We’ve all heard someone brag about how little sleep they’re able to survive on; for many of us, we’ve made the same statement. It’s common to view sleep as an enemy or an illness, since to a layperson’s eye, we’re forced to be paralyzed for a significant percentage of each day just to function. However, if you’re interested in your fitness - or your productivity and happiness, for that matter - it’s important to view sleep as more than simply a battery recharge. Sleep is when your body processes all of the stresses it faces during consciousness, both physically and mentally, and strengthens and alters itself accordingly.
Here’s what everyone should know about the effects of sleep deprivation, and why anyone who brags about it is setting themselves up for disaster:
One of the first things that happens when you deprive yourself of enough sleep - even for one night - is a drop in willpower. There are multiple studies that prove this; one of the most notable is from the somewhat sadistic experiment in which athletes were deprived of sleep for 36 hours and then stuck on treadmills to see how long they could run in pursuit of prize money. The (admittedly small) group seemed to fall into two groups - one that only reduced a 5% change in performance, and another that reduced from 15% all the way up to 40%
Put simply, if you sacrifice sleep tonight, you’ll be more likely to sacrifice progress towards a goal tomorrow. Each day you go longer without a full, restful night's sleep, you’ll be more likely to give in to a silly temptation, like a cupcake party at work, skipping the gym, or even doing a lousy job on an assignment that you’re pretty sure won’t be heavily scrutinized.
As if a drop in willpower wasn’t enough, you’ll also experience a drop in your decision making ability (you’ll be less smart).
If you insist that you’re fine after six hours every night, even though you still have to wake up to an alarm clock every morning, think again. There’s a significant amount of science that says you’re, well, not nearly as smart after prolonged and regularly minor sleep deprivation. One in particular found that if you restrict your sleep to 6 hours or less for two weeks straight, you’re about as sharp as if you hadn’t slept in 48 hours. Yep, you’re basically drunk, but not having nearly as good a time.
The most troubling part is that participants in that study said they didn’t feel impaired. Consider what you do when you’re a bit inebriated. Now think about what would happen if you didn’t even realize you were impaired. Do you really want to unleash that into your workplace, your gym, and your life? Is staying up the extra hour or three really worth it?
Yep, you’re already in the mental headspace to destroy that frosted donut, bowl of mac n’cheese, or that entire pizza, and guess what? Sleep deprivation is about to make it even easier if you’re refusing to let yourself sleep.
The less sleep you let yourself get, the more ghrelin you produce. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone - the one that scientists have been trying to learn how to safely suppress so that they can finally offer the “magic weight loss pill” that everyone wants, but that doesn’t exist. If you don’t sleep, your body will try to find extra fuel to get through the discomfort. In addition, you’ll be low on growth hormone, which is released at its highest amounts during REM sleep. So your metabolism will drop.
So if you want to get some sweet gains in that belly, sure, skip out on your rest. But if you want to be lean, strong and cut, prioritize your bedtime over all else.If you truly want your body to perform, you need to take care of it. You wouldn’t get mad at your phone for dying if you never charged it, and you wouldn’t expect your car to keep running if you never serviced it. While we don’t totally understand sleep, we do know that it is absolutely critical to both our physical and mental functioning, from muscle growth to memory. Enforce your bedtime as much as you enforce your workouts and diets, and you’ll go far.