Why sleep is so dadgum important

That’s right: sleep is so important that I’m using a….well, an urban dictionary adjective. to express it’s importance.

Hard to believe this guy could have a sleep debt….

Hard to believe this guy could have a sleep debt….

Last year at the Perform Better Fitness Seminar held in Providence, Rhode Island, I sat in on a presentation about sleep by Dr. Brandon Marcello, who works with student-athletes at Stanford University, and he grabbed my attention pretty quickly with this statement:

"We work with our athletes at Stanford on getting quality of sleep before we even touch their nutrition."

I flashed back to my own college athletic experience at Gannon University, and thought about the 10-midnight lacrosse practices that filled January through March at the start of most seasons. We were so wired when we left practice that we hung out at Eat n' Park afterwards for the next three hours doing homework and hanging out. I spent most of college learning to live on three hours of sleep.

And it didn't get much better after college. I've always struggled with sleep - but it was only in recent years that I've come to understand just how much my poor quality sleep has affected so many other aspects of my health.

Here are just a few of the stats that Dr. Marcello covered in his presentation:

1. Injuries have been shown to be related to sleep less than six hours the night before the injury occurred - there is a greater risk for injury compared to athletes that obtained more than eight hours of sleep.  

2. Chronically obtaining less sleep than your body needs builds a sleep debt over time.

3. Pay back your sleep debt.

4. For optimal functioning and sports performance, you should eliminate your sleep debt by gradually extending your sleep duration. 

5. During sleep, the brain "bathes" itself in cerebrospinal fluid to get rid of waste products. 

In our culture, phrases like "you can sleep when you're dead" are common and sleep deprivation is almost a badge of honor. It's a popular concept that the less you sleep you require to get through the day, the more productive you can be. Which, if you've ever spent two hours in the afternoon drooling over your keyboard, you know is a big bag of horse-dung (I’m all over that urban dictionary today). 

You can't overestimate the importance of sleep - especially when it comes to your nutrition. Sleep can influence what you eat and vice versa. Individuals who are sleep deprived tend to crave carbohydrates. I wrote about the connection between sleep and belly fat specifically in a previous post here

The bottom line is that if you are struggling to lose belly fat - if you feel like your nutrition is on point and you're hitting your three to five workouts a week and still not seeing results, take a look at your sleep. How many hours a night do you get? Are you getting quality sleep? Do you stay asleep? 

If the answer is no, you might want to start there. Talk to your doctor, do a sleep study, and stop feeling guilty for needing more sleep.