“All you need is more sleep, and you will lose 10 pounds, easily” – Overheard at the airport.
Yes, I was eavesdropping. I can’t help it. Every time I’m in a public place, and hear people talking about fitness or nutrition topics I become intrigued. How do you think I come up with half of my article topics?
I ESPECIALLY tune in where I hear people talking about fads, guru logic, and quick fixes. Part of me wants to interject and save them from their own demise, but more importantly, it is essential as a fitness and nutrition professional to know what the average person is hearing about health through the pop media sources.
When I heard this person say the previously mentioned sleep line, I started instantly internally debating the topic. Can more sleep, in itself, lead to fat loss? Maybe…but highly unlikely from JUST adding more sleep.
However, sleep IS very crucial to optimal fat loss, performance, and well-being. It can oftentimes be a missing piece of the puzzle when everything else seems to be in check.
Will Getting More Sleep Alone Lead to Fat Loss?
Short answer, NO. A caloric deficit will lead to fat loss. However, there may be some less obvious added benefits of getting enough sleep…
From a hormonal standpoint:
Studies have shown that when sleep is deprived, less than 6 hours per night, the bodies levels of ghrelin increase. Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, plays a huge role in how much we eat, and thus overall caloric consumption. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin and thus makes us want to eat more.
From a Captain Obvious Standpoint:
This may be a no brainer, but we also cannot eat when we are sleeping – thus less time for caloric consumption. We have all had those nights,
drunkenly mindlessly eating popcorn, chips, ice cream…just because. Or is it because we are tired, but really need to see how the re-run of “Naked and Afraid” ends? (spoiler – they get out okay 90% of the time, still naked, lose 10-20 pounds, and get some arbitrary number increase in Primal Survival Rating (PSR))
By staying awake 2-3 hours longer than we probably should, we are leaving the door wide open for more mindless caloric consumption.
From a body composition standpoint:
In a very interesting study done in 2010, researchers found that when overweight participants were put on a hypo-caloric diet (only 1450 calories per day) for 2 weeks, they lost the SAME amount of WEIGHT (6.6 pounds!) regardless of sleep (Group A averaged 7.5 hours, Group B averaged 5.25 hours).
HOWEVER! The adequate sleep group lost 3.1 pounds of fat and 3.3 pounds of muscle, while the sleep-deprived group lost 1.3 pounds of fat, and 5.3 pounds of muscle.
The takeaways of this small study are:
- Losing 6 pounds in 2 weeks is very fast, and will likely result in some muscle loss… (no bueño)
- More importantly to this article, sleep deprivation can inhibit fat loss, and lead to more muscle loss.
- This may be due to the importance of sleep, and it’s relation with growth hormone production, and thus muscle protein synthesis and muscle anabolism aka #GAINZ
From an exercise standpoint:
To be blunt, when you are sleep deprived, you can’t perform at your best during workouts. When you can’t perform your best you run into:
- Fewer calories burned
- Increased risk for injuries
- Increased risk for even more burnout
When you aren’t getting the most out of your workouts, you aren’t stimulating your muscle to maximal potential and thus priming it for development. More muscles = higher metabolic rate = more fat burning at rest, and throughout the day (see above in regards to GH, muscle protein synthesis).
From a short-term standpoint, it’s just harder to get amped up for a workout when you are tired and feel like napping instead!
So going back to the line, “All you need is more sleep, and you will lose 10 pounds, easily”.
Is this true? Maybe.
Is sleep important for fat loss and reaching your desired body composition. Heck yes!
While it may not be as simple as JUST getting more sleep, it may be the missing piece of the puzzle, that will lead to more pieces nicely falling into place (less mindless snacking, more intense workouts, more muscle gain.)
Get your sleep, make it a priority, and no, coffee is not one of the main food groups.
How Do We Accomplish This Challenge?
Like anything else worth improving upon, we must start with the unsexy basics.
In a world of sleep pills, light blockers, therapy lamps, and other “bio-hacks”, so many people ignore the basics and jump to the easy fixes. Well, just like fat-loss pills and skinny tea’s – the hacks don’t work as well without a solid foundation of the basics.
