Learn how sleep deprivation impacts the body's hormonal balance, and can lead to depression, weight gain and numerous other health issues.

Are you sleeping enough?I was that kid growing up who asked my babysitters if I could go to bed. I have always been a sleeper. As a kid, by about 8:00pm I was asking to go to bed if I wasn’t there already. In my adulthood, my need for sleep never went away. I think that, like everybody, whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, I function much better with adequate sleep.

I’ve lived most of my adult life, like many people, in a state of sleep deprivation. There are many excuses for sleep deprivation: parenting, partying, working, watching TV, surfing the Internet, insomnia, stress and/or anxiety. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, I could come up with numerous other reasons why we don’t get adequate sleep. Whatever your reasons are for not getting enough sleep, be it a choice or not, more than likely it is impacting the quality of your life in a not-so-positive way.

When we sleep our metabolism and energy consumption slows way down, allowing our brains to go to work, uninterrupted. During sleep the brain has a chance to reorganize data, come up with solutions to problems, process newly learned information and archive memories. With everything we’ve got going on in our lives today and the constant stream of information we are being given from various technology and media sources, it is imperative that we give our over-stimulated minds a chance to rest and take everything in…categorize it and process it and erase useless, unnecessary information.

I would say that the most enticing thing I can say to athletes to encourage better sleeping habits is that our muscles and tissues repair themselves as we sleep. We don’t grow in the gym. Sleep is crucial to recovery after an intense workout of muscle breakdown. To stimulate muscle growth sleep is just as important as proper nutrition and training. In addition, our immune systems are strengthened during sleep and cells repaired. This, in turn, allows us to get back in the gym and train hard again for our next workout.

Sleep Deprivation

It’s no wonder that sleep deprivation is used as a means to torture prisoners of war. After the birth of my twins and the months and years of sleepless nights that ensued I was so sleep deprived that it often made it hard to cope with the simplest of life tasks. Sleep deprivation can cause emotional disruption. Have you ever been “so tired you could cry”? Sleep deprivation can also cause irritability and depression.

When I was first separated from my ex-husband I went to see my general practitioner thinking that I was surely depressed. I couldn’t function, all I wanted to do was sleep, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I was having a hard time coping and I thought I probably just needed an anti-depressant to perk me up. When she asked me how much sleep I was getting on average and I told her “On a good night, 3 hours” she told me I wasn’t depressed, just sleep deprived. I didn’t have any other symptoms of depression. It took a few different prescriptions to find one that worked for me with few side effects but sure enough, after getting more sleep I started feeling much better and my feelings of depression subsided and my ability to cope with life “stuff” improved.

Sleep Deprivation, Weight Gain And Hormones

Sleep is absolutely critical to normalizing our hormonal systems. When a person has suffered from a state of sleep deprivation for an extended period of time, it is common for ghrelin levels to increase. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger and increasing appetite. Having an increase in ghrelin can be the cause of weight gain or the reason that you may not be able to lose weight. Conversely, leptin, the hormone responsible for suppressing appetite decreases. As you can see, this is recipe for weight gain…all due to lack of sleep.

Sleep is absolutely critical to normalizing our hormonal systems.

Experts say that getting 6 hours of sleep or less a night could easily put you at risk for disturbing the leptin-ghrelin hormone balance, which could be limiting your weight loss efforts. It’s also important to know that sleep deprivation works like a bank. If you’re a person who needs 8 hours of sleep a night and you consistently get 6 hours of sleep each night, you’re creating a deficit of 2 hours every night. At this rate, it’s going to take you a long time to “refill” your sleep bank.

Some people can get by on 6 hours of sleep and some people need as many as 10 hours a night. It just depends on the person and you may need to experiment to find out what works for you. I have found that I feel best after being able to sleep 9 hours and unfortunately, I don’t often get that. However, I make a concerted effort to get 8 after being sleep deprived for many years it is absolutely critical to my health and well-being.

Get More Sleep

The obvious thing to do is to go to bed earlier. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, but most of the time it is. DVR your favorite shows and watch them another time. Turn off your cell phone so that texts and emails don’t wake you up during the night. Shut down your computer earlier than you normally do. Facebook seems to be a happening place at late hours of the night…the best thing about that is that it will all still be available for you to read when you wake up in the morning.

Find a relaxing ritual to do before you turn in. Watching the news before you go to bed at night is not a good habit. The news is filled with negative information and is not what you want to fill you head with before falling asleep. Find something positive to read, listen to or watch before going to bed. This will help you relax and help you have a more restful night’s sleep.

You may have issues going on in your life that are preventing you from sleeping well. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on a regular basis, a visit to your general practitioner is a good idea. There are several safe sleep aids available that may be able to help you get a solid night’s sleep. If, like me, you prefer to go the natural route, there are several options available: melatonin, Biogenesis’ Sleep Factors, HTP-5, L-Tryptophan and Relora to name a few. Do your research on these supplements and see if they might be for you.

Caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes can also have an impact on your sleep. It is best to avoid caffeine for several hours before turning in for the night. Many people find that alcohol makes them drowsy and helps them fall asleep. While this is true, alcohol will likely disturb your sleep and not allow you a deep sleep leaving you feeling groggy and hung over the next morning.

People who smoke cigarettes often have fragmented sleep as smoking has been proven to interfere with sleep architecture (sleep stages), decreasing the amount of time spent in deep sleep. Studies have also shown that the brain will crave more nicotine during sleep, therefore causing the individual to wake more frequently during the night. I’m pretty sure we all already know that smoking is going to greatly impact the intensity of our training in the gym…in case the sleep thing wasn’t enough to sway you from a smoking habit.

Quality of life, overall well-being can be greatly improved by getting more sleep. Someone who is generally well rested and getting adequate sleep on a regular basis is going to have better nutrition habits, fewer cravings for simple sugars and caffeine, more energy to expend in the gym and a more rapid recovery from their intense training session than someone who is living in a state of constant sleep deprivation.

If you are a bodybuilder looking to add lean mass or if you’re cutting and trying to hold on to every ounce of lean mass you already have you need to ensure you’re getting adequate sleep. You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again – growth and repair do not happen in the gym, they happen when we get adequate sleep and feed our bodies the nutrients they need to achieve our desired results. Pushing yourself to the extreme in the gym but not allowing your body to get the sleep it needs could be holding you back from achieving maximal results.

Chuck Hamman
Posted on: Thu, 10/09/2014 - 14:47

I'm a little scared of taking prescription pills to sleep. I've heard horror stories from my friends who have hallucinated and become addicted. I take melatonin or Sleepyhead which puts me right out without feeling sleepy the next day.

Fruta Planta
Posted on: Wed, 10/03/2012 - 20:05

I believe avoiding ready-made foods is the first step so that you can lose weight. They could taste beneficial, but ready-made foods currently have very little vitamins and minerals, making you eat more in order to have enough power to get over the day. In case you are constantly taking in these foods, changing to whole grains and other complex carbohydrates will assist you to have more power while taking in less. Great blog post.