More than 50% of our clients that sign up for our classes cite fat loss as their primary goal. Not all, mind you, but a sizeable chunk are unhappy with their body weight and look to us to help them shed the excess amount of weight they are carrying.
Usually, a good program in tune with their current fitness level and an accompanying eating regime focusing on nutrient density, whole foods, plenty of protein, fruit, and veg, is enough to get them going.
But not all the time.
We have some clients that seemingly put in the work – show up to class, tick all the boxes when it comes to their nutrition, and are still unable to experience any significant fat loss.
More often than not, the reason for this is sleep. Or lack thereof. Poor sleep quality and inadequate sleep are detrimental to your weight-loss goals. The hours of sleep you get impact your body’s ability to heal. How? Let’s get technical and see how we can sleep our way to fat loss.
The science-y bit
Insufficient sleep impacts our hunger hormones, ghrelin, and leptin. Ghrelin’s main role is to send hunger signals to the brain. Lack of adequate sleep messes with this signaling, making the body produce more ghrelin.
Leptin, on the other hand, cues your stomach that it’s reached full capacity. Without this, we will continue to eat, without feeling full (familiar with this?). With an insufficient amount of sleep, our leptin levels plummet. Result? You keep eating long past capacity, still feeling like there’s a hole in your belly – and your weight continues to climb.
When your hormones are off-kilter, your body will react in ways that will have you reaching for the comfort of junk food, leading to weight gain, and resulting in one vicious cycle.
Cortisol spikes from too little sleep
Another thing that happens when you don’t get enough sleep is that your body produces more of cortisol, the stress hormone. This happens later in the day, a time when cortisol should be tapering off.
You can guess what happens next. With heightened cortisol levels, your body holds onto fat so that it can provide you with energy/fuel during your waking hours.
This results in high-stress levels. And that part about your body holding on to fat.
Affects our cognitive skills
Apart from messing with our hormones, skimping on sleep affects our cognitive skills.
Did you know that sleep deprivation is an actual method of torture? POWs, enemy agents/spies etc are routinely prevented from sleeping, just so they will get desperate for sleep and spill the beans. The major international environmental disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil spill is linked to the Third Mate’s insufficient sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation decreases or dulls activity in the critical decision-making region of the brain – the frontal cortex. This is why sleep-deprived individuals are not able to stop making ill-advised decisions or poor food choices.
Plateau, here I come
Despite eating right and training hard, if your weight loss efforts haven’t borne fruit, lack of sleep is probably to blame. It is virtually impossible to see results if you are suffering from insufficient sleep.
So, get enough shut-eye and help your body break that fat loss plateau.
Now that we know what less sleep does to our body and our brain, the natural follow-up is – how to fix this?
You cannot go through the rest of your life not getting much sleep! Apart from being torturous, your poor quality sleep will result in many adverse health conditions – high blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and heart disease, to name a few. Those with sleep disorders run an increased risk of obesity, fluctuating blood sugar levels, and chronic stress.
New studies emerge daily, stressing the importance of sound sleep. These state clearly that 7 hours of sleep is the sweet spot. Get this and you are guaranteed good things.
Let’s see how you can.
Observe good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to the behavioral and environmental practices adopted by a person in order to get a good night’s rest. This includes going to sleep in a darkened room, that is quiet and neither too warm nor too cool. If a pitch-dark room is not possible – in instances where your partner has a different sleeping schedule or you have a baby – go in for a sleep mask to cover your eyes to filter the lights.
Adopt healthy sleep habits. Blue lights from your phone will mess with the quality of your sleep. But the good news is, putting it away at least 2 hours prior to bedtime will have a significant impact on your sleep cycles.
If you can adapt to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, you will be more in tune with your body.
Regular exercise for overall health
I know, the last thing your poor sleep-deprived soul wants to do is go out and exercise. But it is an irrefutable truth that physical activity is quintessential for our overall health. Of course, we do not want you lifting heavy weights and injuring yourself in your sleep-deprived state!
If you have access to a pool, a few laps in the evening will help drain the stress from your day and get you in good shape for a sound night’s sleep. Otherwise, even a short neighborhood walk would do.
Grab your willing partner or your playlist, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just walk.
Do this regularly enough, your body will fall into the rhythm. And better sleep will make you get in a better training session the next day.
Say no to unhealthy foods at bedtime
Food intake and sleep time do not go well together. The extra calories are just going to sit in your belly, increasing your body fat. Ideally, your last meal of the day should be a clear two hours before you hit the sack. This will make sure your digestive system can fire up and get going. Eating too close to bedtime might have a knock-on effect on the quality of sleep and in some cases, even result in ailments like heartburn.
There you have it, the negative effects of sleep deprivation on fat loss and your overall health, and what significant changes you can do to help yourself. Adopting these practices will have a positive impact on your health in the long term.
Go on, prioritize sleep today!