Reverse Engineer A Consistent Routine.
For those of us with kids, we all know how important a routine is. With a toddler, all it takes is one night of allowing them to do something different and the routine can be thrown off for days.
As adults, we hate having routines because we feel like we are above them, but we are not. We need them now more than ever.
If we know need 7-8 hours of sleep as adults, it’s quite simple to create your ideal routine.
You know what time you need to wake up. So figure out 7-8 hours before that, and thats when you need to be asleep – not in bed, not thinking about sleep – actually asleep.
Wake up: 6 AM —–> Asleep between 10 and 11 PM
Next, we need to focus on our winddown.
Digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate all play a role. If we eat too close to bedtime, our body is still physically trying to digest food, and thus can throw off our sleep hormone production.
Avoid eating 2-3 hours before going to sleep.
10-11PM – 2-3 = No food after 7-8pm
Slow your heart rate and breath down as well. Avoid doing strenuous things prior to bed. Be honest with yourself – can this wait until tomorrow or the weekend? It most likely can.
Also, make sure your room is as dark and cool as possible. Blackout curtains and a cool 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit is where you want it. Your bedroom is your cave. It’s for sleeping and sex only (more on this to come).
Mentally Wind Down
Here is a tough one these days.
Everyone is swimming in triggered soup before bed. Even if you are the type of person who makes fun of the easily offended, or outraged – you are probably doing much of the same within your own safe-space echo chamber.
Even if you are watching the news, reading news or late-night talking heads that you agree with – you are probably getting fired up.
Turn it off. Block it out. On the TV, on the phone, in your books – it’s not helping.
Don’t read or watch things that are too mentally stimulating either. The last thing you want to do is read a book before bed that has you questioning your entire investment strategy.
Hormonally Wind Down (or Up)
Some hormones help us sleep. Some don’t.
Phones and other digital screens emit blue light, blocking the production of the hormone melatonin, which creates our “go to sleep” alarm. And no, it’s not as simple as just supplementing with melatonin. Your natural production is like the finest tap of pure, 100%, uncut good stuff.
Cut your screen time 1-2 hours before bed.
Phones off by 8-9 PM.
Here’s the first bio-hack – you CAN block some of the blue light with blue blocker glasses, but just like taking melatonin supplements, it’s not a perfect cure-all.
Need some hormonal help sleeping?
Have sex. Having an orgasm has a huge sedative effect on most people. It triggers a rush of endorphins and other hormones towards the same part of your brain that regulates your arousal and your sleep-wake cycle. Endorphins are hormones that make you feel great and drop your cortisol level usually related to stress.
Cut the Bandaid Approach
Living off caffeine all day, using alcohol to wind down, and reaching for bottles of over the counter sleep supplements are bandaids over bullet holes.
If you need caffeine all day, you NEED to prioritize your sleep and get into a routine ASAP.
You should not be drinking any caffeine within 5-6 hours of bedtime.
Alcohol does not help you sleep better. It may feel like it, but all it takes is one look at a sleep tracker to realize that even a drink or two can strongly inhibit quality sleep, especially deep sleep.
The night on the left was a night were a few cocktails were had.
You can see, I was in bed for 8 hours and 41 minutes but only was asleep for 6 hours and 27 minutes. Super low REM sleep, and SUPER low Deep sleep. All, not good things.
Taking sleep aids, like melatonin, magnesium, and other sleep boosters – CAN help. However, if you are not addressing the BIG ROCKS first, they will have minimal benefit.
What would I recommend if you want to go all-in?
Again, for the third time, taking supplements will not make a huge difference if you don’t address the bigger issues like schedule, routine, and environment.
Start reverse engineering your sleep schedule now, and stick to it. This is not something that will change overnight, but like all the other un-sexy, non-quick fixes when it comes to health – it takes time and consistency.
If you need help getting started, look no further than online coaching. Training and nutrition! Let me help you find the best plan for you – from anywhere in the world.
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