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From Zzz's to Gains: The Role of Sleep in your Fitness Journey

Why Sleep is the Missing Link in your Fitness Journey

“Did you know that lack of sleep makes you hungrier?”
You ended up here because you probably feel like you’ve been doing everything right! You’ve been exercising, eating healthy, and hydrating, and you’re still struggling with weight loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance! Well, soon you’re going to find out what is missing, and how this seemingly not-so-important thing ends up holding you back from achieving your goals.

You’ll understand more about the science of sleep and how it can affect your fitness results. Once you understand how it works, you’ll also know which actions you need to take to improve your sleep, and results, no matter how crazy your life gets.

Table of Contents

Sleep is the unsung hero of our times. It is the ultimate recovery practice, and yet most of us barely pay attention to it or prioritize it enough. We find excuses as to why we don’t have the time, or how due to stress the quality of our sleep is at its lowest.

Sleep is the ultimate RECOVERY practice, with emphasis on Recovery and not just rest. We all know that sleep helps us feel well-rested and ready for the day, at least most of the time, but recovery is what helps us build the endurance and resilience to face the stressors we put on our bodies, including physical exercise. Recovery is also about returning to homeostasis, practically our bodies’ baseline. Without it, stress is going to accumulate and without proper recovery, different body functions, and even mental, begin to fail and shut down.

Sleep is an essential part of the optimal function of our bodies., and it is such a complex process that even scientists are still yet to discover all its secrets. But there are a few things that we know for sure, sleep helps our bodies to recover, get rid of metabolic waste, improve brain function, and regulate metabolic health.

A lot of things are happening while we’re sleeping, and although most of us see this process as an on-and-off thing, where off means that we shut down to rest, your body, especially the brain is actually very active during this time.

Some other benefits of good-quality sleep include:

  • better mood

  • improved focus, and memory

  • keeps our brains healthy,

  • helps us lose fat and build lean muscle,

  • affects hormones,

  • regulates appetite and satiety,

  • regulates blood sugar.

When we sleep, we go through different phases, with corresponding brain waves, like beta, alpha, delta, and theta and we actually cycle back and forth through these stages during the night.

Each stage has its benefits, and during this time a lot of things are happening, that based on research, have a great impact on your fitness goals.

How Sleep affects Weight Loss, Muscle Gain, and Athletic Performance?

When any of the areas in our lives such as environmental, physical, mental, and so on, get disrupted, our fitness results start to suffer.

It is pretty common for people to ask if sleep has any importance when it comes to athletic performance, muscle growth, and recovery. The thing is, it does. Nowadays so, so many people, especially motivational gurus and entrepreneurs keep promoting this all-or-nothing mindset. And saying that the only way to achieve their level of success is by having this so-called perfect routine where you wake up at 5, go to the gym, drink the infamous almighty healer celery juice, and hustle, hustle, hustle.


Not only that this is not sustainable for 99% of the population, but waking up at 5 means reducing the chances of getting a good night’s sleep. And that will affect everything else in your life.

But let’s go back to fitness performance.

Research shows that without proper sleep, your cognitive, motor, and physiological functions are reduced.

When it comes to training, it is impossible to train, recover and grow without proper sleep.
When we sleep, our body begins to release a bunch of hormones that aid our recovery, and one of them is the HGH (human growth hormone) and insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1. and I bet by now you can guess why these are so important, especially when you want to increase your muscle tissue. HGH is the primary way in which your muscles can recover and grow, and during sleeping, the production is at its peak.

Another study shows that lack of sleep decreases the activity of protein synthesis pathways and it increases the activity of degradation pathways, which eventually leads to loss of muscle mass and reduced recovery after training.

And last, one really important thing to note is that sleep is not accumulative. This means that you cannot have 5 days of sleep deprivation, and make up for that on the weekends. Even a day of sleep deprivation can take more than a week until your cognitive functions are back to normal, and during this time you can expect your athletic performance to be reduced.
So sleep hygiene is important.

The Link between Sleep and Weight Loss

I want you to think about the last time you had a terrible night’s sleep. If that just happened, then it might be easier to analyze. Did you notice anything different? Maybe your hunger, emotions? your energy levels or maybe something else? Some of these things you might not even relate to your sleep, and sometimes you might not even realize you didn’t sleep that well, or that it’s not such a big deal.

One of the benefits of good-quality sleep is that it helps you lose fat. Our bodies are essentially a giant clock that regulates all of the processes that occur in our bodies.

We have the circadian clock, which includes all the biological processes that occur in a 24-hour cycle.

We also have the sleep-wake cycles, which are greatly influenced by light and dark. And we have the central clock in our brains, and so on.

All of these processes that happen in a 24-hour daily cycle, can be either upregulated, which means they are sped up or increased in production, or downregulated, where the speed slows down and there’s decreased production.

