Sleep Your Way to a Better Body!

Posted January 13, 2011 by

It’s pretty obvious that failing to exercise, or failing to control your diet will result in muscle loss and/or a gain in body fat. Drilling down even further, we can learn to optimize our results by tweaking the exercise program and diet to match our health and fitness goals. Yet, ironically-enough, all this work won’t amount to much without paying attention to the most under-appreciated factor in our health: sleep.

According to a sleep study performed in 2009 by the National Sleep Foundation, 20% of American adults get less than six hours of sleep a night (compared to just 12% in 1998), while only 28% get eight or more hours of sleep per night, which is required for optimal health. This means that three out of every four of us aren’t getting enough sleep! Ok, big deal right? Well, according to this same study, the likelihood of forgoing regular exercise due to being “too sleepy” increased from 8% to 28% (for those who sleep eight or more hours per night compared to less than six hours per night, respectively).

Sound familiar? Have you ever had the good intention of hitting the gym but felt too drowsy to go, perhaps making the excuse to yourself, “Exercising while tired is dangerous—I might hurt myself! I’ll go tomorrow.” or, “My body is telling me that I shouldn’t exercise today! I’ll go tomorrow.” Of course, rather than getting into bed earlier that night and getting a full eight to nine hours of sleep that night, we simply repeat that process. Your body isn’t telling you not to work out… it’s telling you to get more dang sleep!

The study also mentioned a number of other negative health effects of sleep deprivation, including an increased likelihood of unhealthy eating (15% vs 8%), an increased likelihood of being inactive (25% vs 15%) and an increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes (18% vs 7%). These statistical values are quite significant, and all are factors that play a part in obesity and general unhealthiness. Additionally, sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol levels—the stress hormone responsible for a whole host of potentially-negative effects in the body including weakening the immune system, promoting fat gain and decreasing bone formation.

On the flip side, there are a number of benefits that are exclusive to the crowd of folks who get enough rest each night. Rate of healing, immune system strength and rate of protein synthesis are all increased with ample sleep. Additionally, it has been shown that the secretion of the body’s natural anabolic hormones such as growth hormone is maximized during periods of sleep, and appropriate levels of sleep can even stave off the declining levels of testosterone in aging males.

What all this means is that in order to maximize your results, you need to be willing to head to bed a bit earlier each night than you might currently. You can perfect your diet and exercise plan all you want, but unless you are giving your body the ideal environment in which to repair and rebuild itself—that is, during your sleep—your efforts will be relatively ineffective.

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