Skipping Sleep: A Quick Route to Getting Fat

Everyone loves hearing about the latest, greatest strategies for weight loss. But for some reason, people always expect the route to quick fat loss to be some secret jealously guarded by the über-fit members of society.

Sadly, there are no “secret” approaches for building a better body. However, with even a basic understanding of human physiology you can figure out a pretty rock solid plan to keep the pounds away. Of course, this presupposes you have long since given up the charade of fat loss being a math equation (calories in = calories out) and accepted that excess body fat is predominantly a biochemistry/hormonal problem.

This guy knows a thing or two about weight loss

Once you accept that in order to create sustainable fat loss, you have to manipulate metabolism, diet and hormones to create the proper internal environment, you have a fighting chance of being successful with your body transformation efforts.

When I work with a new client, I like to tell them that weight loss requires a multi-factorial approach. In other words, to have success we have to address:

  1. diet
  2. exercise/physical activity
  3. recovery

Most people have an appreciation that losing fat will require adjustments to diet and exercise, but very few understand how important proper recovery is in all this. So today I thought I’d write about the forgotten fat buster: sleep.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… everyone knows they should get more sleep. But I bet you didn’t realize how stupid skipping sleep is if you are serious about positively transforming your body.

Let’s imagine you a busy individual who only sleeps 4-5 hours a night. Any idea of what that can do to your hormones? Thankfully I do and I’m going to share it with you right now! Below are the results of a neat little study that looked into the hormone changes (leptin and ghrelin) that are produced by just 2 consecutive nights of limited sleep:

Spiegel K et al. (2004). Ann Intern Med. 141:846-850.
Those numbers don’t look good, but what are leptin and ghrelin? Without boring you with complex physiology, they are among the prime hormones that regulate appetite.
  • When leptin decreases: you experience a decrease in metabolic rate and increase appetite.
  • When ghrelin increases: you experience increased hunger and appetite.

Wow… knowing that, those numbers look even worse than before! As you can clearly see, even a couple of nights of shoddy sleep will send our hunger control hormones (leptin and ghrelin) out of control!

Now imagine the real-world significance of these hormonal changes. If you were to act on a 30% increase in appetite for high carbohydrate foods, you might find yourself mowing down on a 300-400 kcal muffin or bagel, which would send insulin levels skyrocketing then plummeting, then a vicious cycle of hunger would begin…

See where I am going with this?

Making matters worse, if you only sleep for 4 hours, you’ve got a whole 20 hours to fall prey to those cravings. Needless to say, if you are not making sleep a priority, then you are seriously jeopardizing your body composition efforts.

Here’s some “secret” weight loss advice: turn off the television, email or your Blackberry and get to bed at a reasonable hour. It doesn’t cost you anything that the long-term benefits are priceless.

Seriously – you aren’t that important.

Just something to think for anyone looking for the “magic pill” that will cure your weight loss woes.

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!