Home Posts tagged "Sleep Deprivation"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/16/17

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend. The baseball off-season is in full swing and I have several evaluations today, so we'll be sharing some good content from around the web to keep you entertained until I have a spare moment to pull together some content. Check it out:

Resilient Performance Podcast with Dr. Fergus Connolly - Doug Kechijian interviewed Fergus in light of the release of his new book, Game Changer. There's some excellent discussion of the current state of sports science.

Changing Baseball Culture: A Call to Action - In light of a few recent conversations, I thought it was a good time to reincarnate this guest post from my good friend Eric Schoenberg.

The Older You Are, The Worse You Sleep - I thought this essay from Dr. Matthew Walker for The Wall Street Journal was intriguing. At the very least, it was nice to see a well-researched article on a health topic in a more mainstream publication. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/27/17

It's been a rainy few days in Massachusetts, but that won't put a damper on a productive week. I've been staying plenty busy with this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook.

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Here are a few good reads/listens for the week:

The Power of Sleep (Infographic) - Brian St. Pierre (author of The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide) created this quick and easy-to-understand reference for Precision Nutrition. It's a great one to share with clients.  

The Truth About Your Future - This book was written by a financial advisor and can seem "pitchy" at times, but it did include a lot of fascinating research on technological advancements and how they'll impact everything from life expectancy, to college planning, to occupational outlook.

EC on Raful Matuszewski's Podcast - I was a guest on Rafal's show a few weeks ago, and we talked about everything from parenting to athlete motivation.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/7/17

We're only about a week out from pitchers and catchers reporting, so things are about to quiet down at Cressey Sports Performance for the offseason. I've got lots of new content prepared for the next few months, but for now, here's some good reading material from around the web.

Lindsay Berra on MLB Network on Corey Kluber's Offseason Workouts - Lindsay wrote up a great article at MLB.com last week, and this week, there was a follow-up interview on MLB Network. Here it is:

The Surprising Way Jet Lag Impacts Major League Baseball Performance - Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on performance, and jet lag is a big culprit in professional baseball. This article sums up some research on the subject. West Coast teams, in particular, really need to stay on top of optimizing sleep environments and opportunities for their guys.

Forget the Athletes; I Want to Coach the Everyday Joes - This is an excellent guest post from new Cressey Sports Performance coach Frank Duffy for Pete Dupuis' site. CSP might be best known for our work with baseball players, but Frank writes about why we love our general fitness clients, too.

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Halftime musings. #cspfamily #superbowl

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8 Training Tips for the New Dad

When I first started getting some noteworthy publications back in 2003, I was a green-around-the-gills 22-year-old graduate student. I had a decent foundation of knowledge in a very specific realm, but in reality, I knew very little about the real world.

In the years that followed, I learned a lot about a lot of things. I competed extensively in powerlifting, read and wrote a ton, and attended and spoke at loads of seminars. We opened Cressey Sports Performance in 2007, and went through three expansions – and trained athletes from all walks of life, including baseball players from all 30 Major League organizations.

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In spite of all these experiences, it wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that I really learned about true responsibility. That September, my very pregnant wife and I moved to Jupiter, FL to open up our second Cressey Sports Performance location.

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Three weeks after the new facility opened, amidst the chaos of moving to a new state and opening a new business, I awoke one morning at 5AM to my wife yelling, “Eric, my water broke!” Five hours later, we were proud parent of twin daughters – and I was in for more lessons than I’d learned in the previous 14 years of coursework, reading, seminars, training, and business.

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It was at that point that I realized I’d never had any empathy for clients I’d trained who had kids at home. I’d always been selfish; I ate, slept, and trained whenever I wanted to do so – and I had assumed that they could always do the same. When you have kids, you back-burner your own needs for good.

As you can probably infer, having twins dominated me. For the first 12 weeks, I typically slept 8:30PM through midnight each night, with any other shut-eye during the day serving as bonus. The quality of my training suffered, and my nutrition slipped as my meal-prep time went by the wayside. I ate more protein bars on the fly, and consumed way too much caffeine to get through the days.

By the time the girls were six months old, I was down roughly ten pounds and a fair amount of strength in spite of the fact that I’d tried like crazy to not miss a beat with my training. It was far and away the most challenging six months of my life, but it was also remarkably rewarding on a number of fronts.

Our daughters are about 18 months old now, and the new facility is much more established – so things are a lot easier today. It’s given me some time to reflect on what I learned, and what I would have done differently in the way I took care of myself during that initial phase. Whether you’re a new father or planning/hoping to become one, I sincerely hope that you’ll take these strategies to heart.

