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The Effects of Poor Sleep on Weight-Loss

Matt Skeffington

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Sep 16 7 minutes read

Let's start with a question.

What would you say is the most important component to improving your health and losing weight?

Many of us would go with some kind of answer surrounding exercise or better nutrition.

What if I were to tell you improving your health, living longer, losing weight, and drastically improving your energy all starts with your sleep!

Imagine that getting the right amount of consistent sleep can actually add years to your life, where as consistently not getting enough sleep will actually take years off your life.

Yes, it's that important.

Think of sleep as the world's greatest, all-natural performance enhancing drug -- like a steroid that reverses the aging process.

It builds muscle and shreds fat.

It increases our longevity.

It keeps us from getting sick. 

It gives us more energy than caffeine ever could. 

It significantly improves our workout performance.

It improves our cognitive function like memory, learning, and productivity.

It allows us to make better choices surrounding our health, exercise, and nutrition. (Yes, a lack of sleep makes it more likely you'll decide to skip that workout or eat that dessert you would normally avoid!)

Sleep also puts us in a better mood!

Now who doesn't want all of that?!

Well you can have it and we're going to take you through how to do just that.

But first, let's talk about how poor sleep impacts our health and weight loss.

1| Appetite and weight gain

The amount and quality of our sleep has a big impact on two important hormones for regulating how much food we eat.

Those hormones are leptin and ghrelin (also known as the hunger hormones).

Leptin is distributed in proportion to our fat cells. The more body-fat we have, the more leptin is produced.

This also means when we decrease body-fat, leptin decreases.

As a result of a decrease in leptin, your body is signaled to burn less calories and to be hungrier. Your body does that to keep you in a balanced state.

Poor sleep also decreases leptin which as we stated above, makes you feel hungrier throughout the day.

Ghrelin is a hormone that increases our appetite before we eat. It's actually what signals your brain that it's time to eat.

For those of us who eat at consistent times of the day, ghrelin increases at those times.

A lack of sleep keeps ghrelin chronically elevated though.

Simply put, poor sleep causes us to feel hungrier than normal, causing us to overeat and increase weight-gain.

On top of that, poor sleep also effects our decision making skills.

It makes it more likely you're going to overeat with high-calorie, processed foods, adding fuel to the fire.

In review: poor sleep = increased appetite + overeating + poor food choices + our bodies burn less calories ---> Talk about a recipe for weight-gain!

Research has shown that people who sleep less than 6 hours of sleep per night gain on average twice as much weight as those who sleep 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping less than 7 hours per night significantly increases your risk of obesity. 

How about sleeping too much?

While it may be less common, sleeping on average more than 9 hours per night show similar weight gain outcomes to the people sleeping less than 6 hours! 

2| Immune function and disease prevention

Looking to increase the frequency and duration of your illnesses?

Ready for a long winter of catching colds and the flu?

Sleep less.

When we sleep, our bodies produce and release important disease fighting and anti-inflammatory proteins and anti-bodies.

Poor sleep decreases this release, making it harder to protect your body from illness and recover from them.

Beyond illness, a lack of sleep plays a large impact on your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and as we stated earlier, obesity. 

3| Decreased muscle

Let's take a look at a recent study looking at the effects of weight-loss and sleep.

Researches divided participants into two groups, but each group was put on the same calorie deficit diet depending on their current weight.

The difference was that one group was allowed less sleep than the other during the study (5.5 hour vs. 8.5 hour per night).

At the end of the study, each group lost the same amount of weight which we would expect as they were both put on the same diet.

There was one big difference between the two groups though.

The group that got less sleep lost 80% of their weight from their fat-free mass or muscle, not their fat.

This is exactly what we don't want when we diet and are looking to lose weight. We want the weight loss to come from fat-loss while maintaining our lean mass.

The group that got the extra sleep saw only 17% of their weight loss from muscle.

Maintaining muscle is crucial for your overall health and longevity. 

So how much sleep should we aim to get and how to do we improve our sleep?

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

Keep in mind that improving your sleep, like anything, takes time. 

Start slow and aim for small wins to build momentum and a routine.  

Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep and feel your best!

1. Be consistent

Try to stay in the routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Going to bed late or sleeping in on the weekends can disrupt your weekday sleep.

2. Exercise during the day or morning

Exercising very late at night elevates your stress hormones and can make it hard to fall asleep. 

3. Limit caffeine later in the day

Caffeine can stay in your system for the entire day. Limit your intake of caffeine after 12pm to avoid it impacting your ability to fall and stay asleep at night. 

4. Turn off electronics in your room

The light from your electronics (phone, tv, gaming systems, etc) will signal your brain to stay awake and make it harder to fall asleep. The light from electronics also decreases the release of your very important sleep hormone - melatonin. So keep them off and out of the bedroom! 

5. Read a book or mediate before bed

Calm your mind and get into a relaxed state with a book or mediation. These are also great alternatives for your usual technology-filled nighttime routine! 

6. Make your room as dark as possible

This will signal your body that it's time for bed. Turn off the TV and any other lights. Black-out shades work great as well. 

7. Use a background noise

Try adding some light noise like a fan to help you fall asleep. While some people swear by this, other people find background noise to be distracting so be sure to find what works for you! 

8. Make your room temperature cool

A room temperature between 66 and 70 degrees F works well. A room that is too hot or too cold will make it difficult to fall or stay asleep.

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