Sleep is the most important component when it comes to your overall health. I believe it is more important than nutrition and training combined. A lack of sleep affects our hormone levels which can lead to a weakened immune system, difficulty concentrating and carbohydrate cravings during the day. If you wonder why you can’t control your morning muffin cravings stop beating yourself up, it’s your body telling you it needs more sleep.
To understand this more, lets look at sleep and the effects it has on body composition and our physical appearance. There are two basic types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM.
Non-REM sleep includes what is commonly known as deep sleep or slow wave sleep. Dreaming typically occurs during REM sleep. Generally, non-REM and REM sleep occur in a regular pattern of 3 to 5 cycles each night.
Your ability to function and feel well while you’re awake depends on whether you’re getting enough total sleep and enough of each type of sleep. It also depends on whether you’re sleeping at a time when your body is prepared and ready to sleep.
You have an internal “body clock” that controls when you’re awake and when your body is ready for sleep. This clock typically follows a 24-hour repeating rhythm (called the circadian rhythm). The rhythm affects every cell, tissue, and organ in your body and how they work.
Sleep deficiency can interfere with your productivity, social functioning and you will also find it hard to judge people’s emotions and reactions. Sleep deficiency can make you feel frustrated, cranky, or worried in social situations, Which means you will be more senstive and more likely to blow up over nothing.
Sleep is also critical in weight loss and generally staying on track with your health and fitness goals. There was a study where two groups of participants were put on the same diet and the same training regime. One group were sleep deprived, geting 5 and half hours of sleep and the other group was getting 8 and a half hours of sleep. At the end of the study they found that the sleep deprived group lost far less weight and far less body fat. Not that shocking. But The University of Chicago took it one step further and put a group of participants on a calorie restricted diet. One phase of the study they sleep deprived the group allowing them to only get 5 and half hours of sleep. Then they took the same group, same diet, but they slept for the recommended 8 and a half hours.
At the end of the study they found when the group was getting 8 and a half hours of sleep, they lost an amazing 55% more body fat than when they were sleep deprived. 55% more body fat loss simply from getting more sleep! There is no sort of training or diet out there that can get those kinds of results.
A key component to why sleep affects our weight is a hormone called human growth hormone (HGH). This hormone is very powerful and the greatest production and secretion of HGH happens in the first stage of sleep or anabolic deep sleep. So the more time you spend in this anabolic deep sleep the more HGH you will produce.
HGH is so important when it comes to fat loss as it is a growth hormone which helps you to build lean muscle tissue and it’s also muscle protective and it gives you alot more energy. It is sometimes referred to as the youth hormone, as kids have a lot more HGH, which is why they have a lot more energy. You can’t get HGH from a supplement, but you can slightly increase your HGH through strength training like heavy squatting, deadlifts and bench presses, but not nearly as much as you can produce through adequate sleep.
Cortisol is another critically important hormone to your health and well being. It gives you the energy to get up and start moving for the day and it is responsible for helping to build your thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is literally the metabolic centre of your entire body. Contrary to popular belief, cortisol is only bad if it is produced at the wrong time and in the wrong amounts and sleep deprivation has an immediate corelation with an elevated level of cortisol levels.
If you are up at 3am on your laptop working most nights, your cortisol levels are naturally elevated. Here’ s why this is a problem. Cortisol is actually the opposite of HGH in that it breaks down your muscle tissue. The process is called gluconeogenesis which is when your body converts the proteins or dietary fat you eat into blood sugar for energy. This process can spike your insulin levels, which can lead to your cells storing more fat. Thus sort of turning your muscle into fat, it biochemically doesn't work like that but cortisol is the trigger.
Melatonin the sleep hormone, has also surprisingly been found to have a massive impact on fat loss. Melatonin was found to increase your bodies brown adipose tissue (BAT). Brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, is one of two types of fat that humans and other mammals have. Its main function is to turn food into body heat and functions very similar to muscle in that it burns white adipose tissue (WAT). WAT is a type of fat which is the result of storing excess calories and is usually stored around your stomach, hips and thighs. By increasing your bodies BAT ratio you are increasing your metabolic rate and will increase your ability to burn fat. But if you are not getting adequate sleep you are not producing the adequate melatonin levels to achieve this.
Lastly the Leptin and Grehlin hormones, which are your hunger hormones. Grehlin is the hormone that tells you when you are hungry, and the Leptin hormone tells you when you are full and should stop eating. Both of these hormones are are heavily affected by poor sleep. Studies have shown that after just one night of bad sleep, there is a dramatic supression of your leptin hormone and a 15% increase automatically in your grehlin levels. Individuals who have poor quality sleep on average consume 250 more calories the next day because your brain is trying to get more energy to keep you up because you’re tired.
