Sleep, What's the Big Deal?

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When you hear people talk about health, wellness and being fit, you always hear them talking about their diets and exercise; however, sleep is rarely mentioned. Your diet is your body’s fuel and exercise is breaking down soft tissue but, sleep is when your body repairs itself. It’s surprising how so few people understand this and treat sleep with less importance than diet and exercise. Recently I overheard a few men talking and they were bragging about which one needed less sleep. One of them even spoke about only needing 4 maybe 4-1/2 hours of sleep a night; anything more and he was unable to function the next day. More sleep had the opposite effect on him and made him drowsy and I quote “unfunctional”. He went on to say that he has better results when he sleeps less. Gym conversations don’t usually surprise me, but this one did. These two are regulars at the gym and the one bragging about how little sleep he needs also happens to be a certified personal trainer – I hope he isn’t making the same sleep recommendations to his clients.

Why is sleep so important? The purpose of sleep is to restore, energize and refresh the cognitive mind and physical body by growing muscle, repairing tissue, and synthesize the body’s hormones. In order for the body to successfully accomplish these tasks, it must get an adequate amount of sleep. But, what is an adequate amount of sleep? Everyone is different and each individual needs to figure out how much sleep works for them. However, most doctors and professionals will tell you the general recommendation is somewhere between 7 to 9 hours. Long periods of sleep are important regardless of exercise; throw in exercise and sleep becomes even more important due to the effects of exercise on the breakdown of the body’s soft tissue.

Sleep, or lack there of, has many negative effects on the body. Here are a few that will make you think twice about skimping on some good quality sleep:

  • Causes a hormone imbalance and can turn in to weight gain. During sleep, your body secretes hormones that help control appetite, energize metabolism, and process glucose. You’re more likely to overeat, eat unhealthy foods, and give into your cravings when you’re tired. Poor sleep habits literally rewire the body to store more fat and burn less energy through hormone imbalances.
    • Increased Cortisol: Cortisol is a large factor in weight gain particularly in the midsection. It also causes inflammation and increases the body’s retention of sodium.
    • Increased Insulin: Lack of sleep lessens your body’s sensitivity to insulin, making it harder to do its job in regulating the sugar from the carbohydrates you eat. Insulin is the hormone that regulates glucose processing and promotes the storage of fat; the more insulin in your system the more fat your body will store.
    • Decreased Leptin and/or Leptin resistant: Leptin is the hormone that regulates body weight; its main function is to regulate how many calories you consume and how many calories your body needs to burn. More leptin tells the brain there’s enough stored fat, stop eating and burn more calories; less leptin tells the brain to store more fat and burn fewer calorie. When the brain becomes leptin resistant, it ignores the leptin and continues to store fat.
    • Increases Ghrelin and/or Ghrelin resistant: Ghrelin is the hormone that controls appetite; it is at its highest when your stomach is empty before you eat; it is at its lowest after you eat. When levels are low it tells your body you’re hungry and causes overeating. Similar to leptin, when the brain becomes ghrelin resistant, it ignores the signals and continues to tell the body to eat thus causing overeating.
  • Prevents the body from repairing itself: Have you ever felt soreness in your muscles after a workout? For example, after doing a leg workout the next day you dread walking up/down stairs and getting off the toilet from a sitting position could be a struggle. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It can vary from person to person based on many factors like: type of workout, effort, how often you exercises and your fitness level, etc. DOMS usually kicks in about 8 hours after your workout and can get worse for the next 24 hours and will typically lasts about 48 hours. When you exercise, especially doing resistance training, you damage and tear soft tissue in your body and the tissue becomes inflamed. Long periods of sleep is the time when the body releases growth hormones to help repair the damage done to your soft tissue. Without these long periods your body is only working half days to catch up instead of putting in a full day of work.
  • Low energy levels: With low energy levels you have poor performance and bad form which can lead to injury. You are also more likely to look for a quick fix and give into cravings and more likely to loading up on caffeine and sugar to help increase your energy level.
  • Psychologically fatigue: Have you tried to exercise while you’re tired or after a bad night’s sleep? I have and I can tell you that it’s never any good. Psychologically your mind isn’t in the workout causing less motivation; you don’t push yourself as hard or you skip half the workout. If your mind isn’t fully in the workout due to fatigue, your workouts will fall short. It also reduces your willpower and can cause you to give into your cravings or bad habits.

The bottom line is that adequate sleep is required for overall health and wellness. Not sleeping enough is sabotaging your exercise program and fitness goals. During a GYMGUYZ initial assessment, we look at a snapshot of current health including the quantity and quality of sleep that each client is getting. If energy levels are constantly low, weight loss is not happening or we are not seeing the expected results, we know that sleep can be a contributing factor.

When you build you meal plan or diet and set your exercise program, don’t forget to include one of the most important components…sleep.

If you need help looking at all components of your program and want to be the most successful in reaching your goals, contact GYMGUYZ Mid St. Louis County at (314) 309-3019.