How sleeping can improve your body and performance

By on November 28, 2018


These days people have a tendency to focus on the latest training programme or nutritional strategy in order to achieve results, but often neglect the simple things that ultimately have a massive impact on whether we get results. Sleep is right at the top of the list of things that people pay little attention to when looking to improve their athletic performance and body composition.

Sleep is required in order to let the body recover from the day’s physical and metal stresses of the day and acts as a form of restoration where the body repairs its damaged tissues and processes information that we can obtained from the day (1).

It really is true what they say that to make solid gains in the gym you need to train hard, eat to your goals and sleep like a baby: Sleep really is where all the magic happens so to speak as it allows the central nervous system to recovery from heavy lifting, and the hormonal system to reset ready for another day.

The less time you spend asleep, the less time the body has to do all the little jobs its needs to do to make you stronger, faster, bigger, leaner and ultimately better. Irregular sleep patterns and not getting enough total sleep (7 – 8 hours per night) can have a negative impact on weight loss and make it more difficult to lose weight (1, 2)

Poor sleep quality and duration can affect body composition by:

1. Increasing hunger and appetite related hormones, interestingly, men and women seem to differ in their response to impaired sleep. Men seem to produce more hormones that are responsible for increasing hunger, whereas women seem to produce less of the hormones that make us full and satisfied after a meal (3)

2. Effecting our ability to control blood sugar (2, 4)

3. Reducing metabolic rate / calorie & fat burning, a recent study found that fragmented sleep has the potential to impair fat oxidation by as much as 52% (4)

4. Increasing stress related hormones which can result in muscle loss (1,2,3)

5. Making us feel less active and reduces the amount physically activity we do (4, 5, 6, 7)

6. Can encourage cravings for sweet / higher calorie foods (2)

7. Make us more sensitive to external food cues (i.e. food labels, advertisements, seeing other people eating) (5)

When combined, these factors play a significant part in encouraging food intake, selecting the wrong types of food, impairing metabolism and glucose tolerance while reducing motivation to perform physical activity (5, 6, 7).

How sports nutrition can help?

Sports nutrition, when used appropriately has the ability to improve quality and quantity of sleep but it is important not to use it to cover up potential issues that are affecting sleep quality (i.e. over training, stress, illness). The use of sports nutrition supplements can have a profound effect on sleep and hence have a knock on effect with regard to recovery and improvement in body composition.

Early morning protein:

Having a breakfast high in protein can actually help you sleep better at night, this is because of a combination of the amino acid tryptophan, day light and vitamin B6 in the morning can effect the bodies natural daily horomonal rhythm causing an increased release of the hormone melatonin, which the body releases to calm the body and encourage sleep (8).

A breakfast of consisting of whey protein pancakes or smoothies with banana (for vitamin B6) is not only a good way of getting started in the morning but may actually help you sleep better at night to.

Green tea:

Although more common for itd ability to help with fat loss, green tea can also help encourage restful sleep.

Although it is a natural source of caffeine, it also contains a substance called L-theanine, this has a calming effect on the body and encourages relaxation while the thiamine also cancells out the stimulating effects of caffeine (9). So taking green tea in the evening has the potential to improve sleep.


This is an amino acid used in pre work out and recovery drinks and has a jekl and hide effect on side, some people find it stimulating, while others find it relaxing. In some people taurine can help produce the neurotransmittor GABA which has a relaxing effect on the body and hence aids sleep, while in others it has no such effect (10)


Zinc, magnesium and vitaminn B6 (ZMA) as long been used by athletes to aid recovery from high intensity exercise.

Zinc helps the body naturally produce testosterone while magnesium is responcible for over 300 functions in the body, 1 of which is to have a caliming effect on the sympathetic nervous system (SNS, think fight or fligh), which we want working when we are training, but want to be recovering when we want to relax (11). By calming the down at night, the parasymathetic nervous system (PNS) and take over, with its jobs being ‘rest and digest’.

This is exactly what we want when trying to get to sleep.

Carbs in the evening

Eating carbohydrates in the evening is associated with improved sleep quality as they cause the release of serotonin from the gut which is then up taken by the brain and has a relaxing effect which helps induce sleep (12). Foods that naturally contain melatonin include oats, Montmorency cherries , rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, so when eaten in the evening may aid sleep. This is one of the proposed advantages to nutritional strategies like carb back loading

Avoid caffeine or other stimulants late in the day

This cause a ‘fight or flight’ response making us more alert, whereas in the evening we aim for a ‘rest a digest’ response which is blunted by caffeine.

In a recent study, when subject took a single doses of caffeine after 4 pm, it effected how quickly to took for the subjects to fall asleep, effecting total sleep duration, or for those subjects that fell asleep as normal, it preventing them getting into the deep slow wave sleep, effecting sleep quality (13).

