Every now and then we have a client hit a wall in their progress, when nothing seems to be moving them forward. Despite following our fitness and nutrition protocols to a tee, the weight isn’t coming off or their strength and performance isn’t improving. We try to switch things up, take a new approach but again: no change.
When it seems that whatever we try isn’t working, it’s a good time to go back and revisit the four foundations: diet, movement, stress and sleep.
These are foundations of health and without a solid footing in all four, it is difficult to see improvements in overall wellness. Chances are, by now you’ve already talked to your client about diet and movement, and include strategies for both in your plans. Stress, is also often identified as an obstacle but difficult to remedy quickly. However, sleep tends to get forgotten or dismissed – and it can be one of the cheapest, fastest and easiest pillars to address.
Back to the Basics: The Importance of Sleep
Whatever your clients’ goals may be – performance, strength, body composition (including weight loss) or overall health and wellbeing – adequate sleep is instrumental.
Thanks to hormones, when we’re tired, we are hungrier and we have more cravings that we are less likely to be able to resist. Skimping on sleep also means skipped workouts and – for the sessions we do attend – poorer performance and results. In a sleep-deprived state, our metabolic processes works against us and our workouts are undermined resulting in muscle loss, injury and slow recovery.
In the long run, insufficient sleep puts us at risk for a number of diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression, and even raises rates of all-cause mortality.
When we are rested – that is, we have a sufficient quantity and quality of sleep – we feel better, make wiser choices and perform at our best levels. Studies continuously show that 7-9 hours are optimal for most people. Each persons’ optimal level will vary according to a number of variables including age, genetics, sleep and activity levels.
Sleep Deprivation: Hormonal Dysregulation
When we are sleep deprived, hormonal shifts occur that change the way we feel and act. As little as a 2-4 hour reduction in sleep can alter levels of ghrelin and leptin which affect appetite, cortisol and insulin which play a role in body composition, and growth hormone (GH) secretion which supports muscle growth. To read more, take a look at this blog that chats about hormones in relation to weight regulation
Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, the hormone that controls feelings of hunger, while decreasing leptin, the hormone that controls feelings of fullness. The sleep deprived also feel starved yet can’t be satiated – not ideal for your clients pursuing weight loss. Meanwhile, cravings soar due to a spike in cortisol which contributes to increased appetite and the preference for energy-dense food (think fats and refined carbs). Research has also shown that a few hours less sleep translates to poor decision-making and impulse control, making it easier to indulge in these cortisol-fuelled cravings.
Changing our eating patterns is one way that sleep deprivation can affect our body composition, however it works on another level as well. Cortisol is catabolic, contributing to the breakdown of muscle mass while encouraging fat to accumulate dangerously in the abdomen. Insulin is another hormone that contributes to increased fat storage. Insulin resistance tends to be high in those that have skimped on sleep, meaning that the cells in their bodies are not using glucose for energy. This impairs glycogen and protein synthesis. Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate storage in our muscles and liver. We need sufficient glycogen stores to perform in aerobic activities, so a reduction due to insulin resistance will directly affect athletic performance, especially in endurance sport.
Protein is the main building block of our muscles – among its many other roles and functions in our bodies. When muscle cells don’t have access to glycogen or glucose, protein synthesis suffers and not only is performance going to be affected but growth and recovery as well. Protein synthesis is also impaired by decreased growth hormone secretion in those that don’t get enough sleep. GH is essential for your clients: it plays a key role in weight loss, training and injury recovery by supporting muscle growth, strength, performance and repair.
GH secretion is stimulated by the circadian rhythm – our internal 24-hour clock that responds primarily to changes in light. It is secreted in the largest amounts when we sleep before midnight and in smaller amounts in the early morning hours. This means that if you’re going to sleep too late, you won’t be getting adequate GH secretions even if you’re getting the recommended hours of sleep.
On top of hormonal dysregulation, sleep deprivation has been seen to increase pro-inflammatory cytokines which may contribute to systemic inflammation. Increased inflammation in the body has a myriad of consequences including impaired immune function and cognitive performance. Inflammation can exacerbate autonomic nervous system imbalances contributing to stress and overtraining syndrome imbalances. We get more in depth on inflammation in our free course, The Foolproof Plan to Help Your Clients Rapidly Reduce Inflammation.
Restoring Natural Sleep Patterns
In short, inadequate sleep has harmful consequences for almost all of our body systems. The positive side is that sleep extension has the opposite effects. Improving sleep is able to regulate hormones, improve cognitive function and increase physical performance and recovery. Restoring natural sleep patterns or mitigating the damage with naps has been shown to improve anabolic hormones that support muscle growth as well as cognitive and physical performance. It is worthwhile to have a conversation with your clients about their sleep patterns to complement your protocol. It may be helpful to provide some sleep hygiene strategies to help regulate the circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality.
Go to sleep and get up at roughly the same time every night. Try to go to sleep a few hours before midnight.
Maintain an environment that is cool, quiet and dark while you sleep.
Save your bedroom for sleep and sex – avoid work, electronics or other stressors.
Reduce exposure to harsh lighting and electronics before bed.
Reduce use of stimulants, alcohol and marijuana, especially before bed.
Choose foods high in magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, E and B vitamins.
Ensure you are getting enough protein in your diet. Aim for at least 20-30g per meal. Very active individuals may have higher requirements.
Consider a relaxing cup of tea in the evening – chamomile or valerian may be indicated.
If your client struggles with insomnia, it may not be as easy as turning off the computer a few hours earlier. Consider comanaging these cases with another healthcare provider who can offer tailored interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, supplements like GABA and melatonin, or herbal remedies (nervines like valerian, hops, chamomile and passionflower might be a good place to start).
Make sleep a priority when crafting wellness plans that support your clients in their fitness goals, be it to lose weight, improve strength, optimize performance or support recovery. Sometimes going back to the basics is the key to the trickiest of cases.
Curious to dig more into the science of sleep and weight regulation? Do you want to learn the most productive questions to ask and get structured steps to advise your clients to implement? Sign up for our FREE email course! It starts January 5th, for 5 days we will email you a video with science backed tools to get your clients results rapidly. We cover 5 topics, including sleep in regards to weight loss to enhance the movement and dietary protocols. Sign Up Here!
Camila Montaner is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner dedicated to supporting those in search of balance in a demanding world. Camila’s background in communications launched her into a busy career before she had developed tools to manage the pressure. Decades of stress and anxiety led her to the world of holistic nutrition where she learned, through much trial and error, how to develop a more grounding routine. Today, she uses her communications background to bring the wellness techniques she learned to others struggling to find their own equilibrium. Her approach to wellness harnesses the power of plants and accessible lifestyle strategies to restore energy, mood and wellbeing. In the rare moment she’s not cooking, eating or writing about food, you’ll find Camila getting lost in the woods, the waves or the pages of a good book.