How Sleep Deprivation Causes Weight Gain
We all know sleep is important, but it's often the first thing pushed aside side when we're busy. If we have lots of things to do, we get up earlier or stay up later. We think that we're being more productive because we're working for more hours, but actually, like with sleep, it's not the quantity, but the quality of that time that's important.
Spending 3 hours writing 500 words because you keep dozing off or getting distracted is not the best use of time. Imagine you spent 40 minutes of it having a nap and then wrote 1,500 words for the next 80 minutes. That's much more productive and you still have an hour to spare! Staying awake to get stuff done actually makes us less productive. On top of productivity, it also affects out brains and our bodies at a biological level. One thing that isn't talked about much is how sleep deprivation causes weight gain. That's right, sleeping more could actually help you lose weight.
Why Less Sleep Means More Fat
Less Sleep Causes Insulin Resistance
When we sleep, our bodies undergo an incredible amount of processes. When we deprive the body of sleep, these essential things don't happen and our bodies stop working to their optimum capacity. If you get 4.5 hours or less of sleep per night for just four days, your body will exhibit insulin resistance similar to that of people who are pre-diabetic for Type 2 diabetes, especially within fat cells. Sleep is needed to regulate our blood sugar, insulin levels and metabolism. Sleep deprivation causes weight gain by having excess glycogen in our blood being turned into fat.
Lack Of Sleep Makes Us Eat More Sugar
Sleep deprivation causes 6% less glucose to reach the prefrontal cortex of your brain, meaning this part of your brain is being starved. When this happens, we also see activation of the amygdala, which is that instinctive "reptile" part of our brains that controls our reactions and survival instincts. It's balanced out by the prefrontal cortex, the "human" part of our brain. This part is used in decision making, social awareness and problem solving. Lack of sleep causes the amygdala to take over and the prefrontal cortex to shut dow. As a result, we become more reactive, aggressive, irritable and emotional. We become less compassionate and lose the sense of achievement or fulfilment after a positive event; we get into arguments with our partners, even if just one of us has not had enough sleep; and we have much less willpower and social control.
Because the prefrontal cortex is lacking glucose, it also encourages us to eat high sugar or high carb foods to get the instant energy hit that it needs. How many people do you know who have stayed up until 2am, raided the fridge and came back with a salad? Usually it's ice cream or chocolate, right? Well, this is an evolutionary instinct because we are starving our brain by not going to sleep. Add this in to the insulin resistance caused by lack of sleep and you get high blood sugar levels that result in fat production and it's easy to see now how sleep deprivation weight gain.
Exercising More Doesn't Balance This Out
When we exercise, it causes hormonic stressors to be released in our bodies, such as cortisol and human growth hormone (HGH). These hormones, as the name suggests, cause stress to our bodies. This isn't always a bad thing. Cortisol helps keep us alert and HGH stimulates cell growth, but we can't always be under stress. When we sleep, our bodies reset these hormone levels. If you exercise, but don't get enough sleep, your body never recovers from the workout, so you don't see the physical benefits from it. It's much better to get 10 minutes of exercise and a good night's sleep than it is to stay up, work out for an hour and a half and then be sleep deprived for the rest of the week.
One study took 2 groups of people and gave them the exact same workout plan and food plan. Half of them were deliberately sleep deprived during the experiment. By the end, that sleep deprived group had loss less weight that the group doing the exact same thing except also sleeping 8 hours a night. Your body will respond much better to your activities if it's rested, so don't waste all that effort you put in by not allowing it to heal.
Another example of this is professional athletes, like LeBron James, who gets about 10 hours of sleep a night. Hilary Swank had to bulk up for her role in Million Dollar Baby. To do this, her trainer had her sleep for 9 then 10 then 12 hours a day! So to lose weight and gain muscle, we need to work out of course, but more importantly, we need to recover from this workout and give our body the chance to process the exercise it just did and we do this by sleeping.
