I have always liked to push the boundaries of things to see what I can and can’t do to learn more about myself and see if the rules are really as hard and fast as people say they are. Sleep is probably the biggest area that I have tinkered with and is probably the most common area that people skimp on. I have lived tired , gone to work tired, and even had a literal wake up call when I fell asleep at a red light on the way home from work and hit the car in front of me. Shortly after my rather embarrassing fender bender I for a short time centered my life around never needing an alarm clock. I quickly realized that I hadn’t been chronically rested since maybe middle school. Everything became clear and it was the most productive time in my life for my health, decision making, and productivity. It’s not a mystery that we push the bounds of sleep It’s effects can seem subjective and on paper an extra hour of time awake seems like the better value. Our lack of high quality sleep is costing us time and quality of life that is not worth that extra hour of wakefulness. Today I’m going to spend a short time arguing for the physical side effects of good sleep but most of the article is going to be centered around some of our main argument why we can’t get enough sleep as well as some good reasons to prioritize good sleep above exercise and possibly even over nutrition as well. I hope you will read this with an open mind and a belief that you can get more sleep and not settle for the deprived life.
Sleep is Required
A quick once over on sleep. When you sleep you your body takes that time to rebuild your body, store memories, and swap out hormones that are the main signalling chemicals in your body that coordinate all the systems of your body to do what they need to do like breakdown fat, store fat, build muscle, control hunger. When you go to sleep that is your body’s time to do that. Your body does only a tiny bit of that while your awake. Too much is going for your body to do it all at once. Your car needs oil, tires, and a bunch of other things in order to work well., but you can’t do any of this regular maintenance while you are driving your car. You can either drive, or do required maintenance but you have to choose. You cannot do both at the same time. What most of us do when we live on 6 hours of sleep is we are driving our car then swapping half of the oil out of your engine and driving off. You are not “good” on 6 hours of sleep you are “getting by” on 6 hours of sleep. Getting a full night’s sleep consistently is what allows you to know your getting all your repairs done so that you can get back on the road and drive fast and far without breaking down. When we don’t sleep optimally then add exercise to that we are making things worse. Exercise is centered around causing stress, healing stronger from that stress, and repeating which then causes a positive change in your body. When you are causing more damage by exercising but not allowing your body to repair you are hindering your progress and not going to see the expected progress. I would rather you get enough sleep and skip your workout than workout and chronically not get enough sleep. Everything we expect from diet and exercise is dependent on the body working how we expect it. If we aren’t sleeping we are hindering our bodies ability to respond how we intend from diet and exercise. Our body uses a variety of hormones to signal the needed changes.
Chemicals: Leptin, Ghrelin,Cortisol, and More
I just want to use this section to zoom in on some hormones that directly relate to a few of the many chemicals that are swapped out and moderated during sleep. These are just a few that relate to weight loss and health, but there are more than I can cover that impact every single process in your body. We have hormones pulling the strings on everything in your body. If you worry that you struggle with a hormone issue look first at sleep because that’s when it all happens. The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/) found a significant reduction in leptin, the hormone that tells you you are hungry, and an increase in ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates your appetite. There was a direct measurable correlation in body mass index with those who sleep and those who don’t. If you sleep more you ability to make good food quality and quantity choices will skyrocket because you are receiving accurate signals from your body. When you don’t sleep you feel hungrier than you are. I have personally seen clients have great progress with their weight loss simply by getting that extra hour of sleep they have been missing. Sleep is far more effective for weight loss than exercise alone. Sleep has a large effect on fat loss. In the Annals of Internal Medicine a sleep lab study found that of weight loss individuals lose the percent that was actually fat loss and not bone or muscle mass in those who underslept was reduced by 55%. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951287/) . What this means is that if two people both lose 10lbs some is lean mass (muscle, bone density) and the other is fat, then less of the weight loss is actually fat for for the underslept person. One person might lose 7 lbs of fat and 3 pounds of lean mass while the person with poor sleep would lose only 5.5 lbs of fat and 4.5 lbs of lean mass. Enough sleep tells the body to do the right things with the calories you consume to maintain a healthy weight. No matter what sort of body your were born with it will break down and not work if it isn’t getting enough maintenance.
Are We Really Too Busy To Sleep?
Most people I talk with everyday would agree that they love sleep. I haven’t met a person in the world that just hated sleep. Our biggest problem is that we struggle to get enough sleep. We take a loan out on our bodies by trading sleep time for something else. We all live busy lives and by evening time we feel the need to wind down . One episode of TV with your spouse and a glass of wine after the kids go to bed is probably the only free time you have set for you the entire work day. Some things in life we just absolutely need to do. Sleep, Eat, and Breathe. Those are the things that should be sacred to us. I have spent periods of my life staying up later because I don’t want to think about tomorrow when I feel like today just ended. Periods like that where when my life was just too busy are when I need to go and look at my time and see what things I am saying are more important than the sleep that controls my health, energy, and quality of life. The funny thing is when you are getting enough consistent sleep you can actually enjoy a jam packed day and have more energy for all the wonderful requirements of our life. I would much rather be busy with family, work, and life for 15 hours a day and sleep 9 hours a night than have to sleep only 5 hours a night and have 8 hours of free time a day (naps aren’t allowed). I want to live my life and not just survive. I want to be energetic when my wife comes home, I want to have the ability to be productive at work and not leave my projects half done,and I want that for the people I come in contact with every day and influence me. I urge you to do a time audit and really look and see how it would be possible to fit in a little more sleep each night. Lately my wife and I have been limiting our screen time at night and spending more time catching up in the evening than watching tv. I have found that in about 20m I can have a much more meaningful relaxing evening than what I would get out of a 1hr show. If you watch tv in the evening. That is a great way to find 30m in the evening.
Sleep Comes First
As a personal trainer most of my income comes from me helping people get stronger and lose weight usually through one on one training sessions. So me saying this is definitely not in my financial interests but here is the honest truth. If you are not getting enough sleep (7-9 hours) than you should skip your workout and just stay in bed longer or not go to the gym after work and use that time to get ready to go to bed earlier. Sleep is that important. Everything I have clients do is centered around the assumption that their body is going to work normally and going to respond to the added stress of exercise with the results we want. If a person is not sleeping enough to repair from the normal stress of their life than the added stress of intense exercise will only drag their health down rather than building their health help. I often wonder how many of my clients got sick because my workout was the added stress to their life that weakened their immunes system to a point that it couldn’t fight off what the healthy version of their immune system would have laughed at. I want everyone to thrive not survive and sleep is the first requirement for that. I want you to come exercise and get healthier but if your not sleeping it’s going to be so hard despite all the energy we put in together. Exercise directly affects sleep the same way activity effects hunger. If I workout I will get hungry later and need more energy. If I workout my body will need more a little more sleep for a little more repair. A race car will need to undergo more maintenance after a race than your toyota that just drives you to and from work. If I am under sleeping for my daily life I need to work on my sleep before I work on my exercise. This doesn’t mean I need to be hitting 9.5 hours a night before I go to a zumba class but it does mean I should be pushing to be at least a regular 7 before I start a new workout program. 2 workouts a week with enough sleep will get so much better results than working out 5 days a week with 6 hours of sleep.
I hope this gave you some food for thought and if you have any questions about sleep you can always contact me on our contact page or comment below.