“You should get more sleep.” I’ll bet every cent in my bank account that you’ve heard these words before. Whether it came from your doctor, a news anchor reporting a new study, or a friend who noticed that the bags under your eyes were just a couple shades too dark, you have definitely been told you aren’t getting proper rest at night. We live in a 24-hour society that is full of reasons to stay up, be it work or play. Everyone needs more sleep, and this goes double for anyone with a vision for their body that they have yet to achieve. Whether you’re a competitive bodybuilder or just trying to drop that pesky twenty pounds that snuck up on you as you got older, it is absolutely vital that you prioritize those Z’s. Poor sleep and recovery can sabotage your efforts in the gym in ways you probably had no idea even existed. As someone who has had extreme difficulty in the past with their sleep schedule, I can vouch. You clicked on this article because in some way you knew it related to you and now it’s time to change up some bad habits. You’ve been bombarded by the phrase “get more sleep,” and now it’s time for you to find out why.
1)Decrease In Mood and Performance
This one is the most obvious on this list. When you don’t sleep, you don’t feel good. But it runs deeper than simply being grumpy in the mornings. Scientific studies have shown that people who don’t experience proper sleep are actually ten times more likely to experience clinical depression. That’s right, those all-nighters can earn you a Prozac prescription. Everyone has bad days, but depression is no joke. On top of this, most people have a hard enough time summoning the will to get on the treadmill without being fatigued before they even step on the belt. Poor sleep can make it feel like you have a ball and chain wrapped around your ankles, which doesn’t exactly help when you’re going for that new PR on your deadlifts. In a research study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Judo athletes were tested by competing while suffering from sleep deprivation to test its effects on athletic performance. The result? The athletes underperformed in both cardio and strength tests when sleep deprivation was introduced. Shocker.
2) Haywire Hormones
If you’re a casual gym-goer, you most likely aren’t aware of how drastically your results can be altered by hormones. Hormones are everything. If your body has imbalanced hormones you can experience a host of ungodly issues such as increased body fat, depression, inability to build muscle, and worse. One of the primary hormones that is affected by sleep is cortisol: the stress hormone. Less sleep = more stress on the body. More stress = more cortisol. Wacked-out cortisol levels can destroy that lean mass you worked so hard for, impair your metabolism causing unwanted weight gain, shove a wrench in the gears of your immune system, and a whole lot more. Cortisol is meant to naturally decrease before bedtime so your body can properly repair itself. Individuals who did not get proper sleep for six days in a row were found to have cortisol levels decreasing at SIX TIMES slower than the normal level. Those extra few matches of Call of Duty before bed aren’t worth it. Trust me.
And if better progress in the gym isn’t enticing enough of a reward for balancing your hormones through proper sleep (which it should be,) then how about a longer lifespan? The maelstrom of hormonal irregularities that result from being sleep deprived can shorten the time that you have a pulse in more ways than one. We’re talking a quadrupled risk of having a stroke, higher chance of coronary heart disease, hypertension, and just an elevated risk of an earlier death in general.When you say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” you aren’t joking as much as you think you are.
3) Lack of Sleep Hinders Fat Loss
Your sleep deprivation could be the reason that your favorite pair of jeans don’t fit anymore. It could also be the reason why you aren’t doing so hot on your path to get back into them. Dropping your body fat is a very diet-focused endeavor. You cannot out-train a bad diet. So it makes it extra tough to watch your intake when your lack of sleep is causing your ghrelin levels to rise and your leptin levels to fall. Just to clarify, ghrelin signals hunger and leptin lets your body know when you are full. Your body does this to make up for the energy that isn’t getting replenished from proper sleep, and boy does it make it hard to say no to the second half of that muffin. If that wasn’t enough, sleep loss has also been linked to ahigher risk of Type II Diabetes, particularly in men.
4) Poor Sleep Hinders Glycogen Storage in Muscles
Do you like to lift heavy, pump out endless reps of bench, or just train balls-to-the-wall hard in general? Yeah, me too. Your muscles won’t be capable of jack shit if they’re running empty on glycogen. For the uninitiated, glycogen is the primary form of glucose energy stored in the body, particularly in the muscles. In metaphorical terms, glycogen is the coal in the engine of your gain-train. The gas in the tank of your muscle car. The wind beneath the wings of your bi-plane. (Like biceps? Get it? Sorry, I’ll stop.) So how does sleep play into this? Well, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lower glucose metabolism by 30-40%. This means less glycogen storage and your body has less access to energy. In the referenced study, healthy young men were actually found to have glucose metabolism that ranked among the elderly in terms of efficiency. You want to be more energetic than the folks who inhabit nursing homes, that’s part of the reason you’re in the gym in the first place.
5) No Sleep Will Cause your Body to Prioritize Burning Muscle Instead of Fat
Anyone who has embarked on the quest for a muscular physique knows how much time, effort, and patience goes into building lean mass. And when you put on that 30 pounds over your winter bulking phase, you cannot wait to see what that sweet, sweet firmness looks like under the fluff you put on. The primary objective of a cutting phase is to shed off the fat while retaining muscle mass. We’ve already talked about how sleep is a big player in fat loss, but it can bite you in the ass when it comes to muscle retention as well. When you eat under your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) your body has to make up the difference by burning tissue. This is how you burn off body fat and change your body composition. Your body handles this process differently when suffering from the particular type of stress that is a direct result of not getting enough sleep– and it’s bad news. In a study done in the University of Chicago Sleep Research Laboratory subjects experienced 60% higher muscle loss when eating at a deficit of their TDEE. That’s nuts. And what’s worse, it proportionally lowered the amount of fat burned by 55%. If you’re going to attempt to cut body fat on 4 hours of sleep per night, go ahead and shoot yourself in the foot instead. It’s quicker.
Our society romanticizes the late work night, the until-dawn approach to getting that college paper done, and the wild Saturday nights that are kick started by an untimely energy drink at 10 p.m. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with living it up, but night after night of this can take a severe toll on your gym progress and your health in general. Anyone who has been in the gym for a few years can tell you that they treat their body as a constant work in progress, a journey that never quite has a finish line. There’s a certain pride in this quest to constantly improve and be better the way you were the day before. So If you put in the hours of pumping iron and downing protein shakes, you owe it to your body to let it recover exactly the way it was made to: with that good ol’ 8 hours. Sweet dreams.
Written By: Zach Hughes