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Snooze Or Lose



The link between sleep and athletic performance is stronger than you think.

You’ve spent hours at the gym. You’ve taken the multivitamin, the fish oil, the creatine, protein, aminos—you’ve done it all. You’re off to a great start. But, while supplementation can be an important part of achieving a healthy and fit body, the most crucial aspect of any healthy individual is sleep.

So often people neglect sleep. Just recently, my oldest son mentioned that he had trouble falling asleep at night because he felt like he “had more of the day to experience.” This struck me, because I’ve heard it before. In fact, Maria Konnikova of The New York Times phrased these sentiments perfectly in her recently published article, “Goodnight. Sleep Clean.” “Why would our bodies evolve to spend close to one-third of our lives completely out of it, when we could instead be doing something useful or exciting?”

Lack Of Sleep And Weight Gain

I’ve written about sleep before. I previously referred to a separate New York Times piece by Tara Parker-Pope on sleep cycles and their effects on weight gain. Pope writes that it was found that “adults who sleep less than five or six hours a night are at higher risk of being overweight.”

These findings introduced the idea that a lack of sleep influenced the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing individuals to crave carbohydrates later in the evening—a less-preferred time to indulge.

Now, our bodies take the brunt of all force exerted by a strenuous workout, but what is at the core of every hard-hitting exercise performed? No, not the abs; the brain. Konnikova’s more recent article has shed light on how the brain is just as hindered—if not more than the body—by a lack of sleep.

When we sleep, the brain is quite active. Yes, we dream, but that is merely a theatrical distraction while our internal mess from the sunlight hours are carefully cleaned and the brain is remedied for the following day ahead. Konnikova refers to this process as a “mental janitor.”

Imagine then, if you will, that this janitor was only given four hours to clean up 20 hours of build-up and residue. That’s a lot more difficult than if said janitor had seven to nine hours to complete the task at hand.

You Can’t Catch Up On Lost ZZZs

How does this relate to efforts in the gym? Aside from preworkout supplements with caffeine, our bodies rely on oxygen to sustain enough energy to lift weights or pound the treadmill. Once the weight becomes too heavy or the treadmill is moving too fast, our bodies cannot produce enough oxygen to sustain us through our workout.

So, what does the body do? It “creates needed energy anaerobically,” according to Konnikova’s research. This allows lactic acid—a waste byproduct that causes the painful burning in our worked muscles, signaling us not to overexert ourselves—to build up in the muscles. Our bodies need enough rest to prepare it for the day, when the lymphatic system flushes these byproducts from tissue. This should put to rest the idea that we can “catch up” on missed sleep. (Tell that to my son, who sleeps in on Saturday mornings for this very reason.)

I asked Piotr W. Olejniczak, MD, PhD, professor of neurology (and a sleep expert) at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, about sleep and how it affects performance. He says, “Sleep deprivation decreases performance and causes sleep debt to occur. Chronic sleep debt can be severe.”

If you consider the fact that sleep is when our bodies are performing much of the repair work of rebuilding muscle, while clearing the brain like a mental janitor, why do so many comply to so little actual sleep? How many of you are guilty of depriving your body of necessary sleep? Think about when you pulled an all-nighter in college: You crammed until the wee hours for that test, but the irony is you woke up with a mental deficit.

Konnikova writes, “According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should sleep seven to nine hours.”

Keep a log. Figure out how much sleep you’re getting a night, and see if it compares to the recommended numbers. I know that without sleep, I would not be able to outrun almost every professional athlete I’ve ever taken under my guidance—and I’m 62! Without sleep, I would not be able to perform the necessary physical demands to do my part to help Serena Williams maintain her No. 1 status.

Do yourself a favor and lose the “fear of missing out” and change it to a “fear of underperforming.” That should motivate you to get to bed early and rise like a champion who’s ready to take on the day.

One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at

Link: Muscle&Body Magazine