Hi, it’s Rick Henkin and I want to talk to you about sleep, glorious sleep and its importance to weight loss. When we think about losing weight we usually think of diet and exercise. But is sleep just as important? And just to be clear, when I mention losing weight, I’m not talking about scale weight, I’m talking about body fat. Let me digress for a quick second.


Body Weight

Our body weight, the number on the scale, is composed of two things- body fat and everything else (muscle, bone, tissue, etc.) which collectively is called lean mass. You can have too much body fat, lose a bunch of scale weight, and still have too much body fat. You’re just a smaller version of what you were before. Your body fat percentage is a much better indication of your overall fitness and health than your scale weight. I’ll discuss this more in future posts.


Is Sleep As Important As Diet And Exercise?

Okay, back to our subject- is sleep just as important as diet and exercise? Hey! Wake up man, this is important. Wake up! I’ll get you up. Let me get my bugle (Reville). OK. now that I have your attention.

It’s generally recommended that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Yet the U.S. Center For Disease Control says that 30% of us get fewer than 6 hours. I usually get 6-7 hours sometimes less, so I’m not getting enough sleep either.

Diet, exercise, and sleep are all necessary components of being healthy and fit. While they all contribute to lessening our risk of heart attack and diabetes, sleep can have a huge impact on the other two. That’s not to say that you won’t see benefits from diet alone, or exercise alone, or the combination of the two, of course you will, but when you add a proper amount of sleep to the equation, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, meaning that sleep will enhance the overall benefits of both diet and exercise. Why is that?


Sleep and Binge Eating

First of all, if you’re tired, you lack energy. How are you gonna get a good workout in if you’re tired? Second of all, you’re more likely to want high-energy foods. According to a study by UC Berkeley, when you’re tired, brain activity is impaired in the frontal lobe, which is in charge of complex decision-making (I think we can all relate to that. I know when I’m tired, I have a hard time focusing and concentrating). However activity is increased in the brain’s reward center which responds to sugar, salt, and fat.

I read an article in U.S. News and World Report the other day (the link is down below) and in this article it stated that binging was pretty much inevitable with sleep deprivation. The science of it is that we have hormones that regulate our hunger. You might have heard of leptin- the satiety hormone and ghrelin- the hunger hormone. Leptin tells us we’re full and ghrelin tells us we’re hungry. When we’re deprived of sleep, our body’s level of leptin goes down while its level of ghrelin goes up.

One thing I really found fascinating in this article and you might too is that the Mayo Clinic did a study, which I further researched online. This was an 11 day study with a very small group of 17 sedentary but healthy men and women. After establishing a 3 day baseline period, they divided the participants into 2 groups- one group that could sleep and wake whenever they wanted and the other group which was awakened after only 2/3 of their normal sleep period, which meant their sleep time was cut about 80 minutes each. The group that had their sleep time cut, ate an average of 549 more calories than usual the next day. That’s huge! If you normally eat 2000 calories a day, that’s an additional 25% and if you normally eat 1500 calories a day, that’s an additional 33% or more. And since1 lb. equals 3500 calories, that means these people gained an additional pound every 6-7 days. That would equate to over 50 lbs. per year gained if the sleep deprivation continued. That’s amazing to me that such a seemingly little thing like getting a little less sleep can make such a huge difference.


Does Eating Healthy Offset A Lack of Sleep?

As I mentioned before, I get about 6-7 hours of sleep a night, still less than I should but I eat healthy. So I should be cool, right? Not according to another study from the University of Chicago. They found that when dieters got 8.5 hours of sleep a night over two weeks, half of their weight loss was from fat. This is what you want. As I said, it’s your body fat percentage that counts, not your scale weight. But, when they only got 5.5 hours of sleep per night, their rate of fat loss dropped by 55% even though they were following the same diet.



So what does all this mean? It means that sleep is as important a factor in your health and fitness as diet and exercise.

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