With the pressure of long working hours, endless digital entertainment at our fingertips and an increasing caffeine intake , it is no surprise sleep is on the decline. With a macho attitude of “work hard play hard”, our bodies, minds, disease prevention and even economy become affected by lack of sleep. With increasing evidence that sleep benefits almost every biological function in the body, it should not be taken lightly that you need to be getting enough.

Whilst I am not going to get into the socioeconomic effect sleep has on the nation, I am going to discuss sleep and it’s fundamental relationship with fat loss. If lower risks of mental health issues, cardiovascular diseases and death by driving aren’t enough to motivate you to get enough sleep , then maybe the vanity of getting a six pack will motivate you to prioritise sleep. There are a few reasons sleep should be high on your agenda if you are looking at losing a few pounds.  

Eating More Calories

Sleeping less has been directly linked to eating more calories. This is because sleep has a powerful impact on the hormones our bodies create, especially those related to hunger and appetite. The two hormones that I’m talking about are called leptin and ghrelin. Leptin decreases hunger and ghrelin increases hunger.

One study showed that after 2 days of sleep restriction (only 4 hours per night) ghrelin increased by 28% and decreased leptin by 18%. This in turn increased hunger by 24% and especially the desire for highly processed foods.  

A meta-analysis (a group of lots of studies) compared the results of 17 sleep studies. The results were clear. Those that had been deprived of sleep ate on average and extra 385 kcals. Over time, this could potentially lead to a large weight gain.

More Likely to Lose Muscle Than Fat

When you are trying to lose weight, you would ideally like most of this to come from body fat rather  than our muscles. There are a few methods we can use to try and keep hold of as much muscle as possible. Plenty of protein and weight training has been shown to have a big impact on muscle retention, but sleep also plays a big factor.

One study took two groups. One group slept for 8.5 whilst the other group slept for 5.5 hours per night. They were placed in a calorie deficit for 14 days and the results were interesting. The weight loss between the groups were exactly the same. The group that slept less loss 55% less fat and lost 60% more muscle than the group that slept longer. Keeping muscle during a diet should be the aim of the game, and it seems that sleep could play a very important role in that.

Shitty Choices of Food

When we are tired we don’t make sensible choices, especially when it comes to food. We are craving that little pick me up and buzz to get us through the day. Usually this involves foods that are higher in sugar, fats and salt (all the things that makes food delicious). Whilst there isn’t anything wrong with these types of foods, it usually doesn’t make our lives any easier. They are very easily over consumed and are normally much higher in calories than our usual choices.

This study shows that those that slept less than 7 hours a night were 25% less likely to be eating enough fruit and veg and 20% more likely to be eating fast food on a regular basis.

What can you do about it?

  1. Limit blue light near bed – Artificial light affects the release of melatonin in the body, especially blue light that emitted from LED lights (phone, TV, house lights). If you are in bed with your phone above 6 inches from your face right now, maybe it’s time to switch it off. Give yourself an hour or two before bed of no screen time to get the most benefits.
  2. Keep a set routine – Try and get to bed and get up at a similar time each day, even at the weekends. This can be tough, but with a few tweaks to your daily schedule this can be achieved most of the time.
  3. Give yourself 7-9 hours of sleep opportunity – Give yourself a chance to get as much sleep as you can. You may not be asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, but aim to give yourself between 7 and 9 hours in bed (not necessarily asleep).
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible – As I mentioned earlier, light has a big impact on your sleep. Avoid bright bedside clocks, phones flashing or neighbours security lights by investing in black out blinds or curtains.
  5. Keep the bedroom cool – Believe it or not, we actually require our body temperature to drop slightly to initiate sleep. This is why we hang limbs out of the sheets to lower our core temperature. Instead of putting the thermostat up to it’s maximum, the ideal temperature is around 18 degrees Celsius. This may sound low give it a go for a few weeks and adjust it as necessary.
  6. Get rid of bedroom clocks – There is nothing more frustrating than lying wide awake staring at a ticking clock. If you are struggling to get to sleep, looking at the clock is not going to help that. It builds frustration, anger and does not give you the best opportunity for sleep. If you need an alarm, have it on the other side of the room.
  7. Prioritise sleep – With the stresses of family, work and catching up with your latest Netflix series, sleep usually gets put on the back burner. Set a non-negotiable time that your sleep opportunity starts and ends. Sleep is not as important as any series on Netflix, even Peaky Blinders.
  8. Limit alcohol near bed – A cheeky night cap has been used by many people to help them drift off after a stressful day. Unfortunately is not having the desired effect. Alcohol sedates part of the brain that is used for is regenerative properties during sleep. More alcohol equals shitty sleep. You may feel like you can drift off faster, but the quality of sleep is lower and you will feel even more tired tomorrow.
  9. Limit caffeine intake in the afternoon – Caffeine has a half life of around 12 hours. This means that half of it will still be in the system in 12 hours. If you decide to have a late night coffee or even an afternoon Diet Coke, most of it will still be in your system when you try and get to sleep. Even if you don’t think caffeine affects you that much, it will still affect the quality of your sleep. Limit your caffeine intake to the morning or as early afternoon as you can.
  10. Don’t exercise close to bed time – As I mentioned earlier, our bodies need to decrease slightly in temperature close to nodding off. If you are getting sweaty in the gym, the chances are you are going your core temperature will be raised.

Sleep has been designed over millions of years to evolutionary help and repair the human body and mind. Don’t feel that you are an exception to the system and you can outsmart this process. Embrace sleep and the multiple benefits it brings to your body. This is often an overlooked element of training and nutrition, and could help you get the results you are looking for.