Lessons In Sleep Deprivation
Up until recently I had atrocious sleep hygiene.
I would stay up on my Macbook working late into the night, then when I finally did get into bed I would pick up my iPad and start reading or perusing YouTube.
The result : I was only sleeping 1-3 hours a night and even when I did get ‘8 hours’ of sleep time, I’d still wake up feeling lethargic, groggy and tired.
The lack of sleep began impacting work, performance in the gym and even things like an increase in hunger and cravings (which totally sucked balls as I am currently dieting).
I kept telling myself that this was all in the name of productivity as I backed my 4th cup of coffee as the clock struck 9am.
Truth is – It wasn’t.
We live in a world where it’s constant ‘go’ and if we aren’t doing something we feel like we’re failing / failed.
This mindset seeps into things like sleep and we justify sacrificing hours of sleep to get more work done.
This is the absolute reverse of what happens.
Your Body & Lack Of Sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, a lot of really bad stuff begins happening in your body, that can affect your body composition and make it harder for your to reach your fat loss or muscle gain goals.
1. Fat Gain
When you’re sleep deprived, two major hormones that regulate appetite and hunger get all kinds of messed up :
Ghrelin & Leptin
Ghrelin – Also referred to as the hunger hormone controls and stimulates hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep or are sleep deprived this hormone increases, increasing the feelings of hunger.
Leptin – Leptin is the opposite of Ghrelin. It’s a hormone that suppresses appetite and it’s production is highest at night.
When you don’t get enough sleep, Leptin isn’t able to do it’s job properly thus the next day, with both ghrelin and leptin elevated your hunger is sky high.
Add to that the fact you are tired from the lack of sleep and you begin craving calorie dense – ‘junk’ foods – that are high in sugar, salt and fat to give you a much required boost of energy. The unfortunate part is that these foods only keep you energised for a short period of time, before you crash and result back to ‘topping up’ with more of said foods. This all crescendoes into one giant overeating shitstorm that will throw you off of your diet.
Oh, add to that your bodies impaired ability to deal with glucose metabolism as a result of sleep deprivation, meaning more of the carbs you eat going to your waistline, than your muscles.
2. Willpower Declines
With a lack of sleep, comes reduced willpower. This is what I refer to as ‘AH FUCKIT!’ mode. It’s when your willpower hits rock bottom and you’re more likely to give in to your cravings or make poor decisions like skipping the gym to sit at home and overdose on Ben & Jerry’s.
3. Lack Of Focus & Productivity
While a lack of sleep has almost become a bragging right of sorts – ‘I can sleep when I’m dead’ , ‘Sleep is for the broke’ …blah,blah blah.
It’s all false bravado, ego stroking to show others how ‘hardcore’ we are.
Truth is, when I wasn’t getting enough sleep, my productivity slipped.
I found it hard to focus on anything and when I sat down to write, my brain literally told me to GFM.
When I would read a book, I was finding myself reading the words but not registering any of the information.
There’s ever growing research that is showing how much sleep deprivation can impact productivity, and no, no amount of coffee can make up for this lack of sleep.
4. Muscle Loss
I wanted to save the worst for last. With a lack of sleep comes increased cortisol – the ‘stress’ hormone. While cortisol isn’t the enemy it’s commonly made out to be, it can be if left elevated over a long time.
The elevation of cortisol due to a lack of sleep can cause muscle loss as it depresses the release of IGF-1 and testosterone (both important hormones for muscle gain and retention).
There’s also the added factor that if you are still training hard during sleep deprivation you won’t be recovering as well which will lead to less muscle gained.
What To do?
Hopefully by now you realise that lack of sleep ain’t no game.
I learnt this the hard way.
You, my friends, won’t have to. Below I’ve listed what I did to improve my sleeping habits.
1. Download F.lux
F.lux is a software I installed for my Macbook that reduces ‘blue light’ exposure from the [computer] screen.
Blue light / artificial light during night time from things like our iPads, Macs, Phones etc signal our brain that it is still daytime which prevents our brain from producing melatonin (a hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycles). F.lux reduces the bluelight from these devices so it can reduce the impact of blue light on melatonin production during the night.
