If you’re serious about changing your body, either by losing fat or putting on muscle mass, you need to start by embracing sleep. Many people advertise their lack of sleep as a badge of honor, but what if this habit was sabotaging their efforts?
A fascinating study from the University of Chicago found that sleep deprived dieters who averaged 5 hours of sleep nightly for two weeks lost significantly less body fat than a group that clocked in with 8.5 hours a night. Although both groups lost roughly the same amount of body weight (3 kg), the “normal” sleep group lost significantly more body fat. The “short” sleep group had most of their weight loss come from muscle.
Lack of sleep decreased the fraction of weight lost as body fat by an incredible 55 percent:
The “normal” sleep group lost 1.4 kg of fat but the “short” sleep group lost only 0.6 kg of fat, while also losing 2.4 kg of lean mass. This unfavorable change in body composition sets the dieters up for rebound weight gain because lean mass drives the metabolism and plays a role in strength and the ability to move with ease.
If you are trying to lose body fat, fixing your sleep situation should be at the top of your list. Instead of undermining yourself by burning the candle at both ends, set yourself up for success once you start dieting and exercising.
Here’s How To Take Action:
Pick a regular bedtime and follow it even on weekends. Having a regular bedtime (preferably between 9:30 and 11 p.m.) allows you to take advantage of your natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid caffeine after noon. Caffeine can mess up your internal body clock, especially if you are drinking it all day long.
Get bright light exposure first thing in the morning. Because light is a key regulator of sleep, exposing yourself to it in the early morning will “anchor” your master clock and set you up for a productive day.
Eliminate light in your bedroom at night. Your brain can sense light exposure even when your eyes are closed, impacting release of the sleep hormone melatonin at night and the cortisol awakening response in the morning.
Have regularly scheduled meals, prioritizing protein. This combination regulates blood sugar, which is important for restful sleep.
Eat quality carbs at dinner. Higher carb foods are relaxing because they lower cortisol and increase the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin, which aids with the onset of sleep.
Use cool temperatures at night to mimic the ambient temperature outside to help you sleep.
Avoid late night eating. Finishing your last meal by 8 p.m. improves circadian rhythm and sets your hormones up for a restful night.
Supplement with magnesium. Magnesium is a calming mineral that plays a role in the body’s ability to metabolize cortisol and set you up for a good night’s rest.
Optimize vitamin D levels. Lack of vitamin D impairs the sleep-wake cycle in the brain and is associated with insomnia.
Try relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and other calming methods such as progressive muscle relaxation have all been shown to improve sleep.
Do a next-day to do list. Writing down all the things you need to think about for the next day can help you clear your mind of worries that inhibit sleep.
Start a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal in which you jot down what you’re grateful for has a calming effect that can focus your attention on the positive aspects of your life and away from the worries that keep your mind racing all night long.
Be aware of your eating and activity following nights when you get poor sleep. Sleep deprivation impairs your metabolism and makes you lazy. Be careful to monitor portions and make healthy food choices, while ensuring you maintain your physical activity levels with a good workout and by getting your steps in.
Take creatine when sleep deprived. Brain creatine stores are depleted in response to lack of sleep, which may contribute to poor concentration and fatigue.