Lessons From a Diary 6: Sleep Your Way to Success

At this time of year there are a lot of obstacles to those of you who are looking to stay fit and lean. The Festive Season will probably have taken it’s toll, with excessive amounts of calories having been consumed, and the cold weather makes it much more inviting to stay indoors rather than go training. And while the old weight-loss mantra of Eat Less and Move More is always a good place to start, it won’t solve all the issues.

Lifestyle factors like sleep and stress play a huge role in how your body will react to any training regime. Simply put: if you appear to be doing “everything right” but aren’t getting the expected results from your exercise and nutrition programme, the chances are that your sleep or stress patterns are working against you.

Today we’ll look at the importance of a good night’s sleep and what you can do to ensure that you get as much quality rest as possible.

Numerous studies have shown that those people who don’t get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, are more inclined to put on weight (1, 2). And it’s a hormonal issue.

During a good night’s sleep, your body will repair itself both physically and mentally. But only under the right conditions. Physical repair typically occurs between 10pm and 2am, with mental recovery kicking in after 2am. So, If you continually go to bed around midnight, then you’re depriving yourself of 2 hours of sleep which can build and repair muscle, and increase your resting metabolism.

You’re also more likely to have food/sugar cravings, because a lack of quality sleep tends to disturb the hormones that regulate appetite. It sounds contradictory, but you will carry less fat by sleeping more!

Other factors that can prevent restorative sleep include excess noise (outside traffic, street noise, partners snoring) excess light and too much electro-magnetic energy in the bedroom.

Try the following tips to make sure you get the most recovery from your night’s sleep:

1. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach but don’t starve yourself either. A light meal about two hours before bed time should do the trick. Make sure that you steer clear of sugary snacks and high G.I. foods as they can elevate your blood sugar levels rapidly, and then cause them to crash within a couple of hours. This dip in blood sugar levels is one reason why some clients wake around 1am and find it difficult to get back asleep.

2. Aim to be in bed before 10pm and asleep by 10.30pm.

3. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, sports drinks or alcohol prior to bed time: try night-time/relaxing herbal teas instead of regular tea or coffee. Make sure you’re properly hydrated but not to the extent that you’ll need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet.

4. Make sure your bedroom is pitch-black. Use black-out blinds and avoid having landing lights or night-lights on.

5. Unplug any TVs, laptops, DVD players etc that are in your bedroom. Ideally mobile phones should be out of the room but if you must have them, make sure they’re not charging and that they’re as far away from your bed as possible. Get a battery operated alarm clock instead of a mains-operated clock.

The bottom line is: lack of quality sleep can undermine all your efforts, even if you’ve improved your exercise and training habits. So, if you make the effort to get more sleep, you’ll find you have more energy to train harder and make better food choices.

 1. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity

Arlet V. Nedeltcheva, MD;

Jennifer M. Kilkus, MS;

Jacqueline Imperial, RN;

Dale A. Schoeller, PhD; and

Plamen D. Penev, MD, PhD

2. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E.


Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA.

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