Not Getting Enough Sleep Could Be Sabotaging Your Goals

Not Getting Enough Sleep Could Be Sabotaging Your Goals

You’re training hard for your next fitness goal: CrossFit Open, 5k PR, century ride, or weight loss.

You’re counting your macros and eating high quality foods to optimize performance.

Like so many other athletes, you’ve got the training and nutrition portion down, but what you don’t realize is you’re sabotaging your training by sleeping less than seven hours a night.

The truth is, sleep affects your performance a lot more than you think.  

Much of the muscle recovery process occurs during non-REM sleep.

Muscle recovery doesn’t stop after a post-workout recovery drink or meal. The body continues the recovery process for hours, or even days, depending on the length and intensity of the workout. The most important time for recovery is during sleep, particularly during non-REM sleep or “deep sleep.”

Non-REM sleep accounts for 40% of total sleep time. It’s during this time that the pituitary gland releases an increased amount of growth hormone, which plays an integral role in protein synthesis and is also involved in muscle fiber repair. Sleep deprivation directly impairs the release of growth hormone and therefore prevents adequate muscle recovery.

Woman Exhausted Exercise

Not getting enough sleep can also interfere with your body’s ability to create fuel for your workouts and regulate hunger.

Researchers have recently focused on how sleep deprivation can affect the way in which the body processes fuel, or glucose. Studies have found that just one night of sleep deprivation — getting less than four hours of sleep — in a healthy individual can lead to acute insulin resistance.

What does this mean and why does it matter? Put simply, glucose needs insulin in order to enter cells and be turned into energy. But when the body doesn’t get enough sleep, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, and so the muscle and liver cells don’t receive a signal from insulin to allow glucose into the cell. As a result, glucose ends up in the bloodstream instead of in muscle cells, meaning that it can’t be used for energy.  

In other words, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t have enough fuel for your workouts.

On top of creating a state of glucose dysregulation, individuals who are sleep deprived develop an imbalance in hunger-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. That’s why those who are sleep-deprived eat 150-250 more calories per sitting than someone who is getting adequate sleep.

Woman Sleeping with Phone

Establishing a solid bedtime routine is critical for getting quality sleep.

The best thing about sleep is that it’s free!  The hard part is making sleep a priority and establishing a routine of good sleep hygiene.

I recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep to recover from hard workouts. Here’s some small changes you can make to get better sleep:

  • Establish and stick to a regular bedtime

  • Make sure your mattress isn’t worn out

  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, cool, and as dark as possible

  • Turn off electronic screens (laptop, phone, TV) 30 minutes before bed

  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime

About the Author

Dr. Roberts is a board-certified physician at SteadyMD. Prior to medical school, she practiced as a personal trainer and nutritionist. She has an interest in preventative medicine and helping patients find a balanced, healthy lifestyle. She has competed in triathlons for over ten years, from sprint distance to IRONMAN.

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