Getting enough sleep can be the difference between your current physique and the figure of your dreams. Though diet and exercise can steal the spotlight, sleep plays a vital role in any physical transformation. Giving your body adequate rest not only keeps you energized throughout the day, but makes muscle growth and fat loss that much more possible. You may think you can survive on 5 or 6 hours a night, but experts say it’s not nearly enough.
One beneficial aspect of sleep is production of human growth hormones. These hormones are formed in your pituitary gland and are responsible for body processes like cellular repair, and the balance of overall body composition, according to Healthline. It’s released into your system with little pulses around midnight and into the early morning. Inadequate sleep keeps these hormones from being produced efficiently. While high levels of human growth hormone in the body can boost muscle growth and help you recover from injury, low levels can make you gain fat and compromise your immune system.
Protein synthesis also happens while you sleep, especially when you eat a protein-rich meal before bed. Protein synthesis means your body is using amino acids found in protein to build new muscle, according to BodyBuilding.com.
Protein synthesis is also maximized when you sleep because your energy expenditure is reduced. If you are trying to build muscle, it’s all about size. Size means holding on to those extra calories so they go to all the right places. Your body is constantly burning up your food while your awake, keeping you energized and alert as you tackle the day. As soon as your asleep, your energy expenditure drops and your body can focus on conservation instead of consumption, allowing you to grow.
If you don’t eat a solid meal before bed, your chances of building new muscle are reduced, but instead, you’re promoting weight loss. Under these circumstances, sleep can have the same effect as a fasting period. The unconscious hours spent without a meal induce a catabolic state and your body starts breaking down proteins to sustain you until you wake up.
If your feeling worn down half way through your workout, it may have a chemical explanation. Your body stores glycogen in the body as energy for your muscles to use while you’re exercising. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t be able to store enough glycogen and you’ll feel exhausted by physical activity a lot faster than normal.
Feeling sore after a workout can also be managed with plenty of rest. The Doctor’s Channel reported that lack of sleep is the best predictor for persistent aches and pains later in life. Sleep allows your body to recover and restore damaged cells, and without it, those pesky little pains will become long-term problems.
The benefits of sleep aren’t all physical, it’s a mental game as well. Adenosine is the molecule that tells the brain when it’s time to rest, according to BodyBuilding.com. Adenosine levels are low in the morning and gradually increase toward the end of the day. High levels of adenosine not only make you sleepy, but they also make you less mentally alert. When you fall asleep, adenosine levels recede again and allow the brain to “recharge”. Studies show that mental alertness directly correlates with motivation, so you actually biologically need to sleep to achieve your goals.
Stress isn’t just a feeling, it can be a physically detrimental hormonal process. Cortisol is the stress hormone and is produced in the adrenal glands, according to Healthline. Your body and mind demand this hormone to cope with the stressful situations life can bring, including intense workouts, but it’s important that cortisol levels don’t get out of hand. A lack of sleep can spike your cortisol levels and lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and other problems later in life. Cortisol also works against testosterone, human growth hormone, and everything else you need to build muscle, according to LiveStrong.
Though you may feel fully capable on 5 or 6 hours of sleep, experts emphasize 8 to 10 for optimal health. Clinical trial studies show that less than the recommended amount of sleep not only leaves you feeling lethargic, but can also put you at risk for disease, weight gain, reduced ability to store memory, and a generally shorter life, according to Healthline.
If you have trouble sleeping, it’s not recommended that you immediately jump to a pharmaceutical medication. Though they may work in the short term, they can disrupt your body’s natural sleep patterns and make your problems even worse. There are more natural supplements like melatonin and CBD oil that you can try, the doses of which vary based on your personal preference. Smart devices like Apple Watches and Fitbits can also help you track your sleep, with the help of different apps on your phone. With these tools at your disposal, you can see exactly how much rest you’re really getting and what you can do to improve it.
It may feel like health and fitness is all about putting your nose to the grindstone, and working until the wheels fall off, but it’s all useless without proper rest. A balanced routine of physical activity and much needed sleep is your best chance at seeing positive changes. So be productive with your day, get your work done, then come home and enjoy a little rest.
Take it from me
I’m definitely not the best example to follow when it comes to a regular sleep pattern. Most days, I feel like a borderline insomniac, chasing rest that my busy mind won’t allow. Improving my sleep has been my primary focus when it comes to my health for months now. It is difficult with my graveyard shift work hours, awake at night and sleeping all day. But I can see the difference in my mood and physical ability when I am sleeping enough, and I want to do everything I can to make that possible.
Lately, I’m trying out melatonin supplements, blackout curtains, even eye masks. I love learning more about how my body ticks and analyzing exact data, so I hope to invest in a smart watch soon. That way I can get a more biologically accurate perspective on my sleep patterns. My body does so much for me and I want to give it plenty of rest in return. For me, proper rest is a form of self-care and keeping balance.