Why everyone should prioritise sleep!
If you want to enhance fat loss, gain muscle and perform at your best, you should focus on achieving consistent, good-quality sleep.
Sleep is complex and a fundamental part to our health and wellness. The quality of your sleep is determined by a process called the sleep-wake cycle, involving:
- Slow wave or deep sleep
- REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
Slow wave sleep helps you recover physically while REM sleep helps you recover mentally. Sleep is restorative, enabling the brain to remove metabolic waste that accumulates as it goes about its normal neural activities.
Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are associated with a plethora of health problems:
Fat Loss, Muscle Gain and Performance
A lack of sleep or sleep deficiency can also have adverse effects on performance, such as hindering exercise recovery and reducing exercise-induced adaptations (e.g. the ability to gain muscle or get fitter). It is perceived that slow-wave sleep promotes anabolic processes in the body (helping to build new muscle tissue and boosting recovery from exercise). You’ll often hear about professional athletes like Roger Federer or LeBron James sleeping 11 or 12 hours per night.
Insufficient sleep has also been shown to lead to unfavourable body composition results with a greater loss of lean mass during intentional calorie restriction.
From a fat loss perspective, sleep deficiency is associated with an increase in calorie consumption and a decrease in activity and exercise levels, which could inevitably lead to a calorie surplus and thus fat gain over time.
Similarly, sleep restriction can negatively affect appetite control through its impact on hormones that are associated with hunger, satiety (feelings of fullness) and food reward, meaning you’re more likely to eat too much.
In a highly controlled, metabolic ward study on 12-healthy young males, researchers found that fragmented sleep (induced by repeated alarms at 90-minute intervals over one night) reduced REM sleep more than the normal, non-fragmented sleep.
Due to effects on hunger hormones, the fragmented sleep group reported less fullness and a greater desire to eat. Not what you want when your goal is to lose body fat! Interestingly, reduced REM sleep is associated with being overweight, further suggesting that REM sleep may influence appetite regulation.
Good sleep quality (with respect to timing, duration & intensity) on a consistent basis, however, can improve memory, cognition and increase total energy expenditure (meaning it’s easier to keep your body fat under control).
How to Sleep Better
Many factors can influence poor sleeping habits such as stress, anxiety, inadequate physical activity, and misaligned eating patterns. Listed below are some top tips for you to improve your sleep quality.
1) Blue light exposure
One of the most powerful cues for our biological rhythms is bright or blue light. Visible light regulates circadian rhythms (our 24-hour body clock) by interacting with light-sensitive neurons in the eye. Not getting enough blue light during the day can make you feel lethargic. Conversely, getting too much late at night can mask natural sleepiness and shift your biological sleep and wake cycle. Blue light can help suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone secreted in the brain that regulates sleep.
- Daytime – getting early exposure to natural light/sunlight (e.g. walk/exercise) will help anchor your biological clock.
- Night-time – alter settings on electronic devices by selecting night mode and if possible, alter the colour tint.
If you work on a computer or laptop late at night, install f.lux software. The software automatically reduces the blue light spectrum emitted from your computer in line with sun set.
Blue light blocking glasses (there’s ‘trendier’ pairs available too!) are also a worthwhile consideration to use when watching TV at night.
2) Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle
Make it a habit to wake up and go to bed at similar times each day – even at weekends! With a regular sleep rhythm, your body knows when it should be awake and when it should be asleep.
The amount of sleep per night is very specific to you as an individual, for most this is between 7-9 hours per night. Trial and error may be required to optimise the amount of time in bed and this may change depending on your physical activity levels and training demands.
Don’t rely on regular naps to get through the day; rather, aim to get all the sleep you need during one consolidated sleep period at night.
Routine naps or the occasional weekend nap can, however, be beneficial particularly after a week of disrupted or less than optimal sleep. Naps should last less than one hour e.g. 25-45 minutes.
3) Create a cool, dark, quiet sleep environment
- Most people sleep best in a cool room. The ideal range is usually between 18-21 degrees Celsius.
- If light creeps in through your bedroom windows, consider blackout curtains or cover your eyes with an eye mask.
- A quiet space is key for good sleep as noise can impair sleep quality. If you sleep in a noisy environment, consider purchasing earplugs. Earplugs will dampen high frequencies more than low frequencies e.g. protect against cars beeping, but not much against traffic.
4) Exercise earlier
Movement and physical activity during the day may help you sleep better at night. Exercising earlier, however, should not come at the expense of sleep duration. Intense exercise a few hours before bedtime may disrupt your sleep and has the potential to disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Note – prioritising activity and exercise at any time during the day is better
than doing nothing at all.
Best to avoid large meals right before bed as sleep decreases the activity of the digestive tract. A protein snack ~1-2 hours before bed is fine.
Refrain from caffeine consumption ~8 hours before bed. Caffeine has a half-life of ~6 hours, meaning half of the caffeine content can remain in your system for up to 6 hours following consumption. Caffeine will negatively disrupt your sleep quality.
Large meals and caffeine make it harder for you to fall asleep and increase the likelihood that your sleep will be lighter and less restorative.
Alcohol or the traditional ‘night cap’ may help you fall asleep initially, but it will also disrupt your deep sleep. This disruption might cause you to feel as though you didn’t get enough restful sleep the following day (which doesn’t help a hangover!).
6) Unwind and clear your mind
Create a wind-down routine 30-60minutes before bed e.g. reading a book, listening to a podcast or taking a hot bath. Planning a ‘To-Do’ list or writing a daily journal can help alleviate any work-related stress and anxiety. A reduction in any stress or anxiety will result in better sleep.
Although seemingly simple to implement, sleep is one of the most neglected weapons in our biological armoury. Now is the perfect opportunity for you to optimise your sleep pattern and start creating healthy sleep habits.
If problems persist having implemented the tips outlined, a select few supplements may be worth considering.
If you have enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it on Facebook by clicking here. All feedback/comments welcome.