Although sleep isn’t as sexy as the latest pre workout or training technique, research proves it is just as important as exercise and nutrition.
Even with a bad diet you can live to 70 years old or longer, yet the chances are you couldn’t last more than 10 days without sleep (the world record is 11 days!).
Studies have shown that poor sleep is one of the biggest risk factors in heart disease and plays an integrative role in obesity 1.
If you don’t get enough sleep it will also affect your physique, making it harder to lose fat, improve performance, and build muscle2.
The amount and quality of our sleep has declined over the last 2 decades3. Considering this change in sleep habits, coupled with a decrease in activity and an increase in the consumption of processed, energy dense foods, it is no wonder obesity rates have sky rocketed.
While embarking on a totally new diet may be a big step, getting an extra hour’s sleep per night is achievable for most people.
This article will breakdown the research on sleep for fat loss, demonstrating the numerous benefits a good night’s sleep will provide.
How Sleep Can Lead to Fat Gain
Although the definition varies from study to study, less than 8 – 9 hours is classed as inadequate or lack of sleep4. There are numerous ways that poor sleep can impact weight gain. These vary from specific alterations in your metabolism to general fatigue, which can affect lifestyle and dietary decisions throughout the day.
Research has highlighted these key mechanisms behind poor sleep and weight gain:
Increased Fatigue: Leading to reduced physical activity and calorie expenditure5.
Brain Alterations: It may also have neurological effects on the brain which increase calorie intake6.
Increase Ghrelin Levels: Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. This may increase appetite making you eat more and harder to stick to a diet. One study found ghrelin increased by 28%6.
Decreased Leptin Levels: Leptin is the contrasting hormone to ghrelin. Leptin signals the brain you are full and to stop eating. When this decreases, you continue to eat, even if you aren’t hungry. One study found leptin decreased by 18%6.
Increase Processed Food Intake: Studies have shown your desire to eat calorie dense, high carbohydrate and fat meals increase. One study found a whopping 33% increase in desire to eat energy dense foods following a poor night’s sleep6.
Hunger & Appetite Increase: Accompanying the changes in hunger hormones, studies have shown that poor sleep increases both hunger and appetite6.
Decreased Exercise Performance: Along with reducing your desire to exercise, sleep can also reduce your performance in the gym. This may hinder muscle growth, output or total work / volume in a session. All of which are key for physique enhancement7.
Decrease Carbohydrate Metabolism: Poor sleep also alters how you handle glucose (blood sugar). This means you may store more fat from exactly the same meal8.
Decreased Insulin Sensitivity: Associated with the above, insulin sensitivity is linked with muscle growth, health, disease and fat loss. In short, research suggests the more insulin sensitive you are the more fat you will lose and muscle you will grow9.
Increased Opportunity to Eat: Although it sounds simplistic, if you are sleeping less on a daily basis you spend more time awake, which increases your opportunity to eat. This of course increases calorie and food intake, the key factor in weight gain4.
Reduced Immune Function: Even one night of altered or shortened sleep can reduce your immune function. This may cause you to get sick more often and make it harder to recover from training. Especially when dieting10.
Lower Testosterone Levels: Testosterone levels have rapidly declined in the modern man. Low testosterone is now a common health issue, linked mainly to poor lifestyle choices such as poor sleep. Low testosterone has been proven to increase fat gain and cause muscle loss!11.
Related: Top 10 Testosterone Boosting Foods
Increased Inflammation & Poor Gut Health: Poor sleep will also increase inflammation, linked to metabolic diseases and most other serious diseases. Furthermore, poor sleep will increase inflammation and alter the good bacteria in your gut. Gut health is a key factor in health, weight loss and muscle growth12.
As you can see, the mechanisms behind poor sleep and weight gain are compelling. All of these negatives can be addressed with regular, lengthy sleep which will aid weight loss.
For example, 8 hours plus of uninterrupted sleep can improve insulin sensitivity, hunger hormones, workout performance, decrease hunger / binging and aid gut health, all of which will help weight loss.
Methods To Improve Sleep
There are numerous strategies to improve sleep quality and length. Follow these simple tips to immediately improve your sleep quality and lose more weight:
Time Your Stimulants: Stop all stimulant use after mid afternoon (2-3pm). This includes caffeine, cigarettes and other stimulants / pre workouts.
Reduce Blue Light: Blue light exposure tricks your brain to think it is day time, eliminate all exposure in the late evening. This means shutting the laptop, phone, tablet and TV off at least 60 minutes before bed.
Block Blue Light: If you can’t go without modern technology, take these steps. Download Flux on your laptop, wear orange glasses and download apps on your phone / tablet (built in to IOS 9.3 for apple). All of these block the blue light on your devices.
Time Your Meals: Large meals before bed can alter circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep. In contrast, if you are hungry you may have a hard time getting to sleep. Try a light, high protein meal around 90 minutes before bed.
Be Consistent: Get into a regular bedtime routine. Set a goal to be in bed at the same time every night. This will improve sleep quality and make sure you consistently get enough sleep.
