4 Reasons Why Lack of Sleep Stalls Fitness Progress

Puppy Kettlebell

Training Tuesday is back! And with a topic that is just as essential to your training as training itself.

I'm going to start this off by asking you a few questions:

  1. Are you currently tired?
  2. Is coffee the only thing that can get you to get out of bed in the morning?
  3. Do you have 2 or more cups of coffee per day/does it seem to have little effect?
  4. Are you really tired at night but still can't seem to drift off to sleep?
  5. Are you getting less than 8 hours of sleep consistently per night?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is perfect for you. We'll be going over why you should be prioritizing sleep, and how to do it.

When I was a kid, I hated sleeping and napping because it felt like I missed out on things, and even in college, sleep was the first thing to be sacrificed for studies or social time ("we can sleep when we're dead!"). Now, I know how foolish I was (who passes on naptime?!) and that consistent and quality sleep is what enables me to feel better day to day, allows me to be fully present and not miss out on important things. 

We have a saying at Equinox, describing the 3 ingredients to achieve your optimal physical health: Movement, Nutrition, and Regeneration. People are really starting to get on that movement and nutrition train, but I would say that pretty much everyone is lacking in the regeneration department. Sleep/regeneration is the glue that keeps all three together.

It's not really surprising to me when people in New York say they average around 5-6 hours of sleep per night. Yes, everyone is busy and it always feels like there isn't any extra time to sneak in extra zzz's, but I challenge that.

Fess up, people: how many times have you gone to bed later than necessary because you were Netflix binge-watching? How many times have you scrolled through your email, Instagram, or Facebook for an extra 5-10 minutes before you go to sleep? Yeah, I thought so.

Here are 4 reasons why lack of sleep could be the reason why you're having trouble reaching your fitness and fat loss goals:

  1. Missing just one night of sleep seriously wreaks havoc on your metabolism.
    • In a graph Dr. Jennifer Martin showed us at the Equinox HPLS conference I was at, it showed that plasma glucose dropped by 20% and insulin secretion rate dropped by 15% with just one missed night of sleep. For you readers who don't know what the heck I just said, your body's regulation of your blood sugar (which is a primary factor in how your body decides to use glucose [carbs/sugar] versus stored fat for energy) get's severely thrown off. The graph also showed us the effects of people who "made up" their sleep on the weekend- while the stats improved, it still was at a notable deficit from normal levels. Skimping on sleep even 1 day a week adds up.
  2. Increased sleep = decreased appetite and desire for sweet/salty foods
    • A study of overweight adults who typically slept 6.5 hours or less were then put on a sleep schedule of 8.5 hours, getting an extra hour and half per night. The results showed:
      • Less sleepy, more vigorous energy
      • 14% decrease in overall appetite
      • 62% decrease in desire for sweet and salty foods
  3. You need adequate sleep in order to fully recover and progress with your strength and fitness goals. 
    • Sore after working out? Having trouble building that fat-burning partner called muscle? When you sleep, your body releases growth hormone throughout the night that is essential for muscle recovery and #gainz.
  4. Lack of sleep will result in higher investment with a lower return, in regards to working out.
    • Dr. Martin also showed us a study on the impact of 3 hours of sleep loss on cyclists performance. With 3 less hours of sleep, these cyclists bodies (measured by heart rate, breathing/oxygen uptake, and blood lactate) were working a lot harder with far less return in athletic performance. Who wants to work harder with less return?! It's like saying that the last mile of your run didn't really do much for you except exhaust you. 

Okay, okay, now that I know why I should really be prioritizing sleep, HOW do I do it?

 Courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Martin

Courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Martin

Solution #1. Make sleep a top priority

Seems too simple, right? Does your day look like that pie chart to the right?

When creating your schedule, prioritize sleep and structure your day to allow for at least 7-8 hours of sleep.

While that might seem impossible at first, think small. That 10 hours at work- is every minute honestly utilized? If you are sleep-deprived, your brain is not functioning at optimal speed or power, leading to more errors and "spacing out" at work- and oh look at that, 15 minutes just went by at the office because you were staring off into space or procrastinating on gchat. 

It's a vicious cycle- lack of sleep leads to unfocused work and less productivity, which then leads to staying late an extra hour at the office to finish the work you needed to do, and that sets you back another hour of potential sleep, leaving you sleep-deprived once again. It's hard to break the cycle, but as they say, the first cut is the deepest.

My challenge to you: sneak in an extra 10 minutes of sleep per day for a week. That's cashing in on a full hour and 10 minutes of extra total sleep for the week. Some options:

  • Go to bed 10 minutes earlier: put away your phone, your tablet, and TV and just plop into bed.
  • Sleep in 10 extra minutes: no, don't snooze your alarm clock for 10 minutes- set your alarm clock 10 minutes later. Pick out your clothes the night before. Spend 0 minutes on breakfast in the morning by taking overnight oats on the go.
  • Nap. It can increase alertness and improve performance. According to Dr. Martin, the best time to nap is 8-9 hours after your morning wake time, and a 20min or 90min nap is best.
 Catnap.

Catnap.

Solution #2: Create a Sleep-Only Haven

I gave this tip away in my preview post last week, but here it is again with some additions:

  • Create a sleeping-only space for yourself and your bed. No, you don't need 100 fluffy pillows (although that'd be nice), but you should remove all distractions away from your bed. Don't eat on it (shudder.. crumbs!), and especially don't bring any type of work with you to bed, even if you think it's lighter reading. All electronics should be put out of arms length so you're not tempted to reach out and grab your phone- that light is not making melatonin's job any easier.

By creating a sleeping-only space, your brain creates a sort of Pavlovian response, and understands what that space is meant for, leaving you fully ready to dive headfirst into your pillows and drift off peacefully. Use earplugs, eyemasks, drapes, or whatever you need to create a dark and peaceful haven.

Solution #3: Slow down your mind

A racing mind isn't conducive to letting sleep naturally overcome you. The best ways to let it organically happen:

  • Brain-barf your thoughts. Keep a single sheet of paper (no journals, otherwise that turns into a full on distracting affair) and a pen/pencil on your nightstand. Every time you have a distracting thought you cannot get rid of, scribble it down on the paper. Do NOT use your phone for this. Before you know it, you'll be on your email or social media...
    • You shouldn't have to really get up to do this. I got so comfortable with it that I could reach over and scribble with one hand with all the lights off and not having to budge an inch in my bed. This activity helps you free your mind of any lingering thoughts that might push sleep away.
  • Quiet the mind. Imagine a peaceful environment: a stream, the quietness of snow, whatever is relaxing to you. Whenever a thought comes into your mind, keep focus on your happy place and let the thought leave you. 
  • Get up out of bed- only if necessary. Sometimes you're lying there, wishing for sleep to come but it just ain't happening. Get up out of bed, move around a bit, and go back to bed when sleepy. Resist the urge to use electronics, and try to quiet the mind.

Whew I know that was a lot, but I hope this helps you. Try my challenge out of the extra 10 minutes a day, and see how it affects you- I have a feeling you'll be pleased with the change.