Together with food, water, oxygen and protection from the elements sleep is one of the basic needs necessary for our survival. It’s a wonder then why something so fundamental has become one of the most under-prioritised aspects of our lives. We sacrifice sleep for our work, TV, phones, social media, computer games and much more, all without realising that getting adequate sleep each night is one of the keys to optimal body composition and having a leaner physique. It is a common-known fact that sleep is necessary for recovery, but “recovery” involves so much more than just recharging your batteries for the next day. Recovery also involves the regulation of specific hormones that promote improved body fat levels, reduction in stress levels, improvements in muscle mass and overall physical and psychogenic repair. Without adequate sleep people will tend to store more fat and find it harder to put on muscle.
Here are some of the ways sleep can help you achieve the body you’re after:
Sleep improves growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production
Growth hormone (GH) is one of the most significant hormones in regulating anabolism in the body; it contributes to cell repair, cell reproduction and overall growth. Growth hormone is also a precursor to the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the liver which promotes muscle growth and cognitive function. From a fat loss perspective optimising GH production has been found lower body fat.
The significance of sleep in relation to GH is that the majority of GH is released by the pituitary as you sleep. Without adequate sleep GH production is supressed which, in turn, results in supressed production of IGF-1. Studies have found that individuals who consistently suppress GH production by not prioritising sleep generally have much lower muscle mass and higher body fat. Supressing GH production also translates to wasted efforts at the gym. Strenuous physical activity at the gym results in micro damage to muscles which must be repair adequately to prevent continual breakdown.
Sleep lowers cortisol levels and inflammation
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which, in excess amounts can have drastic negative effects on body composition. Individuals who place their bodies under chronic stress (whether it’s physical stress or emotional stress) will tend to store more fat, especially around the front of the tummy. This is an especially big problem in the corporate world where the stress of deadlines and productivity take over health and well-being.
One way to elevate cortisol levels (something you don’t want) is to sleep less. Studies have found that individuals who have sleep problems or average 5 hours or less of sleep store more body fat and also find it harder to lose body fat.
From the perspective of inflammation poor sleep increases inflammation in the body which not only increases physical stress—thus ramping up cortisol even more and increasing fat storage—but is also a major contributor to many diseases and overall poor health. In addition to this inflammation supresses recovery from training which can lead to decreased strength, poor muscle repair and impeded fat loss efforts.
Sleep helps lower cravings for carbs and refined sugar
Increased cortisol from a poor night’s sleep can have an effect on food consumption the day after. The reason for this is because when cortisol increases another hormone, insulin, tends to make its way in the picture. Insulin is responsible for storing nutrients, but is also commonly called “the fat storing hormone” since constantly elevated insulin levels contribute to fat storage. Cortisol and insulin are antagonistic hormones; when one goes up, the other goes down.
In times of stress (or elevated cortisol levels) one way to lower cortisol is to increase insulin, and one simple way of doing this is to eat refined carbs. This is one major reason why people tend to choose refined carbs or lollies when they stress eat. It’s never a celery stick with some nut butter.
If you want to be able to make better food choices throughout the day and prevent unwanted carb cravings then managing stress levels by improving sleep is a great way to do so.
All-in-all, sleep is an incredibly crucial factor in getting the physique you’re after. Keep in mind that the points above are only a few of the benefits of sleep in relation to fat loss and hypertrophy. The negative effects of under-prioritising sleep extend beyond the above points. Under-sleeping can lead to lowered testosterone levels, overall increased appetite, poor cardiovascular health, poor cognitive function, insulin resistance and much more.
It’s important to note that getting enough sleep means getting enough sleep each night. Most people are in the habit of neglecting sleep during the week and then “catching up” over the weekend. This up and down in sleep patterns is enough to disrupt circadian rhythms which results in diminished benefits of sleep, and can even increase physical stress. If possible it is ideal to maintain a similar sleeping pattern even on the weekends.
Stay tuned for Part 2 for tips on how to get a better night’s sleep! In the meantime, sleep tight!
ASP Coach Patrick