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The Need For Sleep

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

If you have ever spent half the night tossing and turning, you know how you will feel the next day - tired, grumpy, foggy and weak. Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep does more than preventing you from being a grump, though. There are some serious long-term effects of sleep deprivation, and it can have a significant impact on not only your training but your body's ability to recover.


Sleep deprivation is when you consistently get less sleep than you should. If you experience sleep deprivation for extended periods, your entire body can be affected. Sleep deprivation could be caused by an underlying sleep disorder.


Our bodies need sleep, just like we need water and air. Your body uses the time while you are asleep to heal itself and make those repairs to the ever-important microtears we create in our muscle fibers when lifting. Without enough sleep, your body does not make the repairs it needs and all that time you put in at the gym goes to waste. But if that doesn't both you, look at this review of studies in 2010 that draws a comparison between sleep deprivation and early death.

Some of the signs of sleep deprivation are:

  • excessive sleepiness

  • frequent yawning

  • irritability

  • daytime fatigue

Like the caffeine found in coffee, stimulants only attempt to mask the effects of sleep deprivation. Stimulants can also be a contributing factor when it comes to not being able to fall asleep. The use of stimulants like coffee and lack of sleep at night can create a nasty cycle you want to avoid at all costs. Chronic sleep deprivation interferes with your body's internal systems and can cause more than just the signs and symptoms listed above.


Central Nervous System

Your body's information superhighway is the central nervous system. Sufficient amounts of sleep every night are essential to the functionality of your central nervous system. Chronic insomnia can have a significant effect on how well your body can send and process information.


While we sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in our brains. These pathways help us retain the information we have learned throughout the day. Without a good night's rest, our bodies have less time to establish these pathways. As a result, you may find it more difficult to concentrate. An inability to concentrate can lead to decreased coordination and delayed reaction times, a big problem in the gym.


Sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on your emotional state as well. It can also diminish your decision-making skills and creativity and make you more prone to mood swings. You can even start to hallucinate!


Immune System

While you sleep, your body produces infection-fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines, which your immune system uses to protect you. These substances are used to fight off bacteria and viruses. A lack of sleep deprives your body of its time to build up its forces. This can also increase the overall recovery time your body needs after training.


Digestive System

Sleep deprivation can also be a significant contributing factor to obesity. Sleep affects the levels of leptin and ghrelin in your body. Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness.


Leptin acts as a signal, notifying your brain that you have had enough to eat. But if you do not get a good night's rest, your body produces less leptin and increases ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. This could be why some people wake up in the middle of the night craving protein bars.


We are all aware of the effect being tired has on our motivation to hit the gym. But if we let that affect us and prevent us from going to the gym, it will add to the cycle we're so desperately trying to break out of. If you skip the gym too often because you feel tired, you won't burn enough calories or increase your muscle mass, which will cause you to begin gaining weight. Plus, you don't exhaust yourself enough throughout the day to get a good night's rest the next night.


Cardiovascular System

Sleep deprivation also affects your cardiovascular system by affecting the processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, repair themselves and reduce inflammation. Individuals who do not get enough sleep are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease—one analysis linked insomnia to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.


Endocrine System

Hormone production within your body is essential to increase lean muscle, which takes place while you sleep. For sufficient testosterone levels to be produced while you sleep, your body needs 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Waking up throughout the night could significantly impact your hormone production.


Interrupted sleep can also impact the levels of growth hormone production. These hormones help the body build muscle mass and repair cells and tissue. The pituitary gland is responsible for the release of growth hormone throughout the day, but the amount of sleep you get throughout the night impacts its ability to do so.


Treatment for Sleep Deprivation

The most straightforward treatment for sleep deprivation is to get more sleep-around 7 to 9 hours per night. But this is easier said than done in some instances, and after a few weeks of rough sleep, you may want to consult your doctor. There are several potential but very treatable causes of sleep deprivation:

  • obstructive sleep apnea

  • narcolepsy

  • restless leg syndrome

  • insomnia

  • circadian rhythm disorders

But the first step to being diagnosed and then treated is to see a doctor. You may be given medication or possibly a device to help open airways at night (in the case of obstructive sleep apnea).


Prevention

There's no better cure than prevention. Try to follow the recommended guidelines for your age group, 7 to 9 hours for most adults. If you can, try to follow these points:

  • limiting daytime naps (or avoiding them altogether)

  • refraining from caffeine past noon or at least a few hours before bedtime

  • going to bed at the same time each night

  • waking up at the same time every morning

  • sticking to your bedtime schedule during weekends and holidays

  • spending an hour before bed doing relaxing activities, such as reading, meditating, or taking a bath

  • avoiding heavy meals within a few hours before bedtime

  • refraining from using electronic devices right before bed

  • exercising regularly, but not in the evening hours close to bedtime

  • reducing alcohol intake


If your sleep problems continue to persist, talk to your doctor.



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