Exercise: Having a proper workout improves sleep quality and plays a key role in fat loss.
Read a Book: A popular go-to tool for improving sleep. Get into bed and start reading a book 30 minutes before you aim to be asleep.
Relax: Other forms of relaxation such as a warm bath, candles, music or writing in a journal / diary can also aid sleep.
Noise: Ensure your bedroom is free of loud disturbing noises.
Light: A dark room free of artificial lights such as the digital alarm clock, street lights or a TV standby dot can improve sleep.
Temperature: Ensure the temperature is set and consistent, a slightly cooler room may assist a good night’s sleep.
Add in Supplements: Consider one or more of the supplements listed below which may improve sleep and relaxation.
Supplements To Aid Sleep
There are several research backed supplements that can improve relaxation and sleep quality. Here are a few you may wish to consider, along with the appropriate dosing protocol and mechanisms of action.
1. Melatonin: Take 3 – 6 mg 30 mins before bed. Only use on occasions as you can build up a tolerance.13
2. Magnesium or ZMA: Magnesium may help relax the Central Nervous System (CNS) and provides many other benefits for an athlete. Try taking 300 – 500mg 30 mins before bed. ZMA may be a superior option due to the addition of Zinc and Vitamin B6.14
3. GABA: GABA acts as a depressive neurotransmitter that may help you relax. Try 500 – 1000 mg before bed.15
4. 5-HTP: This supplement works via increase serotonin which improves mood and may help you relax. Try 300mg before bed.16
Remember to test these supplements carefully and only try 1 supplement at a time. You should take appropriate lifestyle steps listed above to improve sleep rather than just relying on supplements. In fact, the lifestyle recommendations above will have a far greater effect on sleep than supplements alone.
As with every supplement, they are there to support your healthy lifestyle and not an excuse to solve poor lifestyle choices.
By combining all the points listed above with one of these supplements you should maximize sleep quality. As with all supplements check the label and consult with a medical expert before taking, especially if on anti-depressants as many of the above supplements alter your brain chemistry.
As you can see, sleep plays an integrative role in health, fat loss, performance and your physique. Sleep is an under-utilized tool for improving progress and fat loss. Although diet and training are key, most people have already optimized these areas, i.e. they train very well and eat sensibly on a daily basis.
In contrast, most people lack consistent and high quality sleep, making sleep improvement probably your biggest opportunity to optimize fat loss, muscle growth and health.
- Cappuccio, F. P., Cooper, D., D'Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2011). Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European heart journal, 32(12), 1484-1492.
- Di Milia, L., Vandelanotte, C., & Duncan, M. J. (2013). The association between short sleep and obesity after controlling for demographic, lifestyle, work and health related factors. Sleep medicine, 14(4), 319-323.
- Van Cauter, E., Knutson, K., Leproult, R., & Spiegel, K. (2005). The impact of sleep deprivation on hormones and metabolism. Medscape Neurol Neurosurg, 7(1)
- Patel, S. R., & Hu, F. B. (2008). Short sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity, 16(3), 643-653.
- Dinges, D. F., Pack, F., Williams, K., Gillen, K. A., Powell, J. W., Ott, G. E., ... & Pack, A. I. (1997). Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during aweek of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine.
- Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2004). Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of internal medicine, 141(11), 846-850.
- Goldman, S. E., Stone, K. L., Ancoli-Israel, S., Blackwell, T., Ewing, S. K., Boudreau, R., ... & Newman, A. B. (2007). Poor sleep is associated with poorer physical performance and greater functional limitations in older women. SLEEP-NEW YORK THEN WESTCHESTER-, 30(10), 1317.
- Van Leeuwen, W., Hublin, C., Sallinen, M., Härmä, M., Hirvonen, A., & Porkka-Heiskanen, T. (2010). Prolonged sleep restriction affects glucose metabolism in healthy young men. International journal of endocrinology, 2010.
- Spiegel, K., Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (1999). Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. The Lancet, 354(9188), 1435-1439.
- Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Alper, C. M., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Turner, R. B. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine, 169(1), 62-67.
- GRANATA, A. R., ROCHIRA, V., LERCHL, A., MARRAMA, P., & CARANI, C. (1997). Relationship between sleep‐related erections and testosterone levels in men. Journal of andrology, 18(5), 522-527.
- Ali, T., Choe, J., Awab, A., Wagener, T. L., & Orr, W. C. (2013). Sleep, immunity and inflammation in gastrointestinal disorders. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG, 19(48), 9231.
- Jan, J. E., Espezel, H., & Appleion, R. E. (1994). The treatment of sleep disorders with melatonin. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 36(2), 97-107.
- De Baaij, J. H., Hoenderop, J. G., & Bindels, R. J. (2015). Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiological reviews, 95(1), 1-46.
- Gottesmann, C. (2002). GABA mechanisms and sleep. Neuroscience, 111(2), 231-239.
- Wyatt, R. J., Zarcone, V., Engelman, K., Dement, W. C., Snyder, F., & Sjoerdsma, A. (1971). Effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan on the sleep of normal human subjects. Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, 30(6), 505-509.