Sleep: The Missing Link to Your Fitness

Posted On: July 8, 2016

Note: this is a re-publish of an article I wrote about 2 years ago.  I had someone ask me about this and was going to write a whole new article, but then I found this.  Enjoy (again). 

So, you think you’ve dialed it all in: you’ve shunned every piece of gluten-laden goodness that has come your way. You’ve cut that nightly wine ritual to an occasional social imbibe. Your supplement stack looks like an apothecary. All the farmers at your local market know you by first name. Heck, you’ve even got your friends meeting you for weekly sprint sessions at the local track. You’re a primal rock star!

Despite all your efforts to dial in the diet and exercise, you still have one minor issue: sleep. It’s not like you can quit your job. You have rugrats at home that seemingly function on fairy fumes and don’t need a lick of rest. Deadlines. Bills. Impending work drama. Spousal miscommunications. Um, need I go on? LIFE

All these things, and more, can be robbing us of that last crucial piece to the health puzzle. If you’ve nailed down all the other health factors (food, fitness, lifestyle) and are still not able to lose those last few inches, beat that lingering PR, or fit into your coveted skinny jeans, you might want to read on…

Would you believe that just one stinking night of rough sleep can leave you in the pre-diabetic range the next day?

In fact, it can drop your insulin sensitivity by 25%- that’s just ONE night of bad sleep (characterized in most studies as 4 hours total).(1)  Haven’t you noticed how hungry you are on the days when you are underslept?  You reach for the second/third/fourth cup of coffee.  Those Danish that never ever turn your head at work are suddenly sporting stilettos.  When dinner rolls around, you are ready to top it off with that glass of wine even before you sit down.  You know the drill.  You are craving carbs in the worst way! When insulin sensitivity goes down that means that you have free-floating sugar gumming up your system longer than you’d like.(2) All those carbs you are craving are only adding insult to injury (A.K.A. excessive inflammation).  See here to find out why this is bad.

But why? Why do we crave carbs when our bodies can’t deal with them?  When we are sleep deprived, ghrelin (hunger-stimulating hormone) gets all revved up and leptin (satiety-signaling hormone) gets suppressed.(3)  If leptin is a new one for you, see this post for more.  So you have an already exhausted body that is in a constant search for the one thing you think can help save the day (carbs), but getting them only makes you crave more, and makes you fatter by the second.  Wow.  Sounds like a perfect storm to me.

You want a real kicker?  If you are already lugging around a few extra pounds, you get it even worse.  It seems that the specific cells that become insulin resistant are fat cells.(4)  The more fat cells you have to manage, the more sleep deprivation affects you the next day.  That’s right.

As if that weren’t enough to make you start popping horse tranquilizers, it actually gets worse.  For those who are chronically sleep deprived, there is a high risk of developing diabetes and obesity.(5)  So if you think that waking up an hour earlier to do even more cardio is going to help you bust through the weight plateau, think again.

If you are already diabetic, don’t think that this is an excuse to not worry about burning the midnight oil.  It seems that when you have existing issues with blood sugar regulation, sleep will get disrupted because of the high blood sugar.  Crazy!  If you have high blood sugar at night, your body will fight to shed it and it you’re up all night peeing.(5)

finger prickHigh blood sugar then begets higher blood sugar.  Nuts!

So what the heck should you do? Get that hyper-productive, over-achieving, parental-superhero, and all round amazing rear end to bed!

  • Carve out at least 8 hours to be in bed.
  • Stop looking at your phone, computer and even television while in bed.
  • Make your room the sacred space it should be for only two :0 activities.
  • On the off-night when you have no choice but to be up, make sure you mitigate the damage the next day:  drink a lot of water, keep the caffeine to normal levels, aim to get lots of protein, veggies and fats into your day.  If you are good and full from a real meal, you might be able to stave off the carb cravings.  fasting blood glucose
  • If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, make sure to check your fasting blood sugar regularly, as well as your post-prandial (after meal) numbers.
  • Finally, remind yourself that a good night’s sleep is actually crucial to your weight loss goals, your muscle-building goals, and even your maintenance goals.

You owe it to yourself to get some shut-eye and feel like the true champ you are!

Do you need help fueling your days to maximize your results?  I’m here to help!  Contact me now



  1. Al Painter says:

    Brilliant! Explains why I’ve been craving PBJ’s like a mad man lately. Sleep has been really off the last few weeks.

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