Experts suggest we should get 8 hours sleep per night. That is 1/3 of our day (24 hours) sleeping. So, if you live to be 75 years old you will have slept 25 of those years.
That sounds awful, spending 25 years in bed missing out on doing cool stuff. However, the truth is if you don’t take those 25 years to rest and recover you will never live to 75 anyway. Study after study has linked sleep deprivation with ill health, chronic disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, diabetes, inflammation, muscle atrophy (loss) and early death. Hence the saying “dead tired”.
In this article, we are going to look at the impact poor sleep has on the way we feel and the way we look. You will discover how you can improve the length and quality of your sleep to improve your physique, health and mental wellbeing.
What is the optimal length of sleep?
This topic has been debated for decades and still there is no conclusive answer. It seems that while quantity is important, quality is even more important. With the myriad of sleep monitoring devices being worn around the planet today there has never been more data to draw from. So, what is this data telling us?
Its telling us that the optimal length of sleep is between 6–8 hours for adults. Longer for teenagers, children and babies. In fact, participants in one study that got less than 6 hours sleep had a 246% greater gain in visceral fat (dangerous internal fat) than those who got 6-8 hours. However, subjects who slept over 8 hours also had a 169% greater gain in visceral fat.
Why is a lack of sleep making us fat?
There are many reasons but let’s look at the main culprits below…
- Insulin Resistance: That’s right, a lack of quality sleep may lead to insulin resistance. In one study, healthy young men who were sleep deprived (4 hours a night) for 6 nights developed symptoms of pre-diabetes. The good news is that their insulin resistance was reversed after 1 week of increased sleep.
- Inflammation: The silent killer. Inflammation, when left unchecked in a systemic and chronic manner leads to all kinds of poor health outcomes. Recently several studies have linked inflammation to diabetes, poor nutrient uptake and obesity. In fact, some experts are calling obesity an inflammatory disease. The good news is many foods and products like ketones lower inflammation rapidly, which may help you lose weight and reverse ill health.
- Poor Appetite Control: It’s not your fault. Well it kind of is. The hormones that control your appetite are rapidly and poorly influenced by a lack of sleep. Just two nights of poor sleep can see Leptin (satiating hormone) drop by 18% and Ghrelin (hunger hormone) rise by 28%. A better night’s sleep will have these hormones returning to normal and you will likely eat less.
- Mental Cognition: You just can’t think straight! Ever noticed that when you have a poor night sleep you make bad decisions, are generally more irritable and far less focussed. Motivation is often at an all-time low and while you may muster the energy (from caffeine) to exercise, the benefits aren’t as great because the effort isn’t either.
- Increased Cortisol: This adrenal hormone is essential for life. However, too much or too little can cause chaos with our sleep patterns, making it even harder to lose body fat and build lean muscle. When your hormones are balanced, and working for you it’s a wonderful thing. However, when they are out of balance you may feel and look your worst.
How does a lack of sleep limit our muscle gain?
Between 40-60% of your muscle recovery and growth occurs while you are sleeping. In fact, almost all wild animals eat and then sleep. They do this to rest and digest, allowing the nutrients to help their body recover. L-leucine is a key amino acid involved in signalling muscle repair (mTOR pathway). Glycine is a key amino acid involved in reducing muscle breakdown by turning off Atrogin-1. According to Japanese researchers, Glycine not only reduces muscle breakdown but also promotes a restful sleep and reduces tiredness the next day.
How can we improve our sleep?
There are many ways to improve sleep but let’s cover a couple of easy ones below…
- Don’t have caffeine too close to bed time: Caffeine and other stimulants excite the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. You need to have amino acids like L-Theanine as it takes the edge of caffeine and reduces the jitteriness.
- Remove blue light: Blue light replicates the sun. Since our circadian rhythms (sleep and wake cycle) were once dictated by the rise and fall of the sun it stands to reason that blue light may keep us awake. So where is blue light coming from? It is in almost all digital screens like TV’s, computers, tablets and smart phones. So, either shut them off after the sun goes down, install a blue light blocking app or wear blue light blocking glasses.
- Supplement with Magnesium and Ashwagandha:
- Let’s start with Magnesium. This essential mineral is involved in over 600 biochemical reactions in our bodies. One of the most important for sleep is the relaxing effect it has on our muscular and nervous systems. This may be why our parents and grandparents had Epsom salt baths.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used for 3,000+ years as an adaptogen. It allows your body to adapt to stress more efficiently by regulating adrenal hormones like cortisol. With cortisol back in sync you are more likely to release the required amount of serotonin and melatonin for a rested night’s sleep. Also, regulating cortisol may have a positive downstream benefit on sex hormones which may help increase vitality, recovery, mood, energy and libido.
These are some simple tips you can follow and products you can use to improve the quality of your sleep and therefore the quality of your physique.
Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.