The importance of sleep: why limited rest is limiting your gains

Ben Bergeron, one of the most respected and decorated coaches in all of CrossFit, said it best: If you plan on working out in the morning and haven’t gotten enough sleep, your body will be better off sleeping for an extra hour or two than it will be exercising.

Sleep is that important. But why?

For starters, your body recuperates during sleep. The stress that comes with being awake for anywhere between 12-20 hours a day takes a toll on the human body – especially if you’ve exercised or undergone abnormally taxing levels of physical or mental stress. Sleeping is your way of healing and keeping the body running efficiently.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep not only plays a pivotal role in muscle recovery but also plays a significant role in the healing of your heart and blood vessels. Therefore, a lack of sleep puts your body at higher risk for different chronic diseases, such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stoke.

A good night’s sleep also makes for better daily performance. This doesn’t just have to be in regards to sports, either; in fact, sleep has a direct impact on how well you can concentrate on basic day-to-day activities. Remember being so tired in school that you thought you might pass out in your chair? You might have been that bored, yes, but chances are you were at least a little sleep deprived, too. Sleep enhances one’s memory and maximizes problem-solving skills, both of which are equally important when it comes to completing seemingly basic tasks.

Of course, all of this information should be fairly obvious. We’ve been hearing our parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors preach that we need to get a “good night’s rest” prior to every important event since we were infants. What you might not realize, however, is just how vital sleeping is for someone who is trying to make progress in the gym – and believe me, it’s important. It’s arguably the most important thing you can do.

Not sleeping can make you fat

Say what? Yup, it’s true. The Annals of Internal Medicine claims that getting less than the minimum hours of sleep recommended every night (seven) can actually undo the benefits of dieting. Think about that for a second. How crazy would it be to spend 16 hours every day meal prepping, working out, and counting calories, only to have it all mean nothing because you didn’t sleep?

People who are sleep deprived are proven to lose less fat and feel hungrier throughout the day. Their bodies are actually changed at a cellular level, and this change can start to happen in as little as four sleep-deprived days.

In less than a week, your body can become so imbalanced by a lack of sleep that your pancreas actually forget how to properly use insulin. This hormonal imbalance prevents the storage of broken-down calories, and so your body responds by storing the fats you consume in places they shouldn’t be stored. Over time, this can worsen to the point where you wind up with type-two diabetes despite adhering to a relatively clean diet. That’s friggin’ bananas.

Muscles are built in bed, not the gym

When you work out, you’re basically injuring your muscles at a microscopic level. This is one of the reasons why you get burnt out and sore when you lift too much; you’ve actually hurt yourself just a little bit. Eventually, your body will need to recover in order to function properly.

To kick-start the recovery process, you need to sleep, and this is because sleeping actually allows your body to enter a higher anabolic state. While in this state, you wind up devoting all of your resources to helping the body heal, partially because it isn’t doing anything else and partially because you need it (this fact is one of the many reasons why drinking a casein protein shake before you go to sleep is so good for you). This results in your body contracting larger molecules, which are used to repair your entire system (and also helps to explain why your muscles grow with exercise)

Are you one of those people who just can’t sleep? Check out the tips below:

  1. Try a natural sleep-aid, like melatonin, magnesium, or DMA. Other supplements, like Advil PM or other prescription sleeping-aids, can actually do more harm to your body than good.
  2. Turn off the electronics before bed. Electronics stimulate the brain and make your body more restless and alert, therefore making it more difficult to fall asleep. Instead, opt for a book or some casual conversation roughly thirty minutes before bed.
  3. Exercise during the day. It should be obvious by now, but if you don’t exercise and you can’t sleep, there might be a correlation. Exercise – especially aerobic exercise – tires out the body. And what happens when you get tired? Hmm…
  4. Don’t oversleep. This can be hard to do, especially on the weekends, but oversleeping can throw your body into a “new routine” and makes it much more difficult to fall asleep for the next few days. It isn’t nearly as bad as being sleep-deprived, but oversleeping can start a chain of events that eventually leads to poor sleep cycles.

Sleeping is the most effective way for your body to rest. It is such an important part of our lives – heck, we spend almost a third of our total time on earth doing it – and yet so many people find themselves struggling to consistently get the 7-9 hours of recommended daily sleep.

Don’t overthink it. Sleep is just as important (if not more so) as keeping with your diet or exercise regimen. If you really want to see those gains, get your butt to bed.

For more advice on how to better your physical and emotional self, check out the other fit tips from Frankie.



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