It sounds too good to be true, right? Like one of those late night infomericals selling little more than empty promises.
I can’t promise you that just by sleeping more, you’ll lose weight. You still have to do the hard work of making better food choices and doing your workouts daily. What I can guarantee however, is that based on the research, if you are not sleeping well, you are missing an important key to fat loss success.
A 2010 study in the Annuals of Internal Medicine found that participants who got less sleep, an average of 5.5 hours a night, were hungrier during the day, lost more lean tissue and less fat tissue, despite also eating less food, then participants who slept an average of 8.5 hours a night.
How exactly does a lack of sleep stall weight loss efforts? Glad you asked! Let’s look at a couple of mechanisms at play here.
- Elevated cortisol. A lack of sleep is perceived as a stress by the body, causing our good old stress hormone, cortisol, to be secreted. Elevated cortisol over prolonged time periods will lead to increased abdominal adiposity (fat) and will also cause our bodies to catabolize our lean muscle tissue in order to make sugars to feed brain tissue. Like the participants in the study mentioned above, when we are sleep deprived, we will tend to lose lean muscle tissue instead of fat tissue, which is what we are all trying to get rid of when we say we want to lose ‘weight.’ Chronic sleep debt is also correlated with low-grade chronic inflammation, which can also stall weight loss.
- Poor food choices. Several studies have shown that when we are sleep-deprived, we make poorer food choices. We have a much harder time resisting the fat, sugar and calorie laden foods that block our fat loss efforts then we are well-rested.
- Lack of recovery. Exercise is a stress, albeit, a positive one, but only if we can recover from it. When we exercise, we actually breakdown muscle tissue and in response to this, the body repairs itself, but does a better job this time around in order to handle a bigger stress in the future. This is why muscles get bigger when we use them! However, this favorable adaptation happens when we rest, in between bouts of exercise. Most people know for instance, that you shouldn’t lift legs two days in a row, but if you’re not sleeping well, you may need even more time to recover in between workouts. Pushing too hard too soon when you are under-slept can slow your progress, increase your risk of injury and even lead eventually to adrenal fatigue or burn-out.
- Hormone dysregulation. All that cortisol running around because you’re stressed out and not sleeping enough, can be toxic to certain types of cells in the brain. For instance, too much cortisol will kill off neurons in the hippocampus, which not only converts your short-term memories in to long-terms ones, but also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle in the first place. If you’re starting to forget little things you use to remember, or are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, this part of your brain may be affected. Cortisol can also impact your hypothalamus’s ability to regulate other hormones, such as thyroid hormone (controls metabolism), sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone as well as hormones that regulate appetite like insulin, leptin and gherlin.
As you work towards a healthier, fitter you, don’t forget to schedule time for plenty of sleep. Make it part of your routine, just like you do with your workout. Plan for a minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep a night. In this post, I’ll talk about some things to do if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s rest.
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