In a recent British GQ profile, Canadian singer Shawn Mendes shared that at certain points during his rise to superstardom, he was cutting his sleep short in order to hit the gym. “Some days I would have three hours of sleep, [because] I’d get up two hours early just to be able to work out,” he said. He couldn’t shake the feeling that, “If you don’t work out, you’re going to lose fans.”
As a Calvin Klein model during this time, and a pop star who, for better or worse, was bequeathed the heartthrob mantle from Justin Bieber and One Direction, Mendes felt a responsibility to reach the “pinnacle of fitness.” He spent years bettering his body, rest be damned, all while writing songs, performing shows, and sleeping in hotel rooms across the world.
The pandemic changed things. While hunkered down with girlfriend Cabilla Cabello, he started to address his mental health, instead of just his biceps. After talks with Cabello, plus extensive meditation, journaling, and laundry, Mendes has found some peace. He recently said, “…taking that extra few hours of sleep, instead of waking up to pump iron, is a better choice sometimes.”
He’s right. And that truth goes well beyond his journey. If the body positivity comeback story of a well-endowed celebrity doesn’t do much for you, remember this lesson: it’s not worth skipping sleep in order to work out more. The science roundly suggests this is actually a self-defeating approach. Just a single night of sleep deprivation negatively affects workout performance. Meanwhile, prioritizing good, consistent sleep allows muscles to recover. It produces hormone that helps them grow. And it boosts mood, which can boost motivation, which can lead to better, more-focused workouts.
Mendes deserves some credit for honoring those crushingly early alarms every day. But in the long run — as he discovered — skipping sleep undermines the mind and body. And fascinatingly, while bad sleep leads to bad workouts, good workouts often lead to good sleep. Exercise releases a chemical called adenosine, which makes us feel sleepy. That’s why it’s easier to fall asleep after a day with a long run or long lift. The key is just to place that work out at a time in the day that makes sense.