Brain imaging shows that poor sleep quality has in an increase in the activity in the amygdala which is the more primitive part of the brain and decreased activity in the frontal and insular cortex which is the more evolved human brain, used for decison making, social control and distinguishing from right and wrong. Glucose is your brains main fuel source and they found that there is a 6% decrease in glucose reaching your brain when you’re sleep deprived.
So when your brain starts to starve, survival mechanisms are going to start to kick in because our design is still very primitive. Only a few thousand years ago lack of glucose in your brain could lead to death, so your cells are screaming at you to get glucose back to your brain as soon as you can, or it thinks you will die. Your brain after years of downing Ben and Jerry’s tubs of ice cream in front of the TV, knows exactly where to tell you to go to get glucose quickly. So before you know what happened, you have your hand deep inside a pack of cookies. This is why so many people are struggling with their fitness goals, we are an overworked, overstressed society and we are unconsciously being run by our primitive brains as a consequence to this lifetyle.
Not getting enough sleep will also dramatically affect your memory and overall productivity. Your brain has its own system for getting rid of metabolic waste called the glemphatic system and your brain is doing a million processes every second to clean out dead cells and all the metabolic waste. During sleep your glemphatic system is ten times more active than during the day to help clean out the dead cells to make room for new cells. They have also found there is a 60% decrease in your brain cell size when you go to sleep to make more room for detoxification. If you are not getting enough sleep your brain isn’t detoxifying itself properly and there is a huge correlation between Alzheimer’s disease with an inability for the brain to detoxify itself. So without adequate sleep over time, you may be increasing your chance of developing memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Sleep deprivation affects your relationships. As we have discussed we get an amygdala high jack when sleep deprived and you basically turn into a primitive, angry and selfish version of yourself. There are actual studies showing that in romantic relationships if just one of the people in the relationship has a bad nights sleep, there was a dramatic increase in arguments the next day and for that argument not to be resolved. This is because the most rational and compassionate side of your brain is turned off. Your amygdala doesn’t care, it just wants to have problems and eat cookies. So to stop yourself from going to the dark, Smeagol side, get some sleep.
I for one, put sleep as a top priority. My friends and family know they can’t reach me after 9pm most nights and my sleep routine actually starts in the morning. I make sure I get at least twenty minutes of natural sunlight in the morning to re set my cortisol levels and I make sure I get my workout in first thing in the morning.
The hardest and most important step for getting a good nights sleep is getting away from all your devices at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from our technical devices is so detrimental to our sleep patterns. Blue light sends signals to our brains that it is still day light and it will inhibit your body’s natural way to get ready for sleep. Research has found that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light. It is believed that the shorter wavelengths in blue light is what causes the body to produce less melatonin because the body is more sensitive to this type of light.
So this means no phone, TV or laptop an hour before bed and I know this is a hard habit to form, as we all suffer from phone addiction. To help me from doing the “just checks” on social media late at night, I put my phone on aeroplane mode and take it out of the bedroom so there is no temptation.
I read under soft candlelight to make myself sleepy because artificial light, including fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs, can interrupt normal sleep patterns. The body’s biological clock works in rhythms that are set by the amount of light and dark the body is exposed to. While these bulbs are helpful in many ways, they have a negative effect on sleep.
I live in a NYC high rise building, so the whole Manhattan skyline is streaming through my windows at all times. I used to love waking up naturally with the sun and rarely had curtains on my windows. However my new apartment is like living in a snowglobe which in turn was affecting my sleep, so I had to get black out curtains to help me get a better nights sleep. Natural light, like the moon is fine, but you need to block out any unnatural light as our skin has tiny receptors that are able to detect light. Your skin will alert your brain thay it’s light out and it’s time to wake up. So if there is light hitting your skin, you will not go into deep anabolic sleep and you will constantly be tossing and turning.
Finally, I make sure to set my room at the right temperature before I get into bed. During the course of a normal day, your body temperature rises and falls slightly. This pattern is tied to your sleep cycle. As you become drowsy, your temperature goes down, reaches its lowest level around 5 am and climbs slightly as morning begins. This is why the air in your room can affect the quality of your sleep. If it’s too hot, it may interfere with your body’s natural dip and make you more restless through the night. Studies indicate that some forms of insomnia are associated with an improper regulation in body temperature.
Of course each of us has a slightly different optimal temperature for sleep, so experiment with keeping your room cool and find what makes you most comfortable. Some experts suggest a room temperature of 65 degrees is the best, but I personally set my AC to 68 degrees as I find this to be the perfect sleeping temperature for me.
These are just a few habits that you can incorporate into your life for a better nights sleep, but experiment and see what works for you and your lifestyle.
I can’t stress enough how important sleep is for your overall health and well being. If you know you are not getting enough quality sleep, insted of dunking your head into another bucket of coffee, change up your nightly routine.
Trust me, just by getting a better nights sleep, all areas of your life will improve dramatically and I don’t know about you, but I am yet to have a latte that does that.