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Monday, September 21, 2009

The importance of sleep

When you have a hectic schedule like I do, with a full-time job, two kids (and their activities), and a husband, trying to keep up with an exercise program and plan meals can be difficult to manage. The one thing that always seems to be sacrificed for me is sleep. I've been recently reading about the importance of sleep and its effects on weight loss, muscle building, and health.

I've always been a night owl. I'm not a morning person and tend to get bursts of energy late at night that allow me to stay up late and even be very productive in the wee hours of the night. I'm trying to get more sleep, but it's a constant struggle for me. It's a learning process for me, and I'm trying to get better. But there are still plenty of nights where I sleep 5 hours. So take this post as a "do as I say, not as I do."

There's a common perception that the "right amount" of sleep is eight hours per night, but of course, the amount of sleep varies from person to person. So let's start first by talking about the right amount of sleep for good health. A research study conducted by Boston University School of Medicine found that study participants that reported sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours a day had an increased incidence of diabetes, compared to those who slept 7-8 hours per day. So getting adequate sleep helps keep you healthy.

With regards to weight loss, sleep deprivation can be a big problem. People who are sleep deprived tend to eat more, and choose high calorie sweets and starchy or salty foods. I'm sure you've heard of the late night munchies, or maybe even succumbed to them. So if you must stay up late, plan a filling healthy snack, like scrambled eggs.

If you're trying to build muscle, sleep is even more important. Weight training breaks down your muscles. Your body needs regular periods of sleep and rest in order to recover. While you sleep, your muscles are responding to your workout, repairing themselves, growing, and getting stronger. Stay sleep deprived, and you'll find that no matter how hard you work, you won't get the strength gains you should.

Since everyone is different, you'll need to determine how much sleep you need. One way to do it is to spend several days sleeping as much as you want or your body feels like you need. This will allow you to make up any "sleep debt" you've accumulated from repeated lack of sleep. Once you've done this, then you should be able to find your sleep has stabilized and you naturally sleep approximately the same number of hours per night. That should be the amount your body naturally needs. Try to plan your schedule so that you get this amount of sleep on a regular basis.

Other good advice about sleep is to keep your sleep environment free from distractions. Don't use the computer or watch TV in the same place where you sleep. It's also good to limit "screen time" right before bed. That includes computers and TV.

So as challenging as it can be, make a commitment to yourself to get more sleep tonight, and tomorrow night. It's good for your health, and you might just see some gains in your weight loss or muscle-building efforts! Good night, and sleep well!


  1. I get 7 hours of sleep, minimum. We're in bed before 9 and asleep before 10 pm. (except maybe for times like my daughter is sick, etc) I find that I'm able to recover from my exercise if I get enough sleep than when I'm deprived. On weekends, we take a 2 hour afternoon nap. Yes, we're big on the zzz's in our house!

    But that's just because I am never a night owl!I can wake up at 3 am and do something rather than staying up late until 3am.

  2. Grace, I'm just the opposite! Once in college a friend needed me to drive her to the airport at 4am. I stayed up until then, drove, her, and then came home and slept. It was the only way I knew that I would be able to be awake enough to drive her!

    Funny how people are different. I'm sure that your regular sleep schedule is important to help the effectiveness of your workout. Glad you're doing better at that than I am!