1. Use caffeine to make up for sleep deprivation, but not for crappy diet.

Fatigue during exercise is an extremely complex topic, and we’re still somewhat unclear of all the mechanisms for it. By contrast, fatigue in your daily life is remarkably simple: outside of medical conditions that may cause it, you’re tired because you either a) aren’t sleeping enough or b) aren’t putting the right stuff in your body. The former is a normal part of parenting, but the latter doesn’t have to be.

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The two biggest culprits we see with the athletes we encounter always seem to be dehydration and too many of the wrong carbs at the wrong times. If you aren’t drinking enough water, and you’re letting your blood sugar bounce all over the place, you’re going to get tired.

Having a few cups of coffee a day isn’t a problem; having 27 of them plus five energy drinks is. If your nutrition is reasonably good, you won’t have to go to this excess.

2. Clearly communicate a reasonable training schedule.

The old adage goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is as true in training with a newborn at home as it is in almost any other part of your life.

I’ll be direct with you: if you try to find time, you’ll fail miserably. If you make time, you’ll do a lot better. However, that’s easier said than done, as there are a lot more competing demands for your attention when you have a baby at home.

This is where I was very fortunate: my wife is a gym rat herself. In fact, I had to hold her back from kicking down the door to the gym to train just 7-10 days after her C-section. To that end, we had some gym schedule reciprocity going; I’d watch the kids while she trained, and she’d watch them while I trained. Sometimes, when the girls were very young, we could bring them with us while we both trained. We also had a nanny who could help out to make sure that we had time when we needed it.

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Regardless of how you approach it, it only works if you schedule it. Trust me on this one, as it will endure for a long-time.

3. Pare back on frequency.

Get the delusion of training six days a week out of your head right now. I tried to do it while sleeping 3-4 hours per night, and it went over like a fart in church. You can’t just keep adding when your recovery capacity is compromised.

For most people, three full-body lifts per week is a good bet. You might be able to get away with four if you aren’t doing much, if any, metabolic conditioning. If you have to pare back to two lifts per week in the short-term, you can certainly get away with that, too. Scenarios like this are one reason I offered 4x/week, 3x/week, and 2x/week training options in my High Performance Handbook; sometimes, life gets in the way and you need a strategy to prioritize certain portions of your training while eliminating other components.

The point is that you have to be realistic with your training goals. Maintenance is an acceptable goal in this situation, as much as it might be unchartered waters for you.

4. Fluctuate intensity and volume.

One lesson I’ve learned over the years that never ceases to amaze me is that the more experienced you are, the less frequently you need to lift to maintain your strength. It’s really hard to improve your strength, but surprisingly easy to maintain it. Even just taking a few heavy singles over 90% of your max each month seems to do the trick for most intermediate and advanced lifters.

This is an especially important “phenomenon” to remember during a period of sleep deprivation. “Fatigue masks fitness,” so the chances of you feeling good enough to push huge weights aren’t very high. You just have to do “enough.”

A good general guideline I would put out there is to always work high or low, but rarely in the middle. This has two meanings:

a. With your metabolic conditioning, either do high-intensity interval training, or stick to low-key aerobic work to help with recovery. Spending a lot of time doing work at 80% of your max heart rate is like trying to ride two horses with one saddle (check out my old article, Cardio Confusion, for details on why).

b. You need to cycle sessions of higher intensity or volume in to your training program to maintain a training effect. I think a good rule of thumb at this time frame in your life is to hit the higher intensity portion once a month and higher volume once a month. The other two weeks would be lower key in a format like this:

Week 1: lower intensity and volume
Week 2: higher intensity, lower volume
Week 3: lower intensity and volume
Week 4: higher volume, lower intensity

Note: for more information on deloading strategies, check out my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

5. Condition at home.

This is one way in which you might be able to slightly up the training frequency without adding a ton of stress. If you can score a quick 20-30 minute conditioning session at home (or sprinting at a park nearby), it can definitely go a long way. I use my rowing machine at home once a week year-round. Additionally, if you’re really badass, you can throw on a 100-pound weight-vest while pushing the double stroller and walking the dog.

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6. Outsource wherever possible, and welcome help.

I often tell our athletes that “stress is stress.” At the end of the day, your body doesn’t really care whether you have a big project due at work or you’re trying to squat 405 for 10 reps; both are stressful to your system.

Having a kid shifts a big chunk of your “stress allotment” to outside the gym. And, it pushes out a lot of the important stress management approaches – sleep, quality nutrition, massage – that you might normally employ to manage the stress the body encounters.