How to Get Better Sleep
We've all heard that getting 8 hours of sleep a night is needed to function at our best, but just how true is this? How many times have you had 8 hours of sleep and still woke up feeling unrested? Or had just 5-6 hours of sleep, but got through your whole day full of beans? As with everything else, it's about quality over quantity. Getting 8 hours of crappy sleep is not going to have any benefits over getting 6 hours of good quality, restful, healing sleep. Our bodies run on cycles; sleep cycles, hormone cycles, etc. If we can optimise these cycles then we can make everything work better, with less effort. So how do we do this? Well, it's mostly about timing.
Exercise At The Right Time
Yes, I know I just said that exercising more was not the answer, but exercising correctly will help you sleep. This then helps you process the exercise, so it's kinda circular. As with everything, it's about doing it optimally. In order to get the most from your sleep at night, you have to set it up from the minute you wake up. Our circadian rhythm is what sets us up to be awake and asleep at various points of the day and generally runs in sync with the sunrise and sunset. It's controlled by the cortisol - melatonin hormone cycle.
At the start of the cycle, cortisol levels are high, this makes us alert and active. As the day goes on, these levels drop and melatonin levels increase, making us sleepy. When we exercise, our bodies release cortisol, kickstarting this hormone cycle. So the best way to set up your circadian rhythm to fall asleep at night is to exercise first thing in the morning, generally between 6am and 8am. If you're strength training, you may well know that the best time to do this is in the afternoon. This is when testosterone levels are highest, but you should still exercise in the morning to set up your sleep pattern.
It doesn't have to be a full workout, especially if you have one planned for later in the day. A 10 minute power walk or 4 minute tabata is enough. Anything that gets your heart rate going and your blood pumping for a few minutes. Groups of exercisers who worked out at different times of the day (7am, 1pm and 7pm) were monitored and it was found that those who exercised at 7am got up to 70% more deep sleep than the other groups.
Sleep At The Right Time
You've heard the phrase "an hour before midnight is worth two after" when people refer to sleep. It was a common saying when I was a child, but there is some truth in it. Going back to the hormone cycle and circadian rhythm, melatonin and HGH are produced and secreted at the highest levels between 10pm and 2am. Being asleep during these hours results in better quality sleep. This is the window we tend to spend in deep sleep, where our cells regenerate and our bodies recover from the day's activities. Our brains even shrink at this point to allow the toxins built up in there to be removed.
Drink At The Right Time
It's pretty well known that alcohol can help you fall asleep. Anyone who's ever had a few too many knows that there's comes a point where you just pass out. This is our brain's way of protecting itself. When the toxin levels in the blood get too high,, the brain shuts itself down. I'm sure you've also heard people say they'll just have one drink to help them sleep.
While it's true that alcohol helps you nod off quickly, it actually lowers your quality of sleep. It disturbs your REM sleep so your brain doesn't process information properly. If you do have a few drinks, it's best to stop drinking 2 hours beforehand going to bed. Have plenty of water during that time to flush at least some of the alcohol out of your body. Afternoon happy hours are therefore better for you than nights out, so now we have a legitimate health reason to drink margaritas in the middle of the day!
Increase Your Magnesium
Magnesium deficiencies were found in 100% of sleep deprived patients when they were tested. Supplementing magnesium was found to increase the quality of sleep. However, a word of warning. Taking magnesium as an oral supplement causes a bit of havoc in your digestive system. It draws water to your bowels, causing some rather unwanted side effects. The best way to take in magnesium is actually through your skin. You can get magnesium rich creams and apply them directly to your skin. Or add epson salts (magnesium sulphate) to your bath, especially before you go to bed.
So there you go, you now know exactly how sleep deprivation causes weight gain. Who'd have thought that something as easy as sleeping more could actually result in losing fat? And it's not just weight loss, sleep is essential for all of our bossily functions. If you're finding that you're getting sleepy through the day, you're not sleeping all that well, you're having trouble remembering things or you're not seeing the results you expect from your workouts, take a look at your sleep. Are you getting enough sleep and are you getting enough good quality sleep?
Share in the comments your bedtime routine. How do you make sure that you're getting all you zzz's and wake up feeling ready to take on the day?
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