The day after a night of bad sleep feels terrible. Some people claim they function well on 4-5 hours of sleep. Either they’re insane or numb to feeling like walking death, having forgotten what normal feels like. How you feel is tiny compared to the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation.
Lost training time due to injury kills progress. Poor sleep increases the risk of sustaining injury during training or athletic competition while also increasing the time to recover from major injuries. The micro traumas we accumulate, if unmanaged through recovery and volume maintenance, quickly become macro traumas. Macro traumas keep you out of the gym. Not being in the gym tends to interfere with being jacked and strong.
Classic bodybuilding taught us to prioritize sleep to grow. Then again those guys smoked and thought muscle confusion was essential. They did have the sleep part right. This message has since been clouded by modern hustle and grind philosophy. Now we need to get up early to workout while staying up late to work on entrepreneurial dreams after the 9-5 grind. Though it often seems we lack the hours in a day to get all we need done, if we sacrifice sleep those efforts lose their effectiveness. Sleep isn’t negotiable to make optimal muscle and strength progress. Sleep stands evenly with training and nutrition as the three pillars of success. Remove any one pillar and the structure crumbles.
Training requires stamina. Athletes functioning on restricted sleep show decreased endurance for training and competition. If you can’t maximize training volume and intensity you fail to achieve your best results. Combine other negative effects of poor sleep and you finish behind those who get sleep right. Athletes seek every edge in competition occasionally to the point of cheating. Getting adequate sleep is the most powerful performance enhancing tool available.
Not every consequence of bad sleep shows up directly in the gym. Even one night of restricted sleep impairs our reaction time and functioning as though you were drunk. Driving deaths due to fatigue are believed to outnumber those caused by drunk driving. Careers in medicine and emergency services routinely cause poor sleep and shift work leading to enhanced risk of accidents or mistakes harming the individuals and others they work to help. Dying in a crash on the way to the gym interferes with training.
We’ve all had a night or two of poor sleep only to watch nutritional discipline implode. We reach for high calorie processed food and indulge in more alcohol. Poor sleep compromises willpower and disrupts hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin respectively. Ghrelin is amplified causing greater craving for high calorie food while leptin is blunted, diminishing natural fullness signals. Sustaining this long term is a major causal factor in over-consuming calories and the resulting obesity. Sleep related hormonal disruptions lead to preferentially holding onto body fat at the sacrifice of lean muscle mass when we enter caloric restriction. Not only is poor sleep making us fat, but it’s making our efforts to get lean harder. Losing an hour of sleep to get up for early morning cardio isn’t as effective for fat loss as you’ve been led to believe.
Between the hormonal and willpower disruption and added waking hours to eat, poor sleep alone may account for most weight gain in society. Solving our societal sleep problem may alone reverse the upward trend in obesity rates. Over consumption of calories is the obvious cause, but poor sleep contributes heavily to overconsumption.
Onto the really nasty stuff. Poor sleep will expedite poor quality of life and earlier death through a number of unpleasant pathways. Beyond the immediate risk of a fatal accident, long term sleep deprivation is strongly linked, often causally to most major lifestyle diseases.
Poor sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. We see chronically elevated blood pressure in people who sleep poorly, a major cause of heart attacks. Combine this with the increase in obesity, a key factor in the increased chances of cardiovascular disease, and a heart attack is waiting unless something else kills you first. Sleep apnea may also increase cardiovascular disease risk. Poor sleep takes many pathways to poor heart health, increasing the chances of early death.
Compromised sleep impairs immune function, causing reduced t-cell production. T-cells fight pathogens and mutated cell growth. Suppression increases our risk of contracting infections, from common colds to ebola(well in theory). Many types of cancer risk, notably breast cancer, is increased with chronic sleep restriction.
Just one night of restricted sleep reduces insulin sensitivity and interferes with blood glucose regulation. Your training and nutrition efforts are hampered by impaired ability to partition nutrients into building muscle and burning bodyfat. Prolonged sleep restriction interferes with insulin’s ability to selectively direct blood glucose into muscle cells vs fat cells. Poor sleep develops a state where the body preferentially loses lean muscle tissue in a calorie restricted state while stubbornly holding onto fat. If you’ve struggled to lose fat even while in a caloric deficit and you’ve struggled to get enough sleep each night, you may have your answer.
Sleep issues are prevalent among those with psychiatric disorders. Patients with major depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia all show drastically higher rates of sleep issues and insomnia than the general population. The relationship isn’t as simple as single direction cause and effect, but instead a vicious cycle of the disorder affecting sleep only to see restricted sleep worsen the disorder. Many people deal with depression and or anxiety, seeing this interfere with our fitness and happiness goals. If prioritizing sleep helps to lessen or eliminate the incidence or severity of such mental health issues, we should make every effort to improve our sleep. Mental health issues are prevalent among fitness professionals and enthusiasts, who often use fitness as a tool to combat their struggles. Improved sleep may further this quest.
Men should pay special attention to the relationship between poor sleep and lower testosterone levels. Lower test means poor libido, difficulty building muscle, difficulty getting lean, and shows a strong relationship with our mood and depression. While vitamin D and zinc/magnesium products can have testosterone boosting effects when these are deficient, they don’t fully make up for sleep loss. We should take every measure to prevent the decline of natural testosterone levels to maintain our physical and emotional well being. It will probably save your sex life too.
Humans tend to put off future concerns for today. Heart attacks, cancer, diabetes all feel like the problems of other people or distant future issues. We should still care about reducing the chances of each happening. Each are frightening outcomes but suffering dementia terrifies me most. Losing my memory and identity along with a degrading body is the living definition of horror. Living as an oblivious shell who cannot recognize family or friends isn’t worth the short term benefits(if there truly are any) of sacrificing sleep. This fate motivates my priority of sleep more than any other potential consequence. Aside from feeling like unmitigated garbage from bad sleep.
The relationship between chronic sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease appears strong as research advances our knowledge. The long term accumulation of the amyloid-B peptide in the brain is linked to Alzheimer’s. Sleep deprivation increases the concentration and chronic accumulation of amyloid-B peptide. What’s the point of building an enviable physique if your brain function erodes your memory and ability to function later in life.
Much of this feels like it applies to an impossibly distant future but the short term benefits to training results and wellbeing should be enough to motivate some change to sleep habits.
Why you sleep poorly? And how do we fix it?
Entrenched modern attitudes about sleep are magnified by new technologies to sabotage ourselves.
Despite more knowledge of why sleep is important to our physical health and mental wellbeing many of us still believe we don’t have enough time in the day. It’s not as easy as telling parents of young kids, those working long hours, and those trying to make time for fitness and nutrition, to sleep more while cutting tasks they feel essential. Behaviour change starts with knowledge and awareness. Our attitude about the need to work endlessly and fit more in is often at the core of sleep deprivation.