With that in mind, it’s to your advantage to deflect some of this stress here and there. I’m not encouraging you to have a nanny raise your kid for you; I’m simply saying that it’s okay to ask for help. Nobody is going to judge you as a bad parent if a babysitter or family member watches your kid for a few hours while you get a lift in. And, if you have the financial resources, outsourcing food preparation can ensure that you’ve got healthy nutrition options at your fingertips. My mother-in-law lived with us for six weeks after our daughters were born, and it was a game-changer for us.

Just as Bill Gates doesn’t waste his precious time mowing his own lawn, you shouldn’t try to handle absolutely everything. It’s okay to ask for help.

7. Embrace simplicity – and do the simple things savagely well.

In my early days as a father, I had a habit of trying to take complex solutions to simple problems. The babies would cry, so I’d try to change the setting on their swing, turn on some music, give them an elaborate toy, or make a bunch of silly faces. Usually, the solution was just to feed them, change a diaper, or simply hold them.

A simple approach has merit for your training – especially during this crazy time of your life. When you have a newborn at home, it’s not the time for an elaborate squat specialization program, loads of direct arm work, or a 45-minute feel-good foam rolling session. Stick to the meat and potatoes: squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, lunges, chin-ups, etc.

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I’d even argue that if you were ever going to embark on a one-set-to-failure machine based training block, this would be the time to do it. There’s quick adjustments on most selectorized equipment and the prospects of doing 6-8 sets in a training session will sound pretty appealing with you are working on three hours sleep and only have 30 minutes to get a training session in. Simplicity works.

It also works on the nutrition front. Make sure drink plenty of water and eat protein and veggies at every meal. Nobody is going to judge you if you have eggs for dinner because you didn’t have time to prepare something elaborate.

8. Remember that someone always has it harder than you do.

Strategies are all well and good, but perspective is invaluable.

Very simply, your significant other has it as lot worse than you. Pregnancy and childbirth are tremendously hard on women.

First, a lot of women deal with nausea (“morning sickness”) early in pregnancy. Constantly wanting to vomit isn’t exactly good for consistent, high-quality training. The truth is that this is the tip of the iceberg, though; they may experience heartburn, constipation, or any of the other fun symptoms elevated progesterone can deliver.

Second, as the baby grows during pregnancy, the woman’s center of mass is displaced forward relative to the base of support. This effectively rewires a long-term, engrained pattern of stabilization – and explains why many pregnant women wind up with back pain.

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Third, remember that the baby grows under the rectus abdominus. So, the muscles of the anterior core are heavily overstretched and in a tough position to provide much support. I can remember when my wife – who can normally bang out 10-12 chin-ups – tried to do one when she was about six months pregnant. She did a half a rep, told me that it didn’t feel good at all – and she didn’t attempt another one for the rest of her pregnancy. Just putting the arms overhead can really stretch and already-lengthened anterior core significantly.

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Fourth, during pregnancy, concentrations of the hormone relaxin increase dramatically to prepare the “lower quarters” for the stretching that takes place during childbirth. This hormone also works on ligaments at other joints, so women – who are normally more loose-jointed than man, anyway – become even more hypermobile. Less passive stability – combined with the anterior weight shift and lengthened core musculature – is a recipe for pain.

Just when you think things can’t get any physically harder for women, though, they have to go through the trauma of childbirth – or have a hole cut in their abdomen for a C-section. And, instead of the rehabilitation they deserve at this point, they get to start breastfeeding – and encountering sleep deprivation that’s far worse than yours.

Sorry, dude; someone has it rougher than you.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/13/15

It's Monday - and that means it's time for some recommended strength and conditioning reading to kick off the week.

Cressey Sports Performance Roundtable: Carving Your Path as a Strength Coach - After a question was emailed in to our facility's general inquiry email address, our staff chimed in with their recommendations for an up-and-coming strength and conditioning coach.

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How Sleep Can Make You Fat - Adam Bornstein discusses the many impacts sleep quality and quantity has on overall health. Suffice it to say that it's very important!

Blake Treinen's Path to the Nationals Involved 3 Colleges, 2 Drafts, and a Trade - CSP athlete Blake Treinen made the opening day roster for the Washington Nationals, but that's far from the entire story. If you work with young athletes and are looking for a story of perseverance to share with them, look no further.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 8

It's time for the December edition of my musings on the performance world. Our twin daughters were born on November 28, so this will be a "baby theme" sports performance post.

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1. Sleep might be the great equalizer in the sports performance equation.

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot about sleep quality and quantity since the girls were born. Obviously, how well you sleep is a huge factor in both short- and long-term performance improvements (or drop-offs). I think everyone knows that, but unfortunately, not everyone acts on it.

