This has been a sleepless week in the Nielsen household as our youngest, 2.5-year-old Grant, has been under the weather with croup. Normally though, we’re a family that takes sleep very seriously – hitting the hay early (by 10) and waking up with the birds.

So this week, which we’ve spent feeling grumpy and agitated, has been a good reminder of just how important sleep is to our basic functioning. It also plays a more significant role than most people realize when it comes to fitness success, and fat loss.

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First of all, it’s important to note that everyone’s sleep requirements are different. Some people function fine on five or six hours per night, while others need nine. It’s important to understand your body’s optimal – and minimal – sleep requirement is and do everything you can to reach that number each night.

If you’re really not sure or having trouble tracking, a fitness tracker might help. Most track your sleep as well as your activity, and go so far as indicating how much of your night was spent in deep sleep versus light.

So what happens in our body when we don’t get enough sleep? First of all, stress hormone cortisol will be higher (hence the agitation), testosterone will be lower (which is what keeps us confident and gives us our ‘libido for life’), and adrenaline rises (which also factors into the agitation and affects our thinking).

In terms of how sleep affects your fitness goals, it has been proven that fat is stored more easily when you don’t get enough sleep. Your discipline will also take a hit, and you’re likely to suffer from poor self-control when it comes to eating. And finally, sleep – or lack thereof – can also affect your bone density, which is a big one, especially for those over 50.

So, unless you’re tending to a sick kid through the night (*yawn*), make sleep a non-negotiable part of your day. Your mind and body will thank you.

PS: Many people ask us if it’s worth sacrificing sleep to fit in your workout. Our answer: if you can adjust your schedule to go to bed earlier, a morning workout is a great idea. But if you’re cutting your regular sleep short by two hours and not compensating on the other end, it will quickly take a toll on you, and won’t be sustainable. So get to bed early!