Remember when your parents used to make you go to bed at 8pm on a school night, and you’d be fuming and say you weren’t even tired? Whether our parents were wise to the research on the importance of sleep, or they were just trying to get you away from watching Geordie Shore at the age of 10, their intentions were in the right place.
First and foremost, I would like to make it clear that I’m not a neurological scientist, nor am I writing a dissertation. What I am saying is based on evidence and facts that are widely researched but this information may not be applicable for each and every one of you as you. Things that we regard as factually true (and therefore assume they can be applied to every situation) can still affect different people in very different ways – it is all down to the individual. Remember the most important quote in this whole industry is: “There’s no one size fits all”.
So, in this blog I’ll attempt to portray what I perceive to be the most important bits of information you need, to gain a clear understanding of how sleep can affect your diet and training. I hope that after reading this, you will be able to identify whether your sleeping pattern is having a positive or adverse affect on you, and that you will feel equipped to make any necessary changes to achieve the desired outcome.’
What can cause sleeping irregularities/deprivation?
- Habits – sleeping pattern
- Stress/mental health/anxiety
- Caffeine intake later in the day
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor nutrition & eating late in the day
- Irregular working patterns
Research generally shows that for adults, 7-9 hours of sleep is required for optimal mental and physical health (NINDS). This will vary depending on the genetics of different people, some people may function optimally on less and some may require more. Maintaining a regular sleeping pattern is important everybody, due to your biological clock.
So, there you go, solved it in two sentences: get 7-9 hours sleep every night and go to bed within a similar time frame, easy… Hands up who started counting backwards to work out what time you’d need to go to bed to actually get 7-9 hours of sleep? And hands up who immediately dismissed it if it was before 10pm. I see you.. And I implore you to consider the below factors:
Sufficient and Regulated Sleeping Pattern:
- Improved mood
- Improved performance
- Concentration & productivity
- Improved immune function
- Reduced disease risk
- Improved emotions and social interactions
Insufficient and Deprived Sleeping Patterns:
- Mental health – depression, Altered mood & emotions – STRESS
- Higher disease risk
- Lower training performance
- Lower libido
- Change in hormone levels causing food cravings (hormones) – decreased leptin, increased ghrelin – (read below)
I’m not attempting to solve anyone’s sleeping disorders by sharing this information, but hopefully you now have a basic understanding that sleep is vital for your mental and physical wellbeing. We can now delve into the details of how sleep inhibits your nutrition – which is hopefully calorie restricted and sufficient in protein because you took all my advice from my last blog, fantastic.
Sleep & Nutrition
Ever wondered why you crave ‘dirty’ food when you’re hungover? Keep reading…
Leptin and Ghrelin.
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that regulate hunger and satiety, the differences in these hormones are inhibited by a lack of sleep.
Leptin – a hormone that regulates weight control (the satiety/starvation hormone). When you’re sleep deprived, leptin levels are reduced. This hormone sends messages to your brain to say you’re not satisfied and still hungry.
Ghrelin – a hormone that regulates hunger. When you’re sleep deprived you release more ghrelin, which increases hunger and appetite.
As you guessed, the altered levels of leptin and ghrelin cause you to be hungrier and crave sugary carbohydrates which will cause overeating thus in turn, encourage weight gain. As we know from ‘The Magic Diet’ blog – excess calorie consumption causes weight gain (1).
To summarise, make it a priority to maintain a regular sleeping pattern enabling you to get 7-9 hours every night, and you may just find it a lot easier to diet if you’re trying to lose weight. If this means you stop aimlessly scrolling Instagram at 9.30pm instead of 10pm, DO IT!
Sleep & Training
So, we’ve discussed how sleep can alter your hormone levels and affect your nutritional habits, but getting that all-important shuteye can have positive effects on training as well. When you’re tired, your concentration is slow and blurred which affects exercise adherence and sports performance (2). Not to mention, when you’re physically active and undergoing a strength or weight training program, your body needs to reset and rest in order to adapt to the demands placed on it during your sessions.
How often do you wake up in the morning, go to work, get back home and then say you can’t be arsed going to the gym because you’re too tired? If you’re a young adult, have no other contraindications, and your job isn’t physically demanding, there’s no reason why you can’t get yourself to the gym or take part in recreational activity a few times a week. If you find yourself tired every evening, this is probably a direct result of insufficient sleep. Your mood is dampened, your mentality is depressed and your physical energy levels are low. If your goal is to lose weight and your tiredness is the determinant of whether you exercise that day, this is directly impacting your progress and you need adjust your habits. Even if you manage to get yourself to the gym, are you focused, motivated and putting in the effort? Did you even finish the session? Ok one day isn’t the end of the world but if this is a constant issue and you’re constantly battling with your own head to get to the gym that evening, then you need to rethink your sleeping pattern and routine.
Something else I’d like to touch on which I mentioned earlier, is our ‘biological clock’. This is in everyone’s innate system. Put simply it’s a physiological mechanism that controls your ‘normal’ or ‘optimal’ behaviour in terms of timings and sleeping patterns for you as an individual. You will have your preferred training time, sleeping and waking up times but only you will know what’s best for you to perform optimally and when this is disrupted it may cause plateaus or halts in your progress. It can also impact the factors I listed earlier in the sufficient and insufficient lists. You must try to keep your biological clock ticking over in a regular pattern, fitting exercise, eating and sleeping in your favoured schedule.
Sleeping hacks + tips
- No caffeine after about 2pm
- Stretch or meditate before bed
- Get into bed earlier, dim the lights & read
- Be physically active during the day
The intended message of this blog was to educate you on the importance of sleep when trying to adhere to exercise and nutritional regimes, or just maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While we’re on the subject, I want to mention the effects of sleep on mental health – I’ll be doing another blog about this in the future but, I’m sure I share the same opinion as many other people in the industry when I say that sleep is one of the most important variables when trying to maintain mental health.
1. Taheri, S. Lin, L. Austin, D. Young, T. Mignot, E. 2004, PLoS Med. ‘Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index’.
2. Mah, C. Mah, K. Kezirian, E. Dement, W. 2011, Sleep. ‘The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players’.