Home Gain Muscle Sleep Deprivation Might Be Holding You Back at the Gym – GQ

Sleep Deprivation Might Be Holding You Back at the Gym – GQ

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Photo Illustration by Alicia Tatone

A new study reveals that even one late night can result in muscle breakdown and weight gain.

Sleep is wonderful, and an absolutely necessary component of a healthy lifestyle, even for those who have come to believe they’ll only be successful if they wake up at 4 A.M. (Not true! Don’t do that!) Without the proper amount of sleep, all sorts of negative side effects can result, from day-to-day sluggishness to heart disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions.

You probably knew all of this already. But now, there is even more bad news out there for those who skip out on their zzz’s: Sleep deprivation may also help contribute to unwanted weight gain and muscle loss.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study conducted at Uppsala University in Sweden, the results of which were published in the journal Science Advances. Fifteen participants took part in two tests: In the first, they got a normal amount of sleep, defined as “over eight hours,” which strikes me as adorably aspirational. During the second session, they were kept awake for the entire night. The narrative does not specify how that result was achieved, which is a shame and an oversight in need of fixing.

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Afterwards, the research team drew blood from each subject, and performed biopsies on samples of subcutaneous fat and skeletal muscle tissue. An individual’s metabolism can fluctuate based on changes to their circadian rhythm. After only one night of sleep, they observed increases in both adiposity, which is the ability of adipose tissue to store fat, and levels of the hormone cortisol, which promotes the breakdown of muscle tissue. In other words, sleep deprivation looks like a very efficient way of depriving yourself of the results for which you may be striving in the gym, too. From their write-up:

These observations are thus the first to offer an explanation at the tissue level for two seemingly contrasting clinical phenotypes seen following experimental sleep loss in humans: gain of fat mass occurring concomitantly with loss of lean mass

This jibes with other research that has examined the less-than-ideal relationship between sleep loss and weight gain. A 2008 study published by the New York Academy of Sciences determined that a lack of sleep is “associated with a dysregulation of the neuroendocrine control of appetite." This is the fancy way of stating the lesson that everyone who has gone out for too many nights in a row learned the hard way: If you’re tired all the time, your body will start thinking it’s hungry even when it’s not, and you’ll crave more food. Usually fries.

Should you find yourself getting less sleep than you’d like, Jonathan Cedernaes, who led the more recent study, says that the keys to offsetting the tissue changes that would otherwise ensue are exercising regularly and paying special attention to maintaining a healthy diet. That advice is good, but not exactly practical, because when you’re busy and overworked and exhausted, clean eating and consistent workouts are often the first things to go out the window.

But if your sleeplessness is more of the stay-up-late-binging-prestige-television variety? Put down the remote and go to bed. The show will still be there tomorrow. (After you put in a workout.)

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