By Greg DiNatale, Director of Fitness Education
Sleep. It may be the most underrated component of your fitness and weight loss routine.
Of course, it goes much further than that as researchers are now studying the link between a lack of sleep and some cancers. While some wear a lack of sleep as a badge of courage, the evidence for getting more shut-eye is overwhelming.
How much sleep is enough? It varies, but most studies look at the effect of getting less than seven hours.
Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that sleeping less than seven hours can undo the benefits of dieting. The subjects of the study who received inadequate sleep lost less than half the amount of fat than those who got seven hours or more, even though they were on the same diet.
“Metabolic grogginess” is what University of Chicago researchers happens after four days of poor sleep. Your body’s ability to use insulin (the master storage hormone) becomes disrupted, and insulin sensitivity dropped by more than 30%. As a result of the reduced sensitivity, your body pumps out more insulin, leading us to store fat in all of the wrong places.
This is just the beginning. Get less than six hours of sleep, and you start to lose control of the hormones that control hunger. You increase the production of Ghrelin, which stimulates appetite. The levels of Leptin decrease, which leads to you feeling like your stomach is empty. That is a lousy combination if weight loss is your goal.
However, the hits keep on coming! Cortisol (a stress hormone associated with fat gain) production increases which activate areas of your brain that makes you want food. Combined with your elevated Ghrelin level leaves you feeling hungry all of the time, even if you just ate.
Think it can’t get any worse? It can! Your ability to make decisions is also impaired which leads to poor food choices and eating more of it.
Let’s recap what we know so far. Because you are getting less than seven hours of sleep each night you are: always hungry, want food that is bad for you, deal out more substantial portions, and you cannot say, “No!”
To put the cherry on top (probably not a good analogy here), your night owl ways make it harder to recover from exercise by slowing down the production of growth hormone – a natural source of anti-aging and fat burning that also facilitates recovery. Combine this with the fact that most people when confronted with stalled weight loss increase their activity and you have yet another reason why they don’t see improvements.
The only answer (and it is not an easy one for most) is to get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you do have a night of poor sleep, do your best not to follow up with any more! The evidence is overwhelming that a lack of sleep will not only short your ability to lose weight but also has connections to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, and cognitive degeneration. Not only might your appearance depend on adequate sleep but your health and quality of life.