Additionally, I'm not sure folks realize that sleep is probably the only factor in the performance training equation that isn't impacted by socioeconomic status. Good coaching, gym access, massage therapy, and quality nutrition and supplementation all cost money and can be hard to find in certain areas. Getting quality sleep really won't cost you a penny (unless you're forgoing sleep to try to earn a living), and it's easily accessible. tweetSure, you can buy a better mattress or pillow, turn the air conditioning up, or get reinforced blinds to make your room darker, but the truth is that these aren't limiting factors for most people. Usually, the problems come from using phones/tablets/TVs on too close to bedtime, or simply not making time to get to bed at a reasonable hour. That might be why this Tweet I posted a few days ago was well-received.

I think the lesson here is that if you're struggling to make progress, begin by controlling what you can control. Sleep is usually a good place to start.

2. You need a team, but not an army.

Without exception, everyone who has ever had a child is willing to offer advice. Unfortunately, while it's always incredible well-intentioned, it isn't always useful. We've found this to be particularly true because we have twins, which is a total game changer as compared to a single baby. It's like getting a pitching lesson from a golf professional; he might "get" efficient rotation, but have no idea how to apply it to a new sport.

With that in mind, as an athlete, you have to have a filter when you create your team. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and having too many coaches (and related professionals) in your ear can lead to confusion from over-coaching and mixed messages.

Taking it a step further, as a facility owner, this is why I love to hire from our Cressey Sports Performance internship program. We get a great opportunity to determine if folks can seamlessly integrate with our team while still providing unique expertise and value to our clients. It's also why we don't ever have independent contractor trainers come in to coach under our roof; the "team" becomes an "army"and the messages get diluted.

Speaking of internships...

Mastery_Cover3. Apprenticeships are tremendously important for athletes and coaches alike.

The current audiobook on my iPhone is Mastery, by Robert Greene. Greene goes to great lengths to describe the commonalities of success for many of history's great "masters:" Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. One experience they all seem to have in common is a tremendous track record of apprenticeship (or internship) under a bright individual who has gone before them.

It goes without saying that we know this is the best way to learn in the fitness industry. If you need proof, just look at the loads of successful trainers out there who have never opened an exercise physiology textbook, but have logged countless hours "in the trenches" - much of it under the tutelage of a seasoned fitness professional - to hone their skills. As Greene notes, however, not all mentors are created equal, and you have to be very picky in selecting one that is a good match for you.

For us, that meant listening to parents of multiple babies, as well as the nurses at the hospital who had experience caring for twins. As strange as it sounds, it was a blessing that one of our babies needed supplemental oxygen for a few days after birth, as my wife and I effectively got a bunch of one-on-one tutoring from some incredibly helpful nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. I could have tried to learn it from a book, but there's no way it would have come around as quickly as it did from performing various tasks under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.

4. Don't take advanced solutions to a simple problem.

I'll admit it: screaming babies terrified me about three weeks ago. While I kept my normally calm demeanor on the outside, every time one of the girls cried, on the inside, I was actually as flustered as a pimple-faced teenager who is about to ask the captain of the cheerleading team to prom. I'd suggest to my wife that we play some music for them, try a different seat/swing, let them cuddle with one another, or play Monopoly (kidding). Not surprisingly, none of it worked.

In reality, the answer is a lot more simple: 99% of the time, they want to eat, get a diaper change, or be held. Seriously, that's it. Who wants to listen to sit in a nice swing, listening to Today's Country radio on Pandora when they're wallowing in their own turd?

Basically, the athletes needed to squat, press, deadlift, and lunge - yet I kept trying to program 1-arm, 1-leg dumbbell RDLs off an unstable surface while wearing a weight vest on a 12-6-9-4 tempo. This is a stark contrast to they way I live my life and how I carry myself as a coach. Lack of familiarity - and the stress it can cause - was the culprit.

Extending this to a coaching context, when you're working with a new athlete or in a new situation (i.e., sport with which you aren't familiar), always look to simplify. Remember that good movement is good movement, regardless of the sporting demands in question.

5. Different athletes need different cues.

Here are our two little angels:

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Even after only three weeks, they couldn't be any more different. Lydia, on the left, can be a little monster. Even the slightest disturbance throws her into a fit, and she wants to eat just about every hour. On the other hand, Addison, on the right, is as mellow as can be. In fact, as I type this, she's quietly sleeping next to my desk - while her sister is in the other room doing her best to wake my wife up from much needed sleep. While the goal is to get them on the same schedule, doing so requires much different approaches for each girl.

In applying this to athletes, you'll have different kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners will need to be put in a position to appreciate it. Auditory learners can be told to do something and usually pick it up instantly. Visual learners just need to see you demonstrate it, and they'll make it happen shortly thereafter. Your goal as a coach is to determine an athlete's predominant learning style in the first 20-30 minutes of working with him. Most athletes will require a little bit of all three (depending on the exercise you're coaching), but determining which approach predominates makes your coaching more efficient; you can get more done in less time, and fewer words.

