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Get Your Sleep!

by Coach Seiji


Both adults and children have been trending down in the sleep department over the last few decades. Much of this is spurred on by societal pressures; getting ahead, maximizing production, and just plain avoiding the tag of being “lazy,” contradicting what common sense and self-awareness clearly state.

Beyond the obvious mental and negative physical feelings the persistent lack of sleep can produce, a cascade of negative hormonal responses can hijack your training efforts. Akin to working with insufficient sleep, there may be a breakpoint where ceasing training efforts to gain more shut-eye outweigh any potential benefit gained by forcing a training session.

Caffeine, energy drinks, Ambien and the like are all used and abused to overcome the body’s efforts to correct detrimental behavior. Unfortunately, these measures are accepted and even applauded.

The most potent message I can deliver is to list the detrimental hormonal effects of persistent lack of sleep. Am I trying to scare you? You bet I am.

I fell victim to outside pressures late in my competitive cycling career; I had just gotten married, and the self-imposed financial demands lead me to train other athletes as early as 5 am. Working at least eight sessions a day, keeping up my training and going to bed at a regular “adult” hour eventually eroded my wellness to the point where I found myself in cardiac care. I could still cycle 25+ hours a week, but my health was in the gutter. The lack of sleep combined with my prescribed “athlete” diet forced my retirement from competitive cycling. I wouldn’t wish this demise on my worst enemy.

Modern adult life is challenging; professional and family demands can cut into personal endeavors and goals. A strong work ethic combined with goal setting and individual personalities can drive consistent training efforts despite nodding off at the steering wheel in the afternoons. The feelings of guilt can mix with well-meaning encouragement from training partners to keep athletes compliant with training schedules despite strong messages from both brain and body to do otherwise.

The most potent message I can deliver is to list the detrimental hormonal effects of persistent lack of sleep. Am I trying to scare you? You bet I am.

In a nutshell:

Growth hormone, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin levels are partially dependent on sleep timing, duration, and quality. The sleep-wake cycle modulates glucose tolerance and insulin secretion.

In plain English:

Growth hormone stimulates the growth of all tissues in the body, including bone. Seems reasonably essential, right? The onset of deep sleep cycles causes the pulsatile secretion of growth hormone, and in young and old men, the amount of total growth hormone released is proportional to the number of these cycles. Any disruption of these cycles minimizes or completely eradicates growth hormone release, thus eliminating potential tissue growth – muscle, connective tissues, etc.

The body releases cortisol during times of stress; it performs several essential functions to prepare the body to respond to imposed stresses. Sleep deprivation increases the nighttime level of cortisol and drastically lengthens the time cortisol levels remain elevated. Cortisol heightens alertness, making it difficult to fall asleep and chronically elevated levels of cortisol increase the likelihood of developing diabetes and obesity.

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Leptin and ghrelin are appetite-regulating hormones; leptin suppresses appetite and is released by fat cells in more significant quantities during sleep. Ghrelin stimulates appetite and is produced by the stomach in lesser amounts during sleep. Sleep deprivation lowers leptin levels and raises ghrelin levels, increasing hunger, particularly for carbohydrate-rich foods.

Glucose tolerance is the ability to absorb and use glucose which is dependent on insulin secretion and sensitivity; impaired glucose tolerance results in elevated levels of blood glucose, which significantly increases risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality. Reduced deep sleep cycles and the associated reduction of growth hormone drastically impacts glucose tolerance, producing results similar to Type II diabetes. The reduced control of blood glucose also increases hunger; combined with the effects of sleep deprivation on leptin and ghrelin, partially explain the drastic rise in obesity rates over the past few decades that coincide with reduced sleep. Also, studies have recorded the highest obesity rates correlate with two to four hours of sleep per night, and the lowest BMI’s occur with an average of 7.7 hours of sleep per night.

OK, so sleep deprivation robs the ability of the body’s response to training stress, reduces the ability to process glucose and calories, and makes you more hungry. We haven’t even covered the adverse effects of reduced sleep on immunity or the nervous system (learning, thinking, alertness, reaction time, memory, reasoning skill, creativity, emotional state, etc.)!

The next time you find yourself dozing at work and then dragging yourself into the gym to dedicate time, energy, and effort into training, take a step back and look at your sleep habits. Not only the time you go to bed and the hours that you allow yourself sweet slumber, but also the activities you do that may affect falling asleep or sleep quality. Alcohol, screen time before bed, even the timing of the last meal impacts and identifying these patterns increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the number one recovery tool. And also ask yourself if pushing through the fatigue to train will ultimately produce a positive effect; it may very well be that going home and getting to bed earlier may be the best use of your time.


Bennington, V. (2017, September 08). How Sleep Deprivation Fries Your Hormones, Your Immune System, and Your Brain. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from

Knutson, K. L. (2007). Impact of Sleep and Sleep Loss on Glucose Homeostasis and Appetite Regulation. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 2(2), 187-197. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2007.03.004

Leproult, R., & Cauter, E. V. (2009). Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss in Hormonal Release and Metabolism. Pediatric Neuroendocrinology Endocrine Development, 11-21. doi:10.1159/000262524

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2018, from

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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