to outline why it should be.

Why Sleep Matters

A lack of sleep can have a drastic negative impact on your diet and exercise goals. A lack of sleep can actually take away from these efforts and make time in the gym spent, a waste of time.

A research study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared the connections between diet and sleep to draw some pretty startling results. As it turns out, a lack of sleep had a negative effect on diet and exercise efforts. These efforts were actually being reversed or at least hindered because of an improper sleep regimen.

A Diet and Sleep Study

The study put dieters on different sleep schedules to see how their bodies would react. With the correct amount of rest, half of the weight they lost was from fat. When sleep was cut back, the amount of fat lost was cut in half. The people who received less sleep were also hungrier, received less satisfaction after meals, and lacked the energy needed to hit the gym.

But how is it that sleep actually impacted them in this way? What is it about a lack of sleep that meant they burnt less fat even though they were on the same diet and exercise plan?

How Sleep Affects Health and Fitness

Man exhausted and resting on ground after lifting heavy weights on barbell

Believe it or not, poor sleep actually changes your fat cells. When you have a bad night’s sleep you often wake up feeling groggy and out of it. Sometimes you might even feel dizzy or confused. Certainly, you feel grumpy. Who wants to hit the gym when they’re grumpy? Turns out your fat cells have a similar response to your brains reaction from a bad night's sleep.

Metabolic Grogginess

Your body can suffer from metabolic grogginess, which is a term that came into practice by researchers at the University of Chicago who completed studies on sleep deprivation. Metabolism is a measurement of how efficiently you burn energy - and “groggy” is not the way you want to be describing yours.

After just four days of poor sleep, your main storage hormone, insulin, is totally messed up. This is a problem because when your insulin isn’t properly functioning, you will effectively pack on the pounds from the unmetabolized sugars that end up stored in fat cells. Properly functioning insulin will actually remove fatty acids and lipids from your bloodstream and won’t store said fat.

A lack of sleep can cause this metabolic grogginess and start you on the road to declining health.  

No Sleep, More Hunger

Hunger is controlled by hormones – two to be exact. It’s not all about willpower and what some people call ‘mind over matter’. Hunger is the result of your leptin and ghrelin hormones fluctuating within your body.

Not getting enough sleep makes controlling these two hunger hormones nearly impossible.

It’s been discovered in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that a lack of sleep increases your desire to eat as well as your body’s need for food. Less sleep literally makes you hungrier and much more susceptible to stray from a balanced diet plan.

Cortisol Levels on the Rise

We all have a stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is often attributed to fat gain because it activates parts of your brain that crave food. The higher the cortisol level in your body, the more your brain wants to eat.

A lack of sleep means higher cortisol, and higher ghrelin, the hunger hormone we talked about previously. The combination of these two elevated hormones  shuts down the parts of your brain that give you satisfaction after a meal. You will literally feel hungry, even after eating a large meal.

Bad Sleep? Bad Food!

As it turns out as well, being sleep deprived inhibits your ability to make proper decisions and can lead you down a road of junk food and not-diet-friendly foods. So while your imbalanced hormones are activity trying to pack on fat, you’re helping by having cloudy judgement and eating potentially fatty foods. You’re also likely eating more than usual because your ghrelin and cortisol levels are up and not telling your brain you’re full. All of these things working in unison make your health and fitness goals almost impossible to reach, and it’s all because of a lack of sleep.  

How To Improve Your Sleep Cycle

Man sleeping comfortably in bed

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

A healthy night’s sleep is anywhere between 7 and 9 hours. It really depends on your body type, so if you haven’t already discovered your sweet sleep spot, try 7 and work up to 9. If you get too much sleep, your body can retaliate. You can develop cognitive impairment, depression, or even weight gain. Oversleeping has similar impacts on your body as under sleeping does when it comes to weight gain according to research done by the Quebec Family Study. It’s important to always try and hit the sweet spot.

If you have one bad sleep, try your best to not follow it up with another, and another. This slippery slope of sleep deprivation will cause the problems outlined above. If you do have a few back-to-back bad sleeps, actively try to get yourself back on track. It’s all about balance and trying your best to maintain your healthy sleep cycle.

Techniques for a Better Sleep

There are many ways you can help improve your sleep at night. We’ll go into one of the most important ways in just a moment, but first let’s look at a few things you can do right away.

  • Cut Coffee: We’re not saying drop coffee all together - in fact, caffeine can be a real benefit to your health and fitness - but be mindful of your coffee intake. Try not to drink coffee after 11 am as the effects of caffeine might be keeping you up later than you should be and don’t exceed more than 400 mg (about 3.5 cups) per day.
  • Hit the Gym: Getting in a good workout can actually help strengthen your circadian rhythm and can stimulate longer periods of deep, good sleep.
  • Keep Cool: A cooler room is best for sleeping, and research has suggested that number is 66 degrees. When your room is too hot, you can toss, turn, and never really get into a deep slumber.

Routine and Ritual

We’re going to look at the idea of routine and ritual as a main way to control your sleep cycle and ensure you’re always getting your rest in.

Circadian Rhythm

Overall, you’re going to want to try to tap into your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This is called your circadian rhythm and being able to maintain it is a great strategy for consistent better sleeping. It’s essentially your internal clock. It’s always running in the back of your mind, and sends you through different cycles of alertness and sleepiness throughout the day. You’ve likely experienced it at some points in your life – weeks where each day you feel drowsy after 2 pm, and back at it by 7 pm. This natural cycle, if properly maintained, can help you fall asleep at a good time.  

Consistency Is Key

If you sleep 8 hours a night, try to keep those 8 hours regular. What this means is don’t go to sleep at 10 one night, and 8 another night. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times each morning and night.

Your body will get into a rhythm and the type of sleep you get will be optimized. Also, reserve your bed for sleep and sex – that’s it. By keeping your bed a place for rest and relaxation, your brain will associate it as such and allow you to fall asleep more easily.

Avoid Sleeping In

With this cycle in mind, avoid sleeping in on weekends. You could just end up throwing off your whole pattern and you’ll start to potentially feel dizzy, or even symptoms similar to jet lag. As mentioned previously as well, sleeping in consistently can actually have negative effects on your body as well. It’s all about balance - not too much, and not too little sleep.

Again, if you do oversleep a little bit one day, you can make up for it the next day by getting back into your routine. If you have a good sleep routine, sleeping in will lose it’s appeal.

Hit the Hay

A good night-time routine where you avoid bright screens before bed and do the same small activities each night will help keep you on track.

Don’t let sleep hold you back on your plan to be fit, healthy and happy. When you think about the keys to a healthy lifestyle and a fit body, make sure you always remember – diet, exercise, and sleep are the keys to success.

Goodnight everyone!