Wrap-up

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy holiday season. Thanks so much for your support of EricCressey.com in 2014!

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A Glimpse Inside The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide – Part 1

I've received some questions about what one can expect from Nutrition Guide that accompanies The High Performance Handbook Gold Package, so I thought I'd use today's post to highlight a few "Ah-Ha" moments from Brian St. Pierre's awesome contribution.  For those who aren't familiar with "BSP," he's one of Dr. John Berardi's right-hand-men at Precision Nutrition.  Check out these thought provoking ideas directly from the text:

Point #1: The Dairy and Diabetes Risk Relationship

With little fanfare, a study recently came out by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues. Why so little fanfare, you ask?  It’s because the study suggests that dairy fat may actually protect against diabetes, and that goes against conventional wisdom and government recommendations.

Dr. Mozaffarian and company collected two measures of dairy fat intake in 3,736 Americans. They took six 24-hour dietary recall questionnaires, as well as assessing blood levels of trans-palmitoleate.  Trans-palmitoleate comes almost exclusively from dairy fat and red meat fat, and therefore it reflects the intakes of these foods.  Dairy provided most of the trans-palmitoleate fatty acid in this study.

Adjustments were made for confounding factors, and trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with a smaller waist circumference, higher HDL cholesterol, lower serum triglycerides, lower C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), lower fasting insulin and lower calculated insulin resistance.  In addition, people who had the highest levels of trans-palmitoleate had 1/3 the risk of developing diabetes over the 3-year study period.

Again, it is important to note that trans-palmitoleate is a fatty acid, and so is only provided in significant amounts by whole fat dairy, not from low-fat or fat-free versions. The investigators also noted that “greater whole-fat dairy consumption was associated with lower risk for diabetes.”  This is an important distinction, as it wasn’t just trans-palmitoleate levels that were associated with the decreased risk, but the actual consumption of whole-fat dairy itself that seemingly provides the benefit.

Here’s another nice quote from the authors: “Our findings support potential metabolic benefits of dairy consumption and suggest that trans-palmitoleate may mediate these effects.  They also suggest that efforts to promote exclusive consumption of low-fat and non-fat dairy products, which would lower population exposure to trans-palmitoleate, may be premature until the mediators of the health effects of dairy consumption are better established.”

While it is certainly possible that trans-palmitoleate is mediating a lot of these positive health outcomes that were associated with it, in all reality, it only makes up a tiny fraction of the fat content of milk.  I tend to believe that instead, it is more of a marker of dairy fat intake, with the benefits more likely coming from the other elements contained in dairy fat – CLA, vitamin K2, butyric acid, vitamin D – in addition to the trans-palmitoleate.

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Point #2: Sleep: Why We Need It, and How To Get It

We all know that sleep is important for our health.  However, many of us (if not most of us) tend to act as if that just doesn’t hold true for ourselves.  We seem to believe that we can get away with it.  While you may blame “work” or simply being “busy,” research clearly and consistently shows that people miss out on sleep due to something called “voluntary bedtime delay.”  Basically, we stay up late because we want to, often watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” re-runs, or mindlessly reading useless info on Facebook.  No matter the reason, it is unlikely to actually be more important than logging sufficient and quality shut-eye.

In the big picture, sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving your health, performance, and body composition. 

The average adult gets about 6 hours and 40 minutes of sleep per night. In fact, about 30% of the population gets fewer than six hours per night. Women tend to sleep a bit more than men, and people who carry high amounts of body fat tend to sleep less than those with a normal body fat level.  Studies suggest that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a 6-year period as people who sleep 7-8 hours per night. 

Excessive sleep isn’t necessarily better, either; those who sleep more than nine hours per night have similar body composition outcomes as those who sleep less than six hours.

There is a fairly strong body of research showing that lack of sleep increases risk of many conditions, including:

  • altered food intake
    • decrease in satiety hormones, increase in hunger hormones
    • increase in pleasure response to food, causing increased food intake
  • altered glucose tolerance, insulin resistance & diabetes
  • inflammation
  • obesity
  • disruption of cortisol levels and rhythm
  • decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen
  • loss of lean mass, including muscle, bone and organs (such as your brain)
  • decrease in thyroid stimulating hormone
  • heart attack
  • stroke

It is important to note that sleep debt is cumulative, meaning that the more nights with less sleep, the greater likelihood of negative effects taking place.  The good news is that you can catch up with just a few consecutive nights of adequate sleep.  Experts hypothesize that each hour of sleep debt needs to be repaid eventually, so don’t let it add up.

