Why Sleep is the Missing Piece of Your Fitness Puzzle
illustration by Clint Kadera
When you look at your current sleep habits and how many pounds you might be trying to lose, you’re likely to find a correlation. If you’re sleeping fewer than seven hours per night, chances are that you are having trouble reaching your fitness goals—and for good reason. Sleeping well is one of the foundational pillars of wellness because how many hours of sleep you get affects your wellness and waistline as much as how you eat and exercise. It also helps you manage stress and maintain optimal brain function.
In terms of messing with your nutrition, getting too few hours of sleep impacts the hormones that regulate hunger (leptin and ghrelin), causing an increase in appetite with cravings for starchy foods, which could explain your donut craving after a late night. Getting only four hours of sleep per night for only two nights in a row can cause a drop in leptin by up to 20 percent, which is the hormone responsible for telling your body to stop eating. Ghrelin also increases by nearly 30 percent, which essentially tells your body to eat more—despite your actual satiety. So after only two nights of sleep deprivation, you can kiss your Whole30 or Keto diet bye-bye. And as you know, your nutrition directly impacts your energy levels and your workouts. Sleep poorly, eat poorly, train poorly.
Keeping in mind that this hormonal hot mess happened after only two nights of less than ideal sleep, think about the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation on your waistline. No wonder your old jeans don’t fit. No wonder you hit snooze instead of hitting the trail in the morning. No wonder you struggle with that mid-afternoon caffeine or sugar craving and can’t muster up the energy to hit the gym after work. If you’re not sleeping enough and are frustrated with your diet and exercise program, perhaps getting a little more shut-eye could be the catalyst you need to rev up your fat-burning engine and power your workouts.
So, how much sleep should you be getting each night? According to the National Sleep Foundation, seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal for most adults (20 to 70 years old). So, start to take note of your average sleep each week, and see where you can make some changes.
Improve Your Sleep Habits
If you have trouble falling asleep, add more of these healthy foods or supplements containing these micronutrients into your regular diet:
Almonds and cashews: rich in magnesium, a mineral which acts as a natural sedative when built up in the system (meaning you should ingest these nuts daily for best results)
Salmon: contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve sleep, boost libido, and help prevent depression
Asparagus: helps our bodies naturally cleanse and is high in folate, which improves mood and is essential for proper function of the cardiovascular system
Bananas: good source of melatonin and potassium, which help with sleep and normalizing our heartbeat
Cheese: good source of tryptophan, which releases the sleep hormone melatonin
Take an Epsom salt bath at night for magnesium absorption and relaxation—especially when stressed or sore. Add some lavender essential oil to the bath and a cup of chamomile tea by your side for the ultimate calming experience!
Try to turn off anything with a screen at least one hour before bed. Not only does the light-emanating disturb your circadian rhythm, you could also find yourself feeling more anxious when you are over-stimulated that close to bedtime.
Ditch the mid-afternoon coffee. Try to limit caffeine usage in general—but especially after 3 p.m.
If you have trouble staying asleep:
Ditch the evening glass of wine or cocktail for a few days to see how the quality of your sleep improves.
Stop drinking liquids at least one hour before bed, and try to use the restroom right before you turn in for the night to keep from waking in the middle of the night.
Try adjusting your bedroom temperature, flip your mattress, and invest in some new pillows.
Most of these tips you can employ tonight to start getting more restful sleep immediately. If you sleep well tonight, you are more likely to eat a better breakfast tomorrow, which will lead to a better lunch and dinner. You’ll also have more energy to worout and be more likely to hit the gym. Eating well and exercising tomorrow will help you sleep better tomorrow night, which will hopefully start a streak of awesomeness that will help you drop those pounds and look and feel your best. From there, keep the streak alive! You’ll continue to thrive.