Achieving your fitness goals takes time. It also takes a fitness formula including eating right plus drinking right plus thinking right plus SLEEPING right equals having the energy, endurance and strength to tackle demanding physical challenges in order to make lasting changes!

I overheard Jake, Rejuv Medical’s Director of the Fitness Center talking to a gym client the other day and he was telling her that she needed to sleep more if she wanted to hit her goals. What? How the heck is lolly-gagging in bed going to get her body beefed up? It seemed counterproductive. After the client took off to evidently hit the hay, Jake explained that sleep is a critical part of the formula of losing weight and getting fit faster. Here’s how our conversation went:

 Kirsten: So how exactly does sleep affect fitness?

 Jake: Well, let me give you an example of how I discovered personally that lack of sleep causes weight gain. When my wife, Dani, and I had our daughter, Andi, a few months ago, I could tell that my results in the gym slowed down and I was gaining weight. I also wasn’t sleeping at all like I had been. I used to go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 7 am. A solid 8 hours. Once Andi came along, my sleep became totally sporadic. We were up every 2 hours and even when we fell back to sleep, would never get into REM sleep or deep quality sleep at all. We were both basically sleepless. And when you go without sleep, it messes with you chemically, in particular, your stress hormone, cortisol, which is your fight or flight hormone. Normally, cortisol helps regulate our blood sugar level and metabolism, controls internal inflammation and even supports our memory. When our cortisol gets out of whack, it can drastically affect us. Being startled awake, like by your baby’s cry for instance, unlocks a primal instinct in us that wakes us up NOW so we can run away from the dinosaur or bear or whatever is about to eat us or our baby. It wakes us up, but it keeps us awake too.  That shock stays with us under the surface, even if we fall back asleep, so we can’t get into REM sleep which is that essential time in which our body resets and recharges. It really is a vicious circle because if we can’t sleep, our stress increases, which boosts our cortisol, and if our stress levels are high, that prevents us from sleeping, so our stress increases more, which boosts our cortisol. Pretty soon, our elevated cortisol starts to disrupt us even more.

 Kirsten: But how does that affect our weight?

 Jake:  Well cortisol also mobilizes sugar from our liver to keep our blood sugar stable between meals so that helps us maintain our energy level throughout the day. If it is elevated, it can lead to weight gain.  When kicked into gear, cortisol also suppresses our immune system, which can leave us open to catching colds or illnesses, yet another roadblock to success in the gym. On top of that, high cortisol thins out our gut lining which sets us up for poor digestion, never a good thing, but especially when you’re working on optimizing your nutrition to get good results in the gym.

So, when you’ve got a baby who wakes up every hour, your cortisol is through the roof. That messes up your beta-metabolic rate which affects your regimen at the gym. And since you’re burning so much energy at nighttime, you don’t have any energy throughout the day or for the gym so no matter how hard you push yourself, it will never be optimum. It’s not even an option and you’re stuck on a slippery slope of fatigue and fat.

It’s like working out on an empty stomach. People think, “I shouldn’t eat because if I don’t eat, I will lose weight”, when the reality is, if you don’t give your body what it needs which is ENERGY, it will fight back.  If you don’t eat, your body goes into storage mode and when you try to work out, your body takes energy from your muscles, which is called catabolism. If you don’t sleep, you don’t have energy and your body won’t have fuel to fire up your fitness. Ultimately, you end up going backwards.

 Kirsten: So how do you decrease cortisol and get back in balance?

 Jake: The number one way to cut down your cortisol level is sleep. Commit to a relaxing, regular bedtime routine, banish all screens an hour before bedtime and no caffeine after 2 pm. You can try an herbal tea like chamomile in the evening, but don’t eat or it will just keep you alert.

The next best thing, and my favorite, is using exercise as a positive stressor to control cortisol levels. Intense exercise increases cortisol during our workout, but in turn decreases it at night. So, work out in the daytime to sleep in the nighttime! Stress relieving practices such as yoga puts your body in the parasympathetic state of “rest and digest” so practice yoga daily to decrease your body’s demand for cortisol.

Steer clear of sugar to help control cortisol. Indulging on sugar is a key trigger of high cortisol!

Also, consider adding a magnesium supplement to your daily vitamin intake. Our body dumps our natural magnesium into our bloodstream to help us stay calm when we are stressed, and if we don’t rest in order to replace that magnesium, we may not have enough for when we need it.

Kirsten: So what happened with you, Dani and Andi? Did you all start sleeping better?

 Jake: Once Andi started getting into a better routine and Dani took over the nighttime role with her completely, I started getting more sleep and my fitness efforts and results completely turned around. Once I started sleeping again, my results in the gym started happening. On top of making sure I got enough sleep, I really dialed in my nutrition choices and started exercising regularly and the right way. By doing those things, it has snowballed into me losing 6 pounds and 4.5% body fat in 5 weeks. I honestly feel so much better and I’m not as stressed.

I think the biggest reason why I feel better is because I stopped drinking alcohol completely.  Studies show that when you have alcohol in your system, you have very poor-quality sleep and I can promise you that is true. Once I got over the hurdle of changing my habits, I started sleeping so much better because I don’t have sugar spiking my insulin in the middle of the night. It all revolves around your chemistry.

 Kirsten: Is there such a thing as too much sleep?

 Jake: Yes! Sleeping too much is the same as eating too much. Eat too much even of good, clean food, you can gain weight. Too much sleep can have similar effects on your results.

Most of the people I sit down with who tell me their goal is to lose weight say their sleep is poor. Over the last 9 years of being in the fitness industry, I’ve noticed there’s a clear correlation between poor sleep and weight gain.

Kirsten: What do you recommend to help people get better sleep?

 Jake – First of all, consult a medical professional. Your trainer is not a sleep doctor. If you are truly having issues sleeping well, find out why.  If you’re serious and want to get the right answers, the bloodwork doesn’t lie.

Instead of trial and error connect with one of our Functional Medicine Specialists and see what’s going on. There are so many variables to what it could be that you need to attack it from as many angles as you can.

That’s what makes Rejuv Medical special. We can look at those things with you. Not every fitness facility can do that! Watch out for prescribed sleep aid band aids that could fix a problem and cause a problem at the same time.

Secondly, once you’ve out ruled a medical issue, talk to your trainer. You know you should sleep a lot, you know you should exercise so most of the time it boils down to the fact that you need help, accountability and structure. You know what you need but until somebody sits you down and tells you, it can be hard to do.

Set yourself a timer for when it’s time to shut down and go to bed. You set an alarm to wake up, set one to go to sleep. Use your phone, you look at it every 20 seconds anyway so put it to good use. Set alarms to drink water, to work out, to go to bed, to track your food. Your phone is the boss of you anyway so if it tells you to do it, odds are, you will.

One of the things I did years ago was get a good mattress. If you’re going to invest in anything, get a great mattress. If you’re one of those people who says you have an old mattress, you’re probably one of those people who is not sleeping well. Bite the bullet and buy the awesome mattress. One and done.

Don’t eat after 6 pm. You’ll cause your insulin to spike so skip the snacks and go to bed.

Energy drinks to stay awake are not the answer. If you are so tired you reach for an energy drink during the day, plan to go to bed an hour earlier and see if that helps. Reach for water instead. It will do your body good.

EXERCISE! Work out some of that stress and cortisol and make your body better from the inside out. Dump it right out here on the turf. You’ll be glad you did!

I’ll never fault anybody for trying to make better life choices. Be honest with yourself and go about change with moderation.

There’s no perfect way. There’s no guarantee. Find what works for you.