Okay, so we know lack of sleep is a problem.  As researchers have noted regarding sleep debt: "these alterations are similar to those observed during aging and sometimes during depression." Awesome. 

Fortunately, research also shows that simply getting adequate sleep can quickly right the ship on these issues.  [Note from EC: Brian goes into great detail on strategies to improve sleep quality and duration in his guide].

I'll be back later today with a few more key points from BSP's manual, but in the meantime, you can check out The High Performance Handbook here. Don't forget: the $30 off discount is only around for this week!

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Sleep: What the Research Actually Says

As a complete workaholic, I have a tremendous interest in the acute and chronic effects of sleep deprivation on both performance and health.  And, as a performance coach to many athletes who generally go to "work" from 1pm-1am each afternoon/evening and often consume far too much caffeine, I'm always looking for good material to pass along their way in hopes of helping them to realize how important sleep really is.  In this great guest post, Sol Orwell and Kurtis Frank provide just that.  It's a long read, but 100% worth it.  Enjoy! - EC
 

Sleep is a fun topic. Every few months or so, someone will put up a post talking about how important sleep is, how you need it, how if you don’t get enough of it you will get fat and disgusting and huge, yadda yadda yadda.

We’re not here to dispute that. What we are here to do is take an investigative look; sleep is entering the realm of “say something enough times, and it has to be true.” You’ll be hard-pressed to find any recent articles that have actually looked at the evidence surrounding sleep quality and quantity and how they affect your body. Mostly, the evidence we have is purposely restricting sleep in people and seeing what happens.

Prepare for some truthiness (we’ve also inserted some blockquotes to help guide you through).

Sleep Deprivation and its Effects on Hormones

The hormones that are most frequently stated to be affected by sleep are:

  • Insulin - one of the most misunderstood hormone there is (see James Krieger’s fantastic analysis on insulin)
  • Androgens - the muscle-building hormones
  • Growth Hormone
  • Cortisol, the “stress” hormone

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Insulin

Sleep deprivation doesn’t seem to affect insulin levels much, but there is definitely a decrease in insulin sensitivity in the fat cells and liver1,2. This decrease in sensitivity can happen as easily as getting half your normal amount of sleep for less than a week3,4 or even losing 90 minutes over a few weeks5. This lack of sleep, coupled with decreased sensitivity, is a risk factor for the development of type II diabetes.

Thankfully, these effects are quickly normalized upon recompensatory sleep.

The implications of reduced insulin sensitivity, beyond an increase in diabetes risk, are not too clear for an otherwise healthy person, as the decrease in insulin sensitivity affects all measured tissue (adipose, muscle, and liver) and is just due to impaired signalling through the insulin receptor.

Sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. This happens even after mild deprivation, but normalizes quickly once you’ve had enough rest.

Androgens and Testosterone

Testosterone is known for being affected by poor sleep (on a related note, you tend to sleep worse as you age, and this exacerbates sleep deprivation problems)6,7. Studies have shown that getting three fewer hours of sleep for five days reduced testosterone by over 10%8, whereas another study showed a 30.4%9 decrease! These reductions all happened within 24 hours of sleep deprivation10,11. Similar to insulin, getting enough rest quickly reverses this decline.

Sleep deprivation is associated with reduced testosterone. Akin to insulin, it normalizes once you get enough rest.

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone is actually a surprise in regards to sleep deprivation. For starters, we know that a large pulse of growth hormone occurs shortly after sleep begins, and in otherwise healthy young men, this accounts for roughly 50% of daily secretion. So would missing out on sleep impair growth hormone?

It depends on the duration of sleep.

Absolute deprivation of sleep for multiple nights can effectively suppress growth hormone. But neither an irregular sleep cycle (like a shift worker’s)12 nor only sleeping for four hours a night13 will adversely affect whole-day exposure to GH. It seems that the body compensates during daylight hours, and what is missed out on at night is adequately replaced during waking hours in those that are sleep-deprived.

Now, it is possible that the altered secretion patterns of GH can come with changes in its effects. However, the overall pattern is still pulsatile in nature (just biphasic rather than monophasic) and unlikely to be a huge issue.

Getting less sleep or having perturbed sleep changes the GH cycle, but does not reduce overall exposure to GH, as the body seems to compensate during waking hours.

Cortisol

Cortisol is the hormone that mediates the process of waking up, and under normal rested conditions, it’s elevated in the morning (to wake you) and suppressed in the evening (so you can fall asleep). It isn’t necessarily a bad hormone (the anti-inflammatory and fat-burning properties sound nice), but elevated cortisol also tends to be somewhat catabolic to muscle tissue, as well as being an indicator of other stress-related issues.

