Updated: Sep 10
Losing body fat is such a popular topic amongst people who are trying to get in great shape. It's almost summer, and therefore reducing body fat is on everyone's radar at the moment.
When a new client contacts us here at Cheshire Barbell, our first session involves an interview and fairly in-depth consultation and questionnaire. This first step is to help me establish the reasons why they are struggling to achieve their goal in the first place, and help the client understand the framework that is required to ensure they do.
Typically, it isn't long before I find out that they sleep less than 6 hours a night. They have difficulty falling to sleep and find themselves waking regularly throughout the night. Inevitably they always wake up feeling groggy in the morning.
• Lack of sleep has been linked to depression.
• Your immune system doesn’t function optimally when you’re sleep deprived.
• You're more susceptible to colds, viruses and flues.
• You're 1.7 times more likely to experience soft tissue injury compared to those who get 8 hours of sleep per night.
• When sleep is reduced to 7 hours, cognitive performance is poorer when tested against reaction time, memory and decision making.
Enjoy a lie-in of a weekend? The stress of everyday life usually leaves people looking forward to that one day off a week when they can try and catch up on their much needed sleep. It is important to understand, however, that optimal sleep has to be something that is practiced regularly if you want to reap the benefits it can bring. One great night's sleep each week is not enough.
The major issue when it comes to poor sleep is how it affects your hormones. The major hormones that are affected are growth hormone, melatonin, cortisol and insulin. These are the hormones that need to be in balance for optimal body composition - hence why you're struggling to see progress!
This hormone plays a key role in tissue regeneration, the development of your muscles and bones, one of its primary roles in adults is how it helps manage blood sugar levels and how energy is metabolised. You produce a large portion of your growth hormone in the first 2 hours of deep sleep. Growth hormone levels naturally start to decrease from your late 20’s. Poor sleep patterns only contribute to its speedy decline. If you have enough growth hormone you will be able to build lean muscle more effectively, as well as metabolise fat as fuel. Fat loss becomes very difficult if you have low levels of growth hormone and a simple step like optimal sleep can help rectify this.
Unfortunately, I am yet to work with a single male or female client who upon testing with our Core Ten Blood Panel had sufficient testosterone levels. Low testosterone or high levels of SHBG can be associated with:
Increased body fat
Reduced muscle mass
Low testosterone levels can be associated with a number of lifestyle factors, the main one being lack of sleep!
The body needs complete darkness to produce this hormone. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and promotes healthy sleep cycles and is also involved in energy metabolism. Waking up in the middle of the night interrupts melatonin production, especially if you turn on the light. If you do wake up, make sure you keep the light off. A two hour exposure to light from electronic displays can reduce melatonin by as much as 22% which will significantly affect your sleep (Le Meur, Skein & Duffield, 2013).
Don't assume that night-shift mode on your iPhone is all that useful either. Recent research has shown that improvements in melatonin production were only found after reducing your DAILY exposure to 1 hour and completely dimming the brightness on your phone compared with using only night-shift mode (Nagare, et al., 2018).
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and is part of our survival mechanism. We need it, and although this hormone has been given a bad reputation, it's pretty bloody important! It comes into use when we need to be alert in a given “fight or flight” situation. We produce cortisol naturally in the morning as we wake up, and our levels gradually lower as the light fades and we move into the evening. Or at least they should...
The problem with many people is that their cortisol levels are back to front and they find themselves wide awake late at night and unable to wake up in the morning.
The sleep cycle is known as our circadian rhythm, our natural sleep/wake cycle.
We are supposed to produce the stress hormone cortisol in the morning which helps us wake up and the level should then lower gradually throughout the day as you get into the late afternoon and early evening. Melatonin is then produced and our body begins to relax and drift off to sleep. The problem with so much of today’s society is that cortisol remains high right up to bed time and is the main reason why you struggle to fall asleep. People watch television too late, use laptops in bed, drink alcohol in the evening and don’t respect the bodies desire to relax and unwind ready for the next day.
Insulin is the major hormone that controls your blood sugar levels. Lack of sleep is one way to experience the powerful effects of imbalanced blood sugar levels. It has a powerful role on fat loss. It is important to know that Insulin is also known as the fat storage hormone. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, it senses an emergency and asks for an immediate supply of fuel. In many cases the fuel is unnecessary and your body quickly moves into a fat storage mode.
