Oct 22 2013

Sleep Yourself Thin

Before I became a personal fitness coach I went on various exercises with the Royal Marines Commandos.  I always remember that lack of sleep was used to keep us disorientated.  We’d set up camp at sunset and then throughout the night get woken up to perform various patrols, guard duties…

Before I became a personal fitness coach I went on various exercises with the Royal Marines Commandos.  I always remember that lack of sleep was used to keep us disorientated.  We’d set up camp at sunset and then throughout the night get woken up to perform various patrols, guard duties and assault drills.  The exercise would always finish off with some form of physical activity.  This is where I saw first hand the effect of lack of sleep; we’d use chocolates, Haribo and biscuits to survive, just to keep us going.  When it came to exercise, some guys would literally collapse, whilst others quit due to lack of energy.  Now these guys were training to be the elite; Twenty something year old men with years of consistent training, drive and focus.  Now if these guys were struggling, don’t kid yourself that you are exempt from the damage caused by poor sleep.  Lack of sleep has various negative effects from memory to libido. However, I am going to concentrate primarily on how sleep can effect three key hormones and can in turn improve muscle-growth, speed up fat loss, and carry a ton of healthy benefits that will help you look and feel better.

1. Leptin and Ghrelin

These two hormones influence your appetite & fullness.  Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.

When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food.

A study on the effect of sleep deprivation and appetite took place in Chicago. Twelve healthy men were subjected to two days of sleep deprivation followed by two days of extended sleep. During this time doctors continued to monitor hormone levels, appetite, and activity.  The result: prior to the test all men were recorded as having ‘normal’ hunger levels.  When sleep was restricted, leptin levels went down and ghrelin levels went up. Not surprisingly, the men’s appetite also increased proportionally. Their desire for high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods increased by a huge 45%.

2. Insulin

Insufficient sleep increases insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the hormone.  Insulin is powerful hormone secreted by the pancreas in order to control the way the body stores controls primarily carbohydrates but fats and proteins (amino acids).  When you consume carbohydrates, insulin is released, storing the excess sugar in your muscle cells and liver.  When insulin resistance (IR) occurs, muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, the body needs higher levels of insulin to help glucose enter cells, this is a precursor to Diabetes T2.

For those looking to keep their weight under control IR can scupper any attempts to become leaner.  The elevated levels of blood sugar are sent to the liver. Once there, the sugar is converted into fat and carried via the blood stream throughout the body.  The excess insulin in the bloodstream inhibits the release of fats from fat tissue.  This means that insulin prevents the use of your fat for energy, as high insulin levels trick the body into thinking there is an abundance of carbohydrate (glycogen), waiting to be used for fuel.

3. Growth Hormone (GH)

For simplicity, GH regenerates your body and certainly isn’t something weight-training athletes want to be short on.  Not getting enough restful sleep leaves the body with a reduced ability for muscle repair since sleep is a major time for protein synthesis to occur. Ever had a tough training session, followed by a poor nights sleep?  How does your body feel the next day… terrible.  That’s the lack of GH secretion when you slept.

For muscle to grow, the previous damaged tissue needs time to rebuild and repair.  GH is released as you sleep and the muscle tissue having had the right training stimulus grows back thicker and stronger.  If you do not let your body recover, you will loose your gains from the gym, reduce your performance, and your results will plateau.  This is my argument against fasted early morning cardio for weight loss.  You are minimizing the GH secretion from the fewer number of hours you are sleeping, whilst burning muscle tissue and a limited amount of fat due to an empty stomach.

Conclusion

In short, if you can’t gain muscle or lose fat, and everything else seems to be in order, you need to take a look at your sleep patterns. Remember, diet, exercise, and recovery are equally important. Stop treating sleep like it doesn’t matter!

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Salman