The processes, such as storing or burning body fat, and using nutrients for fuel, can become more or less active over your circadian cycle.

For example, gluconeogenesis, which is the synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrates sources happens mostly during the day, while glycogenolysis, where glycogen is broken down into glucose, peaks at night. And similar things happen with other processes as well.

But did you know that lack of sleep makes you hungrier?

When we don’t sleep enough or the quality is bad, leptin, which is a hormone that regulates appetite and fat storage tends to go down, while ghrelin (which stimulates hunger), goes up.

Another factor is the adipose tissue which can affect how hungry or full you feel, can stimulate cravings and what you crave, whether sweet or salty and how difficult or easy it is to manage them.
The more you stay up, the more likely you are to give into midnight cravings or make more poor nutritional choices, without being able to stop.

So next time you find yourself bingeing or craving different foods, maybe take a step back and ask yourself if perhaps sleep is the cause.

How stress affects your sleep?

Let’s talk a little bit about stress. Stress occurs in so many areas of our lives, some of which we might not even be aware of, and it’s something accumulative, meaning that unless we do something about it, it continues to add up. This phenomenon is known as allostatic load.

Generally, when we take a deeper look into stress, we end up analyzing it from 5 different perspectives, physical, mental, environmental, biological, and emotional.

Stress is such a common part of everyone’s life. And it’s good to know that not all stress is bad and trying to pursue getting rid of all the stress in your life is not ideal, and also pretty much impossible; however, it might be better to try and dive deeper into what are the biggest stressors in your life that you can improve, which ultimately can positively impact your sleep too. At the same time, we can also take a different approach, in which we put our focus on sleep, and by trying to create healthier habits around it so that it can help us cope more effectively with everything else.

And speaking of how focusing on other areas of your life can impact the quality of sleep. A study also shows that stress-induced insomnia can be overcome by implementing different practices such as regular movement at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, 3-4 times per week, having balanced meals, and practicing breathing exercises.

How much sleep you should get?

When it comes to how much you should sleep, it depends, and everyone is different but there are a few principles that kind of apply to everyone. One of them is having good sleep hygiene.

And in this case, you might need to practice some self-awareness, and see what works for you and what doesn’t.

There are a few things that influence our sleep, the quality and how much of it we get one of them is our genes, which influence our circadian rhythm and one of them is chronotypes.

People also have different chronotypes. You might call yourself a night owl, an early bird, or even something in between. This is part of who you are and you should listen to it. Working night shifts as a morning person quickly turns into a nightmare when you finally get home in the morning and notice you can’t sleep, or starting your shift at 7 am as a night owl will set your mood for the rest of the day, and not in a good way.

So how much sleep you should actually get?

Again, it depends. Very, very few thrive on 4-6 hours of sleep per night (definitely not me) while most of us do better with 7 to 9 hours. Athletes, especially close to competition day, might get even 9-10 hours of sleep to boost recovery and performance.

Tips on how to improve your sleep

Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of how important sleep is and how you should start paying more attention to your sleeping routine. But now remains the question, how can I get better sleep?

When it comes to sleep there are a few things that might be more difficult to control, such as chronotype, hormonal changes, medical issues, and some parts of our environment. But one thing we can work on is our mindset, how to approach this issue, and how we can do our best with what we have.

Now that you know more about sleep and how it can affect your goals, let’s see how you can improve it. One of the most important things we have to look at when trying to improve our sleeping habits is the environment. The environment can have such a huge impact on the quality of sleep or how we perceive it. Things like temperature, noise, and even the room setup can affect it. So things like having a clean room, or doing some small decoration changes that get you in a calmer state of mind can make a difference in your sleep.

Another thing you can do, and one of the most impactful too is to create a bedtime ritual. This is a routine you create for yourself that can help calm down your mind from a high level of stimulation and get you into ready-to-sleep mode. You can start with just 5 minutes before sleep and hopefully, in time, you can work on increasing this to maybe 30 minutes or even an hour.

The best part about this is that you decide how far you want to go or what you want to do.

And to give you some ideas, you can do things like

  • dimming the lights
  • turning off electronics and screens
  • listening to calming music
  • journaling
  • deep breathing, meditation
  • lighting a candle or
  • reading a light novel

Try different things and see what works for you.

I also prepared for you a really cool sleeping pack that you can download for free.

Free Sleeping Pack

Inside you'll find a guided meditation, 30 ideas for your bedtime routine. And more!


Although there are plenty of systemic and structural factors that can contribute to poor quality of sleep, that doesn’t mean we can’t actively take a step toward changing that.

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Snippet of the Sleeping Pack Printables

Download The Sleeping Pack

In this pack, you will find different ideas to put into practice as well as a guided bedtime meditation to help you get a good night’s sleep.


Thank you and Good luck!

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