Q&A: Sleep Deprivation and Fat Loss


Is lack of sleep making it hard for me to lose fat?


Consistent sleep deprivation is strongly correlated with weight gain and risk of obesity, probably due to a combination of both physical and psychological factors.

Not getting enough sleep wreaks havoc with several key hormones involved in appetite and metabolism. It increases ghrelin and cortisol, while reducing leptin and growth hormone, which has the effect of increasing your appetite, reducing your metabolic rate, and promoting insulin resistance, abdominal fat storage, and loss of muscle. Even worse, sleep deprivation reduces your willpower making the increase in appetite more likely to cause you to overeat.

Lions sleeping - photograph by Michael Krom

Although I’ve been dealing with the problem of sleep deprivation and fat loss with clients for years I didn’t really appreciate just how much of an effect it has until I experienced it myself. During the first few months after our son was born I slept about half as many hours per night as I normally do. Despite not making a conscious change in my diet I put on a noticeable amount of fat while my workout performance steadily worsened. Once I was able to resume normal sleep hours the fat came off and workout performance improved rapidly.

Clients who do not sleep as many hours consistently have a much harder time losing fat than those who do, and restructuring their schedule to get more sleep always improves their results. If you want to lose fat you should make getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night a priority.

Schedule it like you would your workouts, and try to go to sleep and wake up at consistent times. Like exercise and nutrition, the quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity, and you should try to optimize that as well. The room you sleep in should be dark, quiet, and cool, and you should get the most comfortable mattress you can afford. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, and read, watch television, or use the computer in another room to minimize distractions from sleep.

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