Have you ever dragged your – beautifully-formed peachy – butt to the gym after a terrible night’s sleep and struggled through your workout?
Have you ever noticed your inability to make good food choices after a few nights of sleep deprivation?
There’s no doubt about it, sleep is crucial for your health and can negatively affect not only your time in the gym but also the decisions you make and the actions you take outside of it. If you have a hard job nodding off at night, you can be sure you’ll struggle to hit weight loss targets. But why is this…?
- A lack of sleep is a main reason for general tiredness and fatigue which is undoubtedly going to leave you pretty inefficient in the gym. You won’t be physically able to put as much energy into the session so you will find you don’t reap the rewards you could. This could mean fewer calories burned, stagnated strength or reduced cardiovascular ability. Not only that, you’ll struggle to get the positive, energising benefits that exercise gives so it quickly becomes a vicious cycle of tiredness and exhaustion and could leave you feeling both down and frustrated.
- We often use the gym as a stress relief, somewhere to vent and let off steam. We can pick up some dumbbells and forget, in that time, about the pressures of work or life’s difficulties. A lack of sleep can heighten the body’s production of cortisol and thus, the stress we feel . Essentially, it adds to our stress and makes it even harder to perform. It can ruin our time in the gym by totally kicking our ass. We may not be able to change our working life or the stresses that it can instil upon us but we sure can limit these negative affects by getting more sleep at night.
- Tiredness can also contribute to reduced mental clarity. This means we are more likely to make bad decisions due to the frontal lobe of our brain being affected. It’s most noticeable when we reach for the unhealthy, unnecessary (but super convenient) snacks as our ability to control impulses wanes.
- Inefficient sleep can also affect us on a physiological level, of course. You’ll have heard people talking about ‘hunger hormones’ which when unsettled, can encourage you to eat more. Ghrelin is the hormone which signals you to feel hungry and lets your brain know it’s time to eat whilst leptin signals fullness and satiety. When you’re sleep deprived, ghrelin production rises and leptin levels decrease meaning you’re much more likely to eat more than usual. Over time, this could seriously hinder your progress.
- Not getting enough sleep could be affecting your body’s ability to produce and process insulin. Insulin is a hormone that enables cells to take in glucose to be used for energy therefore insulin resistance can mean that you gain weight as your metabolic processes are being hindered and it affects the way you feel and perform.
So, what can we do about it?
Whilst not everyone requires the same amount of sleep – it’s misleading to say everyone should have x amount of hours each night – it’s important that you get enough sleep to feel fit and well with stable energy levels throughout the day.
There are many ways in which we can improve our chances of a good night’s sleep including all the usual tricks such as shutting off electronics, implementing a wind-down routine, avoiding large dense meals too close to bedtime, shutting off all lights and of course, getting yourself into bed at a decent hour.
However, I think that modern life is making it harder to get off to sleep so I’ve come up with 3 particularly important things to consider in this instance:
1) Avoid stimulants in the evening. This can be tough not only for the coffee and tea lover but also the evening gym-goer who loves a dose of pre-workout to get revved up. Undoubtedly, this will affect your sleep and your ability to wind down. Try and cut back on consuming too much caffeine in the later part of the day – the adrenaline from training alone is likely to affect relaxation so excess caffeine will only make it worse. You might struggle for a bit but the body will soon adapt, just be sure you fuel yourself with healthy food and let the restful night’s sleep do the rest.
2) Write down your worries. It’s clear that more people suffer from stress these days, most likely from work-related issues. If this is you, try and find a way to release your anxieties. If you’re not keen on talking through problems with friends, try writing them down before you go to bed, almost creating a ‘to do’ list that you can pick up and work on in the morning. Tell yourself, ‘now is the time for sleep’ and you have to try and train your brain into processing that.
3) Research (and trial) sleep supplements. There are lots of supplements on the market which aid sleep and help the relaxation process. We’re often told that caffeine-free camomile tea is good and us gym goers will be familiar with the ‘old ZMA (zinc & magnesium) trick’ for better sleep and recovery. But here are a few more that you may not have heard of before:
5-hydroxy- tryptophan (5-HTP) – this is a nutrient pre-cursor to a neurotransmitter which is converted to serotonin in the brain and serotonin is incredibly important for mood and sleep and is used in the production of melatonin. Therefore, 5-HTP can help with the production of these brain chemicals which help lift your mood and induce sleep.
Melatonin – this plays a role in controlling our wake-sleep cycle and so can be useful for jet lag (if you travel often) and adjusting sleep cycles (if you work night shifts) as well as treating insomnia or sleep difficulty in general.
L-Theanine –this is an amino acid (derivative of glutamine) which is found in green tea but can be taken in a more concentrated form for more benefits. It has a calming effect on the brain which could be all you need to help you unwind and drift off.
If you struggle with sleep, have a read up on these and consult with your doctor to see if they would be useful for you, although bear in mind what works for one person may not work for another. And, of course, try to implement healthy habits and lifestyle changes before resorting to supplementation to help you out.
Implementing just a few of these tips could maximise your time in the gym, help you make good food choices and allow you to feel fitter, stronger and healthier overall . Please, please prioritise your sleep because snoozing most definitely isn’t losing!