* NB – I said ‘reduce’ not completely omit. In the words of Schwarzenegger ‘PUT THE PHONE DOWN! NOW!’
2. Supplement With Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that helps calm the nerves and muscles and thus can help with sleep.
Magnesium is also the second most deficient vitamin in the world (after Vitamin D) in humans.
I supplement with 400g pre-bed and since adding it in have definitely seen improvements in sleep quality.
There are people who swear by ZMA, I have seen some benefits from using ZMA but I find that this was more so the deficiency in Magnesium.
But, that’s just me. If you wish to experiment with a ZMA supplement, more power to you.
3. Remove Tech
I tried keeping my iPad on the floor next to my bed, but it was too tempting. I’d get into bed and within a few minutes get antsy and reach for my iPad and be on it again through the night.
The best way for me to overcome this issue was to simply remove my iPad from my room. I also keep my phone downstairs during the night.
Reading a novel before bed has really helped with putting me to sleep faster. I also use a bedside lamp so I don’t need to get out of bed to turn off the lights when I do begin to get tired (as this could interrupt the onset of sleep, and I’m not about to take any chances).
Oh, and note I said ‘novel’. Don’t start reading a research paper or a deep philosophical essay and then wonder why you can’t sleep as you contemplate the meaning of life.
(Trust me on this one)
4. Control Stimulant Intake
Cutting caffeine intake about 6 hours before going to sleep seems to be the sweet spot for me. Others recommend no caffeine after 12pm. …
But, this is simply OTT imo, and honestly, give up coffee? Not about that life.
I also appreciate that there will be a lot of you reading this who work late and have no option but to train later in the evening.
So what do?
Here’s a few suggestions if this is your situation.
- Drink your last cup of coffee or take your pre-workout an hour before you go train. This will still have the stimulants in your system for it to help you through your workouts, and also give it enough time to leave your body by the time you get into bed.As an example :- You finish work at 5pm, take your pre-workout or source of caffeine (coffee, caffeine tabs etc) at this time.- Train around 6/6:30pm- Be in bed by 11pm
- Slowly taper off stimulants / caffeine (this is probably the best bet if your sleep is really suffering). Yes, I’m fully aware that this will suck at the start and it may even affect your performance. But the suck will only last a few weeks, and you’ll soon be fine without.
- Take a non-stimulant pre-workout. While a non-stim pre won’t give you the same ‘buzz’ you’d get from it’s stimulant counterpart ; beggars can’t be choosers. So pick your poison.*NB – If you are going to go down this route, I have used and recommend Purple Wraath by Controlled Labs (not an affiliate link).
5. Get Up
If I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t get back to sleep, I simply just get up and don’t force myself to try to go back to sleep.
I’ve found that this works extremely well as by the next night I’m so tired that I end up sleeping through until my normal wake time the next day.
*NB – If I do get tired during the day, I take a midday ‘power’ nap for 15-20 mins which helps massively.
Ok. Before I get cussed out for becoming some hokey MF. I’m not. Believe me, I thought meditation was some hokey-bullshit too at first. It’s not.
Spending 5-10 mins a day just sitting and focussing on breathing has helped me learn how to ‘chill out’.
See, I’m really hyper-active, no, not like that annoying kid in school who was ostentatiously loud and disruptive, I just find I become very anxious if I sit still for too long.
Meditation has helped me be able to calm my mind at will, and this in turn has helped me ‘turn off’ when I need to.
Brotip : Download a guided meditation app like ‘calm’ to help you get started (headspace is another popular one)
How Much Sleep ?
So, before I wrap up, I want to take a look at the ultimate question : How much should I be sleeping ?
I don’t know. Really. I’m not even being facetious.
While many will tout the ‘gold standard’ 8 hour rule, the truth is, an arbitrary number isn’t going to work for everyone.
Even since fixing up my sleeping habits, I only sleep 5-6 hours a night and I feel great. Actually, if I sleep anymore than this I feel terrible (true story – last weekend I slept 10 hours and woke up feeling like I’d just drunk the strongest ale followed by a fist fight with subzero).
So you will have to experiment and find what works for you, but using the tips I’ve provided in this article should set you on the path for better sleep gains.