Can’t figure out why it’s so difficult to erase those extra pounds? It’s quite possible that you’re suffering from sleep deprivation, the hidden saboteur of millions of people’s fat loss efforts. Weight loss gurus often make the sleep-fat loss connection, pointing out that not getting enough sleep can hurt your hormonal balance, kill your workouts, encourage overeating, and even mess up your body composition.
Yet we tend to discard these warnings, believing that sleep isn’t as important as diet and exercise, and we even take pride in our ability to pull an all-nighter and show up at work the next morning. But sleep deprivation has a price, and over time, the ever-increasing sleep debt, whose first target is the metabolism, can cause significant fat accumulation and numerous other health problems.
Read the article below to learn more about it.
In the 1960s, the average amount of sleep for Americans was 8 hours. Today it’s down to 6.5 hours, with up to 30% of middle-aged Americans reporting that they get less than 6 hours of sleep every night. What gives? Have we lost sight of the importance of sleep?
Well, that too. But also, that’s a result of the emphasis on productivity in modern society which pressures workers to work longer hours and take work home, while the stressfulness of everyday life has increased together with the increased difficulty of balancing between work, child rearing, pleasure and socialization. We simply have so much stuff to do that something has to suffer, and for most people sleep is the first thing on the list of potential sacrifices.
Then, as we notice our expanding waistlines and impaired health and start thinking about getting fitter and healthier, we only think of ways to improve our diet and physical activity – rarely our sleeping pattern. Unfortunately, what we don’t understand is that sleep has a direct impact on our appetite and hunger regulation, along with regulating a variety of other bodily functions that contribute to optimal health and well-being. Since no amount of exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on fitness and health, it’s time to become fully conscious of our sleeping habits and change them in a way that can powerfully support our fitness goals.
Here’s a good example. One 2010 study that aimed to investigate the relationship between sleep and body fat included 10 overweight men and women who slept either 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours per night, while being on the same strict calorie-deficit diet. Since both groups ate the same diet, they lost about the same amount of weight. However, the group that slept 8.5 hours per night lost more fat, while the group that got only 5.5 hours of sleep lost more lean body mass. So if you really care about sculpting a lean and firm body, sleeping more is one of the best (and cheapest) investments you can make to accelerate your efforts.
Why Less Sleep Equals More Fat
Lack of sleep is an important piece of the obesity puzzle – multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation changes the way your cells respond to insulin and makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Other studies that have explored the link between lack of sleep and hunger hormones found that after four days of sleeping only four hours a night, men had increased levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and women had lower levels of leptin, a hormone that signals satiety, so both sexes had a bigger risk of weight gain.
Hunger and appetite are two distinct phenomena: the first stems from the body’s need to obtain nutrients, while the second refers to the mental desire to eat, regardless of the physical aspect of whether your body really needs food or not. And lack of sleep can completely distort the relation between these two. One small study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sleep-deprived people consume 300 more calories per day than people who get enough sleep.
In fact, according to the results reported by a study presented at this year’s Endocrine Society national meeting, getting just 30 minutes less than the normal amount of sleep per weekday can significantly increase your risk of obesity and diabetes. The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your appetite, and the harder it is to choose the salad over the bag of potato chips.
You’ve probably noticed that whenever you’re wiped out, you tend to reach for the easiest option that will bring you instant pleasure, like salty, high-fat processed foods or sugar-loaded desserts. That makes perfect sense since the body is desperately trying to increase serotonin production to make you feel better and “bad foods” are great for stimulating a short-term neurochemical reaction. To make matters worse, science tells us that fatigued people are more inclined to eat energy-dense meals in the late evening than people who get enough quality sleep, which contributes to weight gain.
However, the issue is not only about cases of severe lack of sleep, like surviving an entire week with only 4-5 hours of sleep per night. More often, it’s the less severe but more chronic lack of sleep that has the greatest impact on weight. This was documented by a study that compared 10 men who got 7.5 hours of sleep per night and 10 men who got 6 hours of sleep per night over the course of 3 weeks and found that the men who slept less lost more weight than the others during the first week, but for the next two weeks their weight continued to increase.
So How Much Sleep Do You Need?
You already know the answer to this one, don’t you?
For decades now, scientists and experts from all branches of knowledge insist that average adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to function optimally. When you are chronically sleep-deprived, you are hurting your metabolic health, cardiovascular health, cognitive power and memory, athletic performance, and the list goes on… but most importantly for this article, you will have a really, really hard time (as if it isn’t hard enough already) building your ideal body.
Don’t let fatigue become the number one enemy of your fitness goals – spending an hour or two more in the sack every night is the easiest way to help your dieting efforts and gym sessions do their magic. Start tonight!