Sleep… it turns out mom was right after all
A new study by researchers from Sweden’s Uppsala University has revealed what your mom knew all along – not getting enough sleep has a major impact on your overall well-being. Although it’s a “major” impact, it’s also one we humans are so clever at negating or otherwise getting around. Sleep deprivation is one of those oddly wired things in the human physiology that we can, indeed, ignore for protracted periods. Biologists would point to the evolutionary necessity of getting by with minimal sleep – probably when outrunning a warring tribe or stampeding mammoths for days on end – while many working adults will simply pride themselves on being “energetic” and not easily tired.
The reality the researchers have demonstrated is, however, that even a single night of short sleep has noticeable and specific impacts on your metabolism, and gene expression too. And because the accumulated effects of a lack of sleep take a long time to manifest, you are doing yourself damage by skimping on sleep whenever you do it. For the healthy functioning of a human body, sleep might seem like downtime, but is every bit as important as any other input in pursuit of fitness and overall well-being.
The sleep “shift” should remain mandatory
It’s very South African to “sell sleep.” We’re pulling long hours in pursuit of more money, but any freelancer can tell you that’s a short route to burnout. Quite apart from your work quality suffering alongside your morning personality, you’re working against all of your other fitness inputs and goals when you skimp on sleep. It makes no sense to spend money on training time, training gear and even training supplements, when you’re regularly short-changing your body for sleep.
Particularly shift workers, of which we have a huge contingent in South Africa, battle with our fundamentally diurnal nature. Because we’re hard-wired to sleep at night and rise with the sun, it’s often too easy to keep ourselves catching some daylight before the next night shift comes around.
What does it all mean? Well, if you’re a performance athlete, you’re not going to perform at your best without sleep. Also, you are almost certainly shortening your active competitive lifespan by regularly skimping on sleep. If you’re just looking to tone up and look good, you imply won’t look as good as you could without adequate sleep. What the study essentially found is that a person’s body weight and other goals are severely hampered if not curtailed without adequate, daily sleep. In a nutshell? You’re not going to look good without getting enough sleep. And not just baggy, red eyes and an overall lethargy, you’re actually chipping away at that toned image you spend several waking hours in pursuit of every day.
Shift workers specifically were identified by the Swedish researchers as those most liable to suffer some physiological retardation or loss from bad sleeping habits. The same reality, however, applies to any of us, working shifts or not. Other studies have shown that serious ailments like Type 2 diabetes and obesity can catch a ride on sleep deprivation too. Disrupted sleep has also been shown to lead to adverse weight gain, which should make every parent extremely happy that babies grow so quickly!
There’s no “substitute” for sleep
Although the researchers pointed out that exercise and other voluntary inputs could foreseeably offset the negative effects of sleep deprivation, we have no way of yet quantifying how such inputs can fully compensate for sleep deprivation. Indeed, it would appear to date that there is no legitimate “compensation” for sleep. What we do now know for the first time from the study, is that a single night of short sleep has negative ramifications on the cellular level, something unqualified up until the Swedes published their findings.
Quite apart from anything else, one correlation shines through for many reading the report: lack of sleep gives rise to muscle loss and fat gain.
For anyone in the gym, “muscle loss” are swear words, while for anyone anywhere, “fat gain” is also wholly unwelcome in the sense it is implied in the report. That’s not good news. Up until the publishing of the study in the journal Science Advances, it was unknown as to whether sleep deprivation could impact on the tissue level in such a way that weight gain and other negatives were heightened. It seems they are. Mom was right all along. To be truly healthy, you need sufficient sleep.
Early to bed, early to rise
Perhaps most significantly, the researchers finally demonstrated the correlation between DNA “methylation,” a mechanism that constantly regulates your cellular gene expression, and sleep lack. Such expression – which results in the overall “you” – is definitely also impacted by environmental factors, exercise and food, but now can be said to as definitely be impacted by a lack of sleep.
All in all, skipping sleep when if you listened carefully you would feel your body’s need for it, is a bad idea. It can actively work against your training goals. As humans, we’re wired to sleep and rise with the sun, sight being our highest sense. It might be very macho to “work hard and play hard,” but the best athletes know how to be boring. Early nights and early mornings work best for healthy people. For healthy active people, it should be an even more serious consideration.