Sleep: The Cornerstone Of Your Health Foundation

In our journey to construct the most robust, resilient, and unbreakable foundation to reach our health and fitness goals we have so far touched on the topics of stress and recovery. The final topic we will cover in the next few posts will be sleep.

While stress management and recovery are important pieces of your health and fitness foundation, sleep is certainly the cornerstone.


If your sleep is not good it negatively impacts your fitness or health goals. Sleep is a key piece of both stress management and recovery. In addition, fitness, nutrition, stress, and recovery all impact sleep. Everything is a two way street, but as we will see we can buffer stress, lack of recovery, poor nutrition, and too much or too little fitness…however our capability to deal with poor sleep is not very good.

Lack of sleep is probably the ultimate stressor on the body. Without proper sleep some pretty bad things can start to happen. The official record for the longest time without sleep is held by Randy Gardner who stayed awake for 11 days [1]! Here is a summary of what started happening to Randy over the course of the 11 days.

  • Day 2: Difficulty focusing eyes and signs of astereognosis (difficulty recognizing objects only by touch).
  • Day 3: Moodiness, some signs of ataxia (inability to repeat simple tongue twisters).
  • Day 4: Irritability and uncooperative attitude, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. Gardner’s first hallucination was that a street sign was a person, followed by a delusional episode in which he imagined that he was a famous black football player.
  • Day 5: More hallucinations (e.g., seeing a path extending from the room in front of him down through a quiet forest). These were sometimes described as “hypnagogic reveries” since Gardner recognized, at least after a short while, that the visions were illusionary in nature.
  • Day 6: Speech slowing and difficulty naming common objects.
  • Day 7 and 8: Irritability, speech slurring and increased memory lapses.
  • Day 9: Episodes of fragmented thinking; frequently beginning, but not finishing, his sentences.
  • Day 10: Paranoia focused on a radio show host who Gardner felt was trying to make him appear foolish because he was having difficulty remembering some details about his vigil.
  • Day 11: Expressionless appearance, speech slurred and without intonation; had to be encouraged to talk to get him to respond at all. His attention span was very short and his mental abilities were diminished. In a serial sevens test, where the respondent starts with the number 100 and proceeds downward by subtracting seven each time, Gardner got back to 65 (only five subtractions) and then stopped. When asked why he had stopped he claimed that he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to be doing.

By day 4 things were getting pretty ugly. Things got so bad that the Guinness Book Of World Records outlawed trying to break the record after Randy’s attempt.

Everyone has experienced what it is like to have a poor night’s sleep.

Think of how you feel the day after?

How do you function cognitively?

How do you perform physically?

What is your mood like?

How is your hunger?

How is your decision making?

Those are the obvious subjective effects of poor sleep, it doesn’t even begin to address the objective markers of our physiology impacted by poor sleep.

It is pretty clear to see how sleep can affect your stress management and recovery. When you don’t get sleep, you can begin to put enough stress on your health foundation to take down your nutrition and fitness goals in a relatively short period of time.

While sleep is certainly something that is natural to us, many people seem to struggle with it today.

Almost half of Americans say they feel sleepy during the day[2] and 35.6% of the US population gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night [3].

This is significant because getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night is associated with an increase in all cause mortality [4].

If you have fitness or nutrition related goals, a lack of sleep can easily derail them.

We tend to see sleep duration correlate with intake of calories as well as specific nutrients [5].

The graphs above represent calories consumed during sleep deprivation based on a person’s average sleep duration. In other words, if you get more sleep on average and then experience a day with less sleep you will tend to consume less calories.

On the fitness side of things it has been shown that sleep can imair many aspects of athletic performance [6].

Trying to make fitness gains with a lack of sleep can be an uphill battle. You are weaker, more prone to getting injured, will have problems focusing, and make poor decisions.

So sleep not only plays a key role in our stress management and recovery capabilities, but it makes it nearly impossible to keep our diet in check and make progress in our fitness.

If sleep is so natural to humans, we have been doing it since before we were human, why do a vast majority of us struggle with it so much?

A vast majority of sleep issues stem from an environmental mismatch.

Understanding why we are suffering from poor sleep is the first step to understanding how we can address the problem, so in my next post we will look at some common environmental mismatches which are causing a lot of sleep issues today. To be the first to know when that post comes available be sure to sign up for my newsletter using the form below.

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  1. (1998, March 1). Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency – Psychiatric Times. Retrieved July 25, 2022, from
  2. (2022, May 13). Sleep Statistics – Facts and Data About Sleep 2022 | Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
  3. (n.d.). Epidemiology of insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
  4. (n.d.). Sleep duration and risk of all-cause mortality: A flexible, non-linear …. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from
  5. (n.d.). Habitual sleep duration predicts caloric and macronutrient intake …. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from
  6. (n.d.). Sleep and Athletic Performance: Impacts on Physical … – PubMed. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from

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