Note from Sarah: Doc Parsley is back with his next installment on SLEEP! Thank you Dr. Parsley for continuing to provide us all with such valuable information. Enjoy!
Sleep and Athletic Performance
The most common questions I get asked are usually around shift work, and that’s a can of worms that we won’t get into today. However, the second most common question I get asked is; “What if I can only go to the gym at 5 AM”—or some variant on that theme: I sleep deprive myself to be able to exercise.
My answer is phenomenally unpopular and has resulted in people storming out of the room, cussing me out, and making threats to my well-being. So, before I alienate myself from Sarah’s audience, I’d like to offer a metaphor.
Suppose you have a job, and live on a fixed income (e.g.- you can’t just work more hours to make more money whenever you want). You hire a financial counselor/planner, and he/she helps you budget to pay bills, save, vacations, plan for braces, kids college etc. One day you inform him that you want to buy a new Mercedes. He informs you that you don’t make enough money to buy an $80k car. Your reply is: “but I really like Mercedes, and I want one!!” (Push out your bottom lip when you read that quote).
That seems silly and ridiculous, right? But, this is exactly the logic that people use with exercise and sleep. Sleep is a lot like money, in that it has universal value (it can improve any aspect of your life), there is limited opportunity to acquire it, you need a certain amount to survive—even more to thrive, and most of us are in debt.
But, I argue that sleep is even more important than money. If the world’s financial system completely changed tomorrow, money might be worthless, but sleep is still essential to life. Nevertheless, I’ll get back to the exercise question.
My answer to the question is: “Then don’t work out”! “Heresy” you cry! Exercise is essential to health, longevity, disease risk, body composition, looking good, feeling sexy . . .
“Wrong” I say. “Activity” is essential to all of those things (but not sufficient). You would be better off, NOT going to the gym—if you have to sleep deprive yourself to do it. I know, I know, “I really like my gym class, I have friends there, it motivates me . . .” I told you that this was an unpopular message.
So, let’s investigate why I would be willing to offend so many people with my dogmatic answer.
First it has been well established that your injury risk skyrockets while sleep deprived. You’re also much more likely to get in a fatal car crash on your way to the gym—but I digress. I will admit that you can find an “expert” to tell you the answer that you want to hear (and you probably will). You’ll most likely find that “expert source” somewhere in a blog, social media, or mainstream media, because they don’t have to deal with peer-reviewed evidence.
But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into the facts, you’ll learn the following:
- While you may be able to find a few studies that show “equivocal” results when sleep depriving elite athletes, and testing them on a one-rep, maximal effort activity—pay attention to the caveat that they are only testing well-trained athletes (that normally sleep sufficiently), after a very short intervention of sleep deprivation. Also, notice that none of the athletes have gotten to where they are with chronic insufficient sleep, AND most importantly, NONE of the research will say that athletes do better after sleep deprivation. So, there is even some spin-doctoring in peer-reviewed science.
I point these studies out almost weekly on twitter.
- Research shows that sleep deprivation impairs insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.
- Ultra-marathoners sleep longer for the first 4 nights after competition—yes ALL of them. Why would that be? Because exercise requires recovery! Recovery happens during sleep.
- Sleep deprivation decreases muscle glycogen, peak voluntary force, peak voluntary muscle recruitment, and pain threshold. This means you have less control over your muscles, your muscles have less fuel, and your perceived effort (or pain) will be higher.
- Sleep deprivation negatively impacts the hormones that control appetite (ghrelin and leptin), meaning that you’ll find it harder to eat well.
- All studies show slower reaction time, worse coordination, worse hand-eye coordination, worse mood, more anxiety, more fatigue, and worse cognitive function—with sleep deprivation.
- Once the sleep deprivation is large enough (36 hours of continued wakefulness or so), there is no controversy. Everyone gets weaker, slower, dumber and fatter. Studies on chronic sleep deprivation that show cognitive performance—after 7 consecutive days of “short sleep”—is equivalent to staying up for 24 hrs., and 14 days is equivalent to 48 hrs.
- Sleep deprivation is directly correlated to less anabolic hormones (testosterone, growth hormone . . .), and more catabolic (breaking down of tissue) hormones—like cortisol, and inflammatory markers.
So, in summary, sleep deprivation will NEVER improve performance. Sleep deprivation will ALWAYS impair multiple aspects of your health, and exercising during a sleep-deprived state, will most likely make things worse.
Regardless of how you measure your performance (speed, strength, power, endurance, looking good naked) your performance will always be better with adequate sleep. You can’t buy things you can’t afford and expect to have no financial consequences. Likewise, you can’t exercise muscles that you can’t repair, and expect to not have performance consequences.
You would be better off getting more sleep, parking your car a 10-minute walk away from work and focusing on the other 3 pillars of health. Research has also shown four 5-minute walks during the day to be equal to 20 minutes of continuous cardio. It is reasonable to think that six walks would equal 30 minutes etc.
We all want to be stronger, faster, leaner, better looking, and have well-defined muscles. However, not everyone’s life-style allows for that dream, just like not everyone’s work will make them rich.
In closing, I’d like to say that I realize many of you will ignore this information, because you don’t like it, and it doesn’t apply to YOU! YOU are different . . .
If you are going to ignore the data, at least get the best possible sleep you can.
Check out our Sleep Supplement site for more information on how to do that.
Don’t forget to put Sarah’s discount code in “Sarah Fragoso” (without the quotes) to save 10%!