Over time, this could increase your appetite as sleep deprivation increases and as such it will leave you feeling unnecessarily hungry and result in over-eating, potentially on foods that will prevent you from reaching your goal.
This imbalance of hormones leaves your body stressed and unable to rest and recover. You will have very little energy to train and you will be unable to control your hunger levels. This is a perfect recipe for poor performance, weight gain, inability to build muscle or stubborn body fat. The good news is that restoring your sleep patterns can control your hormones and helps to restore them to their normal levels.
Improving sleep has been associated with improved muscle function, improved sprint performance and reduced stress Pitchford, Bishop & Bartlett, 2017). This study compared athletes who were allocated either 8 hours in bed, 10 hours in bed (extended) or 8 hours plus a 2 hour afternoon nap (nap). Both the Extended and Nap group showed significant improvements in performance over those who had 8 hours of sleep per night.
No, I am not suggesting you try and get a 2 hour afternoon nap each day. I know how unrealistic that is with work, family, home-life etc, however it certainly highlights the importance of improving the sleep you're currently getting!
That being said, I am sure it is not too much to ask of you by suggesting that you try to squeeze in a 20 minute nap into your day somewhere. Short power naps have been found to reverse the effects on growth hormone associated with lack of sleep. They do not affect your sleep at night and there is plenty of research to show how they can positively affect sleep efficiency, particularly when compared to those who do not take naps (Thornton, et al., 2016).
So here are some top tips to help you restore your natural sleep patterns, energy levels and lead you towards a lean and athletic physique.
Avoid coffee and other stimulants after 1pm.
Get into a routine, go to bed at the same time every night to ensure you get at least 7 – 8 hours sleep. This should be done every day, as sleeping 1 extra hour at the weekend compared with week-nights can negatively affect sleep the following evening.
If you have young children, this can prove difficult, however, try to apply the same routine to their lifestyle - it'll soon prove useful!
Take a warm bath half an hour before bed (try adding 250 grams of Epsom salts into your bath and soak for 20 minutes).
Consume somewhere between 300-450mg magnesium before bed. Magnesium deficiency is correlated with poor sleep quality.
Fit black out blinds in your room, your bedroom should be pitch black. Remember your need for melatonin production. Wear an eye-mask if necessary.
Turn off flashing clocks and television lights and other electronic devices. These create strong electromagnetic 'noise' and interrupt your sleep. If you use your phone for an alarm, place it in another room.
If you are struggling to apply these tips initially, you can incorporate short 20minute power naps into you day to negate the reductions in growth hormone associated with sleep deprivation:
If you are having a power nap before 1pm, have a coffee approximately 20-30minutes before.
Wear an eye mask.
If you're having a power nap in the car and there is too much ambient noise outside, play some quiet, calming music that will relax you.
Set an alarm for 25-30 minutes. This gives you 5-10 minutes to drift off.
Place your alarm on the back seat of the car or far enough away from you that you have to get up and turn it off. You don't want to sleep more than 20minutes as you'll struggle to wake from sleep inertia.
Upon waking, do some press-ups or star jumps, for example, to help you wake up. Buy now the caffeine should have also kicked in.
Although most of us know that we need to improve our sleep, we often brush off the thought of working on it because we don't think the positive effects will be instant, however, you'll be very surprised.
It's a case of prioritising. What's more important to you? A lean physique. Developing muscle easier and performing better in the gym? Or the latest episode of homeland and scrolling through facebook?
If you’ve just read this article and are still unsure if it all applies to you, just ask yourself these questions:
Do you sleep less than 7 – 8 hours per night?
Do you feel wired in the evening?
Does it take you more than 10 minutes to go to sleep?
Do you wake up in the middle of the night?
Do you wake up feeling tired every morning?
If you have answered yes to more than one of these questions, it is safe to say that you have a sleep problem. You would benefit from using the tips above to help restore your sleep pattern.
This is the part of the article where I would normally direct you to our coaching services, however it is likely that you're reading this after 9pm. If this is the case, get off your phone and make a start on your nighttime routine!