Switching to supplements like beta alanine, sodium bicarbonate, citrulline malate and argininine alpha ketoglutarate for evening sessions will help maximise performance, without the potential adverse effects on sleep that could be experienced if using pre-training stimulants in the evening

In additional to the use of sports nutrition to improve sleep, minor changes to your life style can also has a hugely beneficial effect of sleep quantity and quality, simple change include:

Get your rest and your body will develop faster

Get your rest and your body will develop faster

Lifestyle changes to improve sleeping quality

1. Sleep at least 7 and preferably 8 hours a night., sleep debt can add up over time without knowing it, as little as 5 hours sleep on consecutive nights can start to have a negative effect on the body, A minimum of 6 hours sleep is required to allow the body to recovery from the stresses of the day.

2. Avoid oversleeping at weekends; this can throw your internal body clock (known circadian rhythm which is regulated by light : dark cycles) as out of rhythm making it difficult to get back into your natural body clock cycle.

3. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day: This helps regulate your body clock so you feel tired and ready to sleep at the same time each evening while feeling alert and wake during the day: It also helps keep meal times and physical activity regular enabling greater adherence

4. Get to bed early and get up early, if possible, to maximize sleeping night time (dark) hours and waking daylight hours.

5. Sleep in a totally dark room, light can affect the production of sleep related hormones (melatonin) that impact how quickly we fall asleep and how deep our sleep is.

6. Avoid alcohol before bedtime; although alcohol makes us feel sleepy, it prevents the body from getting into the deeper stages of sleep, so although you may have been asleep for 8 hours the quality will be compromised, meaning that the benefits of a restful sleep are lost.

7. Limit your time spent in front on t.v. or computer screen leading up to your bed time. These produce artificial blue light which has a stimulatory effect on the body and the brain senses this as extended day light hours, which is a signal to stay awake, dim lights down in the evening as the body associates dim lights with the onset of sleep.

8. Exercise on a regular basis, this helps regulate our hormones that help us sleep

Take home points

• Sleep is required let the body recover from the day’s physical and metal stresses of the day and acts as a form of restoration where the body repairs its damaged tissues and processes information that we can obtained from the day

• Lack of quality sleep can result in increased levels of hunger and craving, impaired metabolism and cravings, impaired ability to control blood sugar, decline in hormone required to recovery efficiently from exercise

• The use of sports nutrition supplements and strategies can be a useful way at improving sleep quality as long as they are used appropriately and are not being used to mask a underlining issues

• Small changes to your everyday lifestyle can add up to have a significant effect on overall sleep duration and quality.

• Train hard, eat to your goals and sleeping like a baby is the most efficient way of achieving your goals, regardless of what they are.

QUESTION: Do you take your sleep seriously with regards to training?

COMMENT beneath your sleeping plans and share with other GoNutrition customers to help improve their training!


1. Schmid S M , Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Bandorf, N, Jan Born & Schultes B (2007) Sleep Loss Alters Basal Metabolic Hormone Secretion and Modulates the Dynamic Counterregulatory Response to Hypoglycemia. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 92(8):3044–3051

2. Schmid S M , Jauch-Chara K, Hallschmid M, and Schultes B (2009) Mild Sleep Restriction Acutely Reduces Plasma Glucagon Levels in Healthy Men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism; 94(12):5169–5173

3. St-Onge MP, O’Keeffe M, Roberts AL, RoyChoudhury A, Laferrère B. Short sleep duration, glucose dysregulation and hormonal regulation of appetite in men and women. Sleep. 2012 Nov 1;35(11):1503-10. doi: 10.5665/sleep.2198

4. Hursel R et al: Effects of sleep fragmentation in healthy men on energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, physical activity, and exhaustion measured over 48 h in a respiratory chamber; Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):804-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.017632

5. Hairston KG, Bryer-Ash M, Norris J M, Haffner S, Bowden DW, Wagenknecht LE (2010) Sleep Duration and Five-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study. SLEEP, Vol. 33, No. 3,

6. Rontoyanni VG, Baic S, Cooper AR (2007) Association between nocturnal sleep duration, body fatness, and dietary intake in Greek women. Nutrition; 23(11-12):773-7

7. Chaput, Jean-Philippe; Klingenberg, Lars; Sjödin, Anders (2010). Do all sedentary activities lead to weight gain: sleep does not. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: November 2010 – Volume 13 – Issue 6 – p 601–607

8. Wada K et al A (2013) tryptophan-rich breakfast and exposure to light with low color temperature at night improve sleep and salivary melatonin level in Japanese students; J Circadian Rhythms. 2013 May 25;11(1):4.

9. Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan; 74(1):39-45.

10. Song NY, Shi HB, Li CY, Yin SK. Interaction between taurine and GABA(A)/glycine receptors in neurons of the rat anteroventral cochlear nucleus. Brain Res. 2012 Sep 7;1472:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.07.001

11. Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9.

12. Ahmad Afaghi, Helen O’Connor, and Chin Moi Chow. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset . Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:426 –30.

13. Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med 2013;9(11):1195-1200

Paul Johnson

About Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson MSc, BSc SENr works for thr NHS by day delivering exercise referal and cardiac rehab sessions.