Sleep deprivation both dysregulates and increases whole-day exposure to cortisol. Imagine a graph where a line goes from high on the left to low on the right, and label it “what cortisol should do over time.” Sleep deprivation turns that line into a straight horizontal line, and then raises it up a tad on the Y-axis.

Interestingly, past studies were misguided a bit since they were only measuring morning cortisol concentrations and they kept on noting a decrease! Most recent studies that measured 24-hour exposure noted an increase – some as high as 50% – following four hours of deprivation each night for a week in otherwise healthy men.

Cortisol normally is high in the morning and low in the evening, but sleep deprivation normalizes this difference (lowering morning levels, increasing evening levels) and increases overall exposure to cortisol over a full day.

Sleep Deprivation and Physical Activity

Sleep deprivation has been noted to impair sprint performance and cardiovascular endurance14,15. There is conflicting evidence here: tests on cycle ergometers did not note much of an effect16,17, and the one study to assess weightlifting performance also failed to find any adverse effect18.

Despite these mixed reports on sleep deprivation, acute sports performance is enhanced by caffeine and/or creatine supplementation during a state of acute sleep deprivation. The latter only seems to apply to things that require a high degree of coordination and mental processing19.

It’s important to note that these studies had participants just skip sleep for one night. Real-world application is more chronic; you tend to lose a few hours every night, and it adds up. The impracticality of these studies makes it very hard to make solid conclusions.

(Note from EC: anecdotally, I could always “get away with” one night of sleep deprivation and then still demonstrate “normal” strength the next day. If I missed out on sleep two nights in a row, though, my in-the-gym performance went down the tubes after the second night)

Missing sleep for one night may or may not have adverse effects on performance, as the literature seems pretty split. There is a lack of research on realistic situations for chronic sleep deprivation.

Sleep Deprivation and Body Composition

Food Intake and Hunger

One of the more talked about effects of sleep deprivation as it pertains to body composition is that it somehow makes you eat a ton more food and then you get fat.

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The general idea (based on rat studies) is that sleep deprivation eventually (after five days or so) leads to increased food intake, but oddly this is not met with an increase in body weight; absolute sleep deprivation paradoxically causes fat loss and mild sleep deprivation just prevents weight gain.20 The increase in food intake is probably because of an exaggerated response to orexin, a wakefulness-promoting hormone that positively modulates hunger. Orexin increases as one is awake longer, causing more food intake as a side effect.21 Orexin also positively mediates energy expenditure, but it is not known if we can credit this for the observed weight-maintenance effects.

More practically speaking, studies in humans have noted an increased food intake of roughly 20-25% following a few hours of sleep deprivation for four days22,23. This is likely due to the brain’s response to food intake being enhanced, thus making food more hyperpalatable24,25.

It is unclear how sleep deprivation affects weights in humans. There is a very well-established correlation in society between obesity and sleep disturbances, but the studies currently conducted in people on weight loss programs with sleep deprivation control for food intake.

Sleep deprivation appears to increase food intake, likely due to the increased “pleasure response” to food. Paradoxically, this increased food intake might not be linked to more weight gain (rat studies confirm, human studies are somewhat unclear).

Metabolic Rate

It’s harder to make sense of the effects of sleep deprivation on metabolic rate. One study found that getting three fewer hours of sleep per day for two weeks resulted in a 7.6% reduction in metabolic rate26, whereas other studies showed no decrease22,27. To make it even more confusing, one study (on adolescent boys) found that less sleep resulted in more calories burned28; the participants burned more (being awake longer) and consumed less (decreased appetite).

In rats, chronic sleep deprivation is also known to greatly increase both food intake and the metabolic rate, resulting in weight loss (albeit a ton of other side effects such as lethargy, impaired cognition, and an aged visual appearance probably make sleep deprivation a bad diet strategy).29

So ultimately, it doesn’t appear that there is much evidence that poor sleep reduces the metabolic rate. More likely, being “tired” from lack of sleep tends to result in less physical activity30 and a possible increase of food intake could shift the balance of “calories in versus out” towards a surplus.

Nutrient Partitioning

There is one other interesting study that controlled for food intake and noted no differences in weight loss between groups (sleep deprived people and control both subject to intentional weight loss programs). This same study showed more lean mass lost and less fat mass lost in the sleep-deprived relative to control31.

Overall, it does not appear that a reduction in sleep directly suppresses the metabolic rate, but it may do so indirectly via reduced physical activity. Regardless of the metabolic rate, sleep deprivation during periods of fat loss may result in more lean mass lost and less fat mass lost than if one were fully rested.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

It seems that getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is quite important for those concerned with athletics and/or body composition. It would be a tad abrupt to just leave off on the importance of sleep without saying how to improve sleep, so the following are some tips that can be used to enhance sleep quality.

