Your Sleeping Habits Could Be Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals. Here’s How.

Finally, a reason to hit snooze.

Rocky Barnes for Cotton On Body, Lack of Sleep
Image: @cottononbody

It’s safe to say sleeping is pretty important—you’d hope so considering we spend a third of our lives doing it. While we go and go all day, sleeping is the primary time that our body is in active recovery. It’s so important in fact that we need it to function.

While everyone’s sleep needs are different, ideally adults should aim for between seven and nine hours per night. In reality, this isn’t always the case.

When we become busy, sleep is often the first thing to go. We prioritise work, socialising and even exercise over getting to bed at a reasonable hour. But did you know that skimping on shut-eye to get to that early morning gym class may not always be the best choice for your body? Lack of sleep can have a huge impact on your fitness feats. Sometimes, it’s actually better to hit snooze. Here’s why.

1. Perform at your peak

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It’s a well-known fact that quality of sleep—not just quantity—plays a major role in athletic performance. Not getting enough quality sleep can decrease the production of glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrate) that is used during exercise. Low glycogen stores can lead to fatigue and slower recovery post workout.

2. Boost recovery

Sleep is the prime time for the body to undergo repair and recovery as your growth hormone is at its peak. Getting enough shut-eye after a hard workout helps to support muscle repair and recovery for better endurance.

3. Manage blood glucose levels

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Sleep deprivation can affect your blood sugar levels and your blood glucose control. Research has shown that sleep deprivation and insulin resistance may be linked. People who are regularly sleep deprived feel more tired during the day and are often more likely to reach for unhealthy comfort foods for a quick burst of energy. This can turn into a vicious cycle of sleeping poorly then making poor food choices to compensate for lack of energy, which then leads to high blood sugar levels at night and poor sleep and around and around it goes. When your blood sugar is very high, your kidneys work overtime to get rid of it via urination meaning sleep is disrupted by constantly needing to use the bathroom. Diabetes and sleep problems often go hand in hand—diabetes can cause poor sleep and poor sleep can also increase your risk of developing diabetes.

4. Banish cravings

The later we stay up, the more we crave unhealthy sugary or salty snacks—the longer you stay awake the more time you have to eat, right? You are also more likely to crave unhealthy foods when you are operating on a sleep deficit. Staying up late can disrupt your hunger hormones and lead to weight gain. Not to mention, going to bed with a full stomach can also lead to difficultly sleeping. Try and go to bed at a reasonable time and at the same time each night to help regulate hunger hormones, ensure that you are not mindlessly overeating and support a restful sleep.

5. Prevent injury

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Not getting enough sleep can lead to impaired judgement and can increase our chance of injury during exercise. The reduced alertness when sleep deprived can be dangerous, especially when we are lifting heavy weights or doing workouts that require steady focus and concentration. Lack of sleep has a similar affect on the body to alcohol intoxication—17 hours of sustained wakefulness can affect the body as if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.05. If you’ve had an interrupted night of sleep, opt for restorative exercise such as yoga, Pilates or a walk and save your intense workouts till you feel more rested.

Want more from Lucy Beaumont? Read her expert tips for exercising on a hangover—and actually feeling better for it.