Having a newborn is hard. Feeding, changing, soothing, trying to figure out what the hell you are doing are all challenging. Yet, I honestly thought one of the hardest things about having a newborn baby was the lack of sleep. I was very lucky as Caleb was a fairly good sleeper early on but I was still getting up every 2-3 hours to feed him. I have always liked my sleep but I do not think I realized how much the lack of sleep could and would affect me. I remember a few weeks into this whole ‘parenting’ thing and I asked my best friend how people deal with the lack of sleep and she said, ‘you just get used to it.’ Which was eventually true but oh, those first 6 weeks were so hard. Getting used to little sleep is not ideal for your health but as all moms know, you just do it. Regardless if you have a newborn baby, do not prioritize sleep or have a hard time getting enough sleep, know that sleep can affect your metabolism, energy levels, hunger levels and more.
Again, blessed with a fairly good sleeper, Caleb was sleeping ‘through’ the night (through the night in my book equals 5-6 hours straight) since he was about 4 months old. I know, we were VERY lucky. This of course has not been every single night from 4 months of age to now. He has gone through stages of waking up in the middle of the night. Sometimes just has rough weeks, sometimes does not sleep well when he is not feeling well, teething or when we travel or for whatever the reason for the last 2 weeks he has been waking up at 3 am for just a few minutes, long enough to wake me up :). So though I thought once he was sleeping through the night, I would be granted with 8 hours of blissful sleep every night until the next baby, this was far from true! I have learned that I will probably not sleep as soundly as I once did until my kids are in college. Not to mention, I was an incredibly light sleeper before kids and am even more so now that I am always on the alert in case he wakes up or I often check the monitor when I wake up in the middle of the night. Moving him to a toddler bed was definitely a few weeks of fairly sleeplessness nights due to the fact, I was terrified he was going to come into our room and scare the living crap out of me.
So as I prepare for BB2 in the next few weeks and back to the routine of getting up every few hours, I started thinking about how everything seems so much harder when you are exhausted, especially working out. Though working out can give you energy, pretty much the last thing you want to do when you are exhausted is expend energy exercising. Though I am going to try to not put too much pressure on myself to lose the baby weight right away, I know that I will want to lose weight and exercise will make me feel better. But with the importance of sleep, which is better for fat loss, sleep or working out?
Puberty, pregnancy/post-natal and menopause are the biggest hormonal changes and shifts in a women’s life. Your hormones are all over the place and most women feel this both physically and mentally. Dr. Jade Teta, one of my mentors from Metabolic Effect, a natural health, fitness and fat loss company and who is extremely educated in biochemistry and hormonal balance states just how important sleep is for balancing hormones.
“Sleep quantity is one of the most important considerations in balancing hormones. Every night your body goes through its rhythm of hormonal computing to repair, regenerate, and revitalize the tissues of the body. This process is complicated and takes time. This hormonal balance is not only necessary for you to feel your best but can actually impact your fat loss efforts. Leptin, cortisol, insulin, and adrenaline are lowered. This allows the body to be able to hear the signals of these hormones once again reversing hormone resistance. Hormone resistance is a negative state in the body that occurs when the wrong hormones are around at very high levels for very long times.”
He continues “Just like walking into a room with a strong smell, eventually the body can no longer “hear” and react to the signals being sent. While the negative hormonal signals are turned down, glucagon, HGH, testosterone, and other growth promoting, fat burning and antioxidant hormones like melatonin are elevated. The combination of this hormonal environment puts you in a fat burning, anti-aging, and growth state. However, this process takes time while the body slowly switches from fat storing to fat burning. The longer you sleep the more likely you are to make that switch and enjoy several hours of fat burning. People sleeping less than 8 hours a night may never reach fat burning mode at all. For the most effective sleep 9 hours is closer to ideal.”
I definitely know from experience that when I do not sleep well that I am hungrier and often crave sugary and starchy foods. Why? Well, because when we are tired, we are looking for an energy boost. Sugary and starchy foods are going to give us a much quicker energy boost (and at that moment the brain and body does not care about the crash later) than protein and vegetables. So we naturally want something sugary. I also know I am more irritable and have less patience when exhausted.
So for optimal fat loss should you get up and work out or sleep in? Ideally, you should get 8 hours of sleep, hopefully wake-up rested and workout. But we all know that does not happen every day regardless if you have young kids at home. Like many things in the fitness world I do not think there is a black and white answer to this question. There is also a big difference between fatigue and pure exhaustion. If you wake up and can literally, barely pull yourself out of bed then maybe the sleep would be more beneficial. Think about the past week. Have you had some really hard workouts or stressful days? Then the extra sleep will most likely be best for your body. Have you not worked out all week and have gotten a fairly good amount of sleep throughout the week? Then the workout might actually give you the boost you need.
But what about if you have a newborn and cannot get 8 hours and are getting up every 2-3 hours. Then again, I would do what feels best. If you were able to get some solid sleep between feedings and feel ‘fairly’ rested then I would try to get in a workout, even if it is a walk and some body weight exercises. If you were up literally every hour and just got the baby to sleep and have a few extra hours, then by all means sleep. Dr. Teta states “Don’t stress if this amount of sleep is impossible the good news is that research shows a 10 minute nap and even 5 minutes of meditation can undo many of the negative metabolic consequences of sleep.”
Regardless if you are not sleeping well from young kids or just having a period of restless sleep, your workouts can be compromised if you are so exhausted that you cannot put forth any amount of real effort. Yes, every workout is not going to be super-duper awesome everyday but the majority of time, exercise should make you feel better not worse. If you slog through a workout and are so exhausted the rest of the day that your cravings are out of control, you can basically undo your workout by consuming more calories for the energy boost you are seeking. Dr. Teta’s sums it up with “if you don’t sleep and you don’t nap and you try to run marathons at the same time, you are screwed.”
So though I hated the advice ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ as I felt like I should be doing anything but sleeping like showering, laundry and trying to eat something, do not underestimate the power of sleep, even in small increments. I cannot stand the pride so many people put on lack of sleep in this country. “I only sleep 5 hours a night and I get so much done blah, blah.” When did the least amount of sleep become a trophy winning competition? Sleep is so good for you physically and mentally, so next time when you have an extra 20 minutes with nothing to do, which I know can be rare, do not feel guilty taking a nap or sleeping a little longer, it can actually improve your fat loss efforts.
I would love to hear how other mamas managed the lack of sleep during those challenging first months or years 🙂 of parenting.