Timing Food Intake

Food intake can be quite effective in influencing the circadian rhythm: One way to avoid jet lag involves having a high-protein breakfast intermittently for three days (separated by low-calorie “fasting” days) at your destination’s time; the final meal is breakfast eaten after having arrived. This high-protein meal at your destination’s breakfast time should be able to reset your circadian rhythm. This is known as the Argonne Diet, and although it lacks scientific evidence to support it, the anecdotes are promising.

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It appears to play on the interactions between dietary protein and orexin, a wakefulness-promoting hormone highly involved in the circadian rhythm.31

Conversely, dietary carbohydrates may be able to promote relaxation (somewhat indirectly) secondary to an increase in serotonin synthesis, which then converts to melatonin. Since the conversion requires darkness to occur, this might mean a small serving of carbohydrate prior to sleep can promote restful sleep while focusing dietary protein earlier in the day might also work to regulate the sleep cycle.

Light Exposure or Deprivation

Both light exposure (blue/green or white lights; fluorescent or sunlight) and dark exposure (either absolute darkness, or an attenuation of white light into pink/red dim lights) can aid in sleep-cycle regulation. Both dark and light exposure have been investigated for restoring altered circadian rhythms seen with jet lag.32,33

The perception of light via the retina actively suppresses the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, and appears to have other neurological effects that promote wakefulness (in the morning) or otherwise impair sleep. Reddish lights appear to be less detrimental to sleep quality, and it is sometimes recommended to dim lights or switch to red lights in the evening to facilitate sleep quality.

For those of you at the computer frequently, this can be demonstrated with the downloadable software known as f.lux, which fades your computer screen to pink and reduces the brightness without affecting readability at a preset time every day.

Regulating your light exposure in the morning and evening may facilitate a more normal circadian rhythm and sleep quality. If light cannot be avoided outright, a transition from white light to red light at night may be helpful.

Supplementation

Supplementation to target sleep quality tends to stem from melatonin, which is a highly reliable and effective anti-insomniac agent that can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. It is unlikely to do anything if you do not have problems falling asleep, but otherwise is a quite important and cheap supplement. The above light- and meal-manipulation strategies tend to work via melatonin manipulation anyways, and supplementation is an easy way to circumvent it.

Beyond melatonin, other possible options include generally relaxing compounds (lavender and l-theanine) or other endogenous agents that seem to regulate sleep (oleamide being the latest up-and-comer supplement). Lavender is actually an interesting option since it appears to be somewhat effective as aromatherapy as a “relaxing” scent, and aromatherapy may be the only way to continuously administer a supplement throughout sleep (via putting a few drops of lavender oil on a nearby object and continuing to breathe while you sleep).

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It should also be noted that restricting stimulants or anti-sleep agents (caffeine and modafinil mostly) should be advised if sleep quality is desired. Even if caffeine fails to neurally stimulate you anymore due to tolerance, it can still screw with sleep quality.

What You Should Have Learned

That was a lot of information and studies to throw at you all at once. We’ve summed up all the relevant points:

  • Reduced sleep for a prolonged period of time can decrease insulin sensitivity (and thus is a risk factor for diabetes); this is normalized when proper rest is attained.
  • Similar to the issue of insulin sensitivity, testosterone and other anabolic hormones are acutely suppressed with sleep deprivation and normalized shortly after proper rest is attained.
  • There is actually mixed evidence as to whether missing a night of sleep impairs workout performance. It would be safe to say that it does not help, and could potentially hinder.
  • Sleep deprivation is not adverse to weight loss per se, but it can cause you to overeat or move less.
  • Regardless of weight loss, limited evidence suggests an adverse effect on where the weight is lost (more lean mass lost, less fat lost).
  • Shifting the majority of your protein towards the morning, and perhaps having a small carbohydrate-containing meal at night, should theoretically aid in maintaining a proper circadian rhythm.
  • Manipulating light exposure for brighter white/blue/green lights in the morning and dimmer red/pink lights (or just darkness) at night definitely does aid in maintaining a proper sleep cycle.
  • If needed, melatonin can be used to help with sleep latency (time required to fall asleep) and abstaining from stimulants or introducing relaxing molecules (lavender and theanine) may aid in sleep quality.

About the Authors

Sol Orwell and Kurtis Frank co-founded Examine.com in early 2011. They’ve been collating scientific research on supplements and nutrition since then, and are working on a beginner’s guide to supplements.

Note: the references for this article are posted as the first comment below.

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