Get more sleep if you want to gain muscle and improve your athletic performance. Research shows that lack of sleep activates the immune system, causing an inflammatory response in the body that leads to muscle breakdown and a host of other negative physiological effects that will compromise your performance.
Sleep affects every system in the body and lack of it will also influence brain health and function, body fat accumulation, insulin health, reproduction, and cardiovascular health. In fact, sleep deprivation in animal models is lethal! Lack of sleep will kill you. This tip will tell you how sleep affects your life and provide a few tips to get more.
When you don’t get enough sleep for one night your immune system will be activated, which means that the body will produce biomarkers of inflammation called cytokines such as IL-6—an inflammatory marker that is also produced during exercise. However, the exercise-induced release of makers like IL-6 are thought to be “under control” by the body, and if you allow for adequate recovery time, they will be effectively cleared.
Chronic lack of sleep leads to a pro-inflammatory state in the body with an overwhelming number of cytokines being produced that directly affect the central nervous system (CNS). When the CNS is altered and inflammation rises, your hormones will be influenced, producing more stress. It’s a vicious cycle because sleep is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the endocrine system, but if you are sleep deprived, your hormones will be imbalanced and you won’t be able to go to sleep.
Did you realize that lack of sleep can impede hypertrophy, keep you from making strength gains, and make you gain fat? It can, and unfortunately, fatigue can make you a poor performer in a surprisingly short period of time. For example, a recent study looked at how fatigue affects performance in college rugby players who competed in a five day tournament, playing three games with inadequate rest and sleep. Results showed that on field performance and neuromuscular function deteriorated as the tournament progressed, with a significant drop off by the third game (the team lost the second and third games). In addition, cytokines (inflammatory markers) increased each day of the tournament, indicating a pro-inflammatory state.
Researchers note that the rugby players will be able to recover if given sufficient time to get both physical rest and sleep. However, if a player doesn’t get adequate sleep due to anxiety, exams, or a sleep disorder, they might not recover and a nasty pro-inflammatory state would be created that could permanently alter performance and health.
A few things you can do to improve your sleep and ensure you are getting the most out of your training include the following:
1) Commit to get a certain amount of sleep nightly. Base this on your own needs—most people need at least 8 hours, but some feel fine with less and some need more. “Normal” average sleep duration has decreased from 9 hours a night in 1910 to 7 hours currently.
2) Research shows better body composition and overall health are more common in people with early-to-bed and early-to-rise sleep patterns. If possible, commit to a 9:30 pm to 6:00 am schedule, or something similar.
3) Try meditation. Studies show that people who meditate everyday have lower inflammatory markers of IL-6 and get better sleep.
4) Start a grateful log in which you write down three things you are grateful for from your day. This can be very calming and helps you look at the world in a positive way before going to sleep.
5) A related option to the grateful log is to answer these three questions:
What good to other people did I do today?
What good did other people do to me today?
What did I learn today?
6) Turn off all screens during the hour or half-hour before bedtime. Really, it will make a huge difference in your ability to go to sleep and get good rest. Turn off computers, TVs, phones, and any other screens for at least the final 30 minutes before you hit the sack.
7) Have a very small snack with carbs about an hour before bedtime. Carbs can help elevate serotonin—the neurotransmitter that helps you feel good, calm, tired. Avoid sugar or refined grains for this snack.
8) Ensure you are taking adequate magnesium. Magnesium calms the nervous system and will help you get adequate rest. Studies show the average American gets less than 25 percent of the magnesium they need a day from the diet.
9) Try to stay on your sleep schedule on the weekend. Staying up late on Friday and Saturday night and sleeping late the next morning will throw the whole schedule off and make it harder for you to go to sleep at your set bedtime on Sunday night.
Rohleder, N., Aringer, M., et al. Role of Interleukin-6 in Stress, Sleep, and Fatigue. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2012. 1261, 88-96.
Gomez-Gonzalez, B., Dominquez-Salazar, E., et al. Role of Sleep in the Regulation of the Immune System and Pituitary Hormones. Annals of the New York academy of Sciences. 2012. 1261, 97-106.
Johnston, R., Gibson, N., et al. Intensified Rugby League Competition and Fatigue. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.