Sleep - The Secret to a stronger, faster, leaner, healthier you

by John Diaz

Okay, so you exercise several times a week making sure to do resistance exercise as well as cardiovascular training. You cleaned up your diet cutting back on empty calories, too much sugar, processed foods and now eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables. You’re a rock star, a beast even, but wait your work may not be done. Now you need to sleep, and by that I mean get an adequate, uninterrupted, consistent, amount of sleep.  No more burning the candle at both ends either, 4 or 5 hour nights, that’s not going to cut it. I once had a physiology teacher say, “every hour of sleep you skip you can take off the end of your life”. Now when you’re young that doesn’t sound so scary, when you’re young you’re all about the now. Besides what’s a few days, weeks, months less of being an old fart, except now I’m closer to being that old fart, closer with every day. Remember you will never be again as young as you are now…ouch. Alright, whether his statement is or isn’t true, what is true is that we all do need sleep.


The body runs on a 24hr repeating cycle known as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm is controlled by two processes. The first is the growing need or desire to sleep the longer you stay awake. Driving this need is a chemical called adenosine. While you are awake adenosine continues to build-up in your brain. The rising level signals you to sleep allowing the body to breakdown adenosine therefore bringing its levels back down.  

The second process is your internal clock. Environmental factors such as light and darkness align our clock with time of day. When it gets dark your body releases melatonin signaling the body that it is time to sleep by making you drowsy.  Conversely, as the sunrises the light signals your body to release cortisol which in turn prepares your body to wake-up.   


Woman Sleeping - Ultimate Health Personal Training Center Los Angeles

In modern society sleep has become undervalued. Those who get by on just a few hours wear that fact like a badge of honor.  Often people who sleep in are viewed as lazy. I remember personally when I was younger and more social living by the motto,” I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.  Heaven forbid I would miss out on something, anything fun while I was sleeping.

Getting enough sleep and at the right times can protect your physical and mental health. Within an hour of falling asleep we enter delta sleep. During delta growth hormone is released from the pituitary gland. The bodies healing properties kick into overdrive repairing things like the heart, blood vessels, muscle even the organs themselves.

Sleep allows the brain to run a sort of self-check processing all the massive amounts of information that flooded it during the day, checking that the balance of hormones and enzymes are not off and dealing with all the biological debris produced from energy expenditure.

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester found that a type of brain cell called a glial cells turn into a massive pump while we sleep. Though active while we are awake they become significantly more effective during sleep. While we sleep our brain cells shrink, shrinking the whole brain by 15%. This extra space allows brain and spinal fluid to slosh around kind of like a dishwasher helping to remove the brains molecular garbage. Think of it as defragging your brain while you sleep.

In short lack of sleep leads to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, memory and learning disorders, depression, anxiety and addiction. And if that isn’t enough, a protein molecule called amyloid beta is cleared away at a faster rate when we sleep. Amyloid beta has been linked to Alzheimer’s.     


Research suggests that not getting enough sleep leads to reduced muscle glycogen levels, impaired immune function and increased inflammation. Pain perception is also altered as is an increase in perceptual effort during exercise leading to less muscle recruitment. Consider again that during Slow Wave Sleep our brain releases Growth Hormone. HGH stimulates muscle growth, bone growth and fat burning.

A 2009 study by Cheri Mah at Stanford University followed female tennis players as they increased their sleep to 10 hours a night. This extra sleep lead to better alertness, better moods, increased sprint times, and cleaner more accurate shots. In earlier studies Mah found increased sleep improved the sprint times and free throw accuracy of six players on the men’s basketball team. Mah says many athletes have recorded personal bests and broken long standing records while participating in these studies.


Early man used to rise with the sun and sleep when it turned dark. All that has changed with artificial light. Whether it’s light from lamps, a television or a bright device screen it all throws off that sleep rhythm.

The amount of sleep you need can vary depending on age, activity level, health among other factors. A general guide would be 9-10 hours for teens and 7-8 hours for adults. Athletes generally would do well with more. If your goal is 8 hours you would need to plan for closer to 8 ½ hours of actual bed time. One gage to see if you are sleep deprived is to note how long it takes you to fall asleep. If you fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down and or you tend to nod off during the day you likely need to increase your sleep.


Recent studies show that carbohydrates help to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and protein helps the quality of sleep. A light snack an hour or two before bed such as cereal and milk could give you the right push. A cool, dark, quiet room also helps. Avoid caffeine in the later part of the day and try to keep to a regular bedtime.

For those who have a hard time falling asleep taking a warm bath or practicing Mindful meditation prior to lying down can be quite helpful.  A cool pack applied to the forehead or crown of the scull has been shown to improve sleep latencies and quality in studies.


If your goal is to be stronger, faster, leaner or healthier then don’t skimp on your ZZZ’s. A little extra sack time can help you be your best you. You’ll look more refreshed, be more alert, have more energy and probably be easier to be around for the rest of us. Hey, it’s called beauty sleep and beauty goes more than skin deep.

REFERENCES: – Explore Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency - Do Athletes need Extra Sleep – Sleep in Elite Athletes – Why Sleep is Important – The Power of Sleep