If you investigate the common causes of obesity in this country, one of the things you probably won’t find is a lack of quality sleep. Despite a pretty alarming correlation, it is rare that people prioritise a good nights sleep when embarking on a fat loss programme.
Let me be quite clear, a lack of sleep may hugely impact your ability to lose fat, and in this article I’m going to show you exactly why that is.
Firstly, as we all know, to get a lean, fit and strong body that is healthy, it’s obvious we need a certain kind of lifestyle in place. This means an adequate diet, mostly consisting of whole, nutrient dense foods that aren’t heavily processed is of paramount importance. It also means a solid regular exercise routine that consists of working out in an effective manner to help us burn fat faster, whilst staying injury free and enjoying the process.
Sleep would be next on the list and is the one thing that I believe get’s forgotten when we look at the fat loss picture. Personally, I find that when I sleep better, the following things happen:
- -Better motivation to train
- -More efficient workouts
- -Productivity at work, more focus on my clients and the task at hand
- -Dietary adherence and tracking
- -General mood improvement and cognitive function
- -Feeling of being well rested
Flip the coin the other way and a lack of sleep brings you the following:
- -Less training motivation
- -Poor workouts
- -Lower productivity and focus
- -Dietary adherence fails
- -Lower mood
- -Feeling constantly tired and run down and higher chance of illness
A lack of sleep is seen as one of the leading causes of body fat gain in the UK. Sleep itself is not the driver of fat loss or fat gain, more so the consequence of a good or bad night’s sleep.
We specifically need enough “deep” sleep, the part of sleep that is the most responsible for our recovery. The average person will need somewhere between 6.5 to 8 hours, though it varies between individuals.
When we don’t get enough sleep, here is how it messes up our fat loss:
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that are altered in a manner that makes fat loss more difficult. We end up with lower levels of leptin, one of our powerful fat loss hormones combined with an upregulation of ghrelin, the hormone released when you’re hungry. With you feeling tired, low on energy and craving food, dieting becomes virtually impossible because of a strong desire for “binge” type junk foods that are very calorific and commonly inadequate sources of nutrients.
Did you know poor sleep also produces lower dopamine levels, or “happy” hormones. Low level mood is exactly what drives people off the diet “bandwagon” as it is often accompanied by a desire to feel good from foods that may bring pleasure to the palette, but do not deliver fat loss results. It becomes instant gratification there and then, rather than the long-term gratification of getting the desired outcome of a fitter looking and functioning body. So it’s easy to see how destructive poor sleep can be when looking at the overall fat loss picture.
Training quality & recovery
Put simply, if you want to build a stronger and fitter body, superior quality sleep is essential for recovery between workouts and the quality of each individual workout you perform. If you choose to go out on the lash one night and then come to the gym the next day and perform poorly, essentially, you’ve wasted your time.
A lack of sleep can lead to a rundown immune system, particularly if coupled with an aggressive training plan where recovery has not been addressed. In turn we can become ill, which will not only mess up our diet but also lead to us wanting to eat more comfort-based foods. In turn we then end up feeling like we’re “starting again”, kind of the like the “diet starts Monday” crowd who perpetually are stuck in the same never ending cyclical problem.
What causes us to lose sleep? Problems and Solutions
Hopefully I’ve communicated how important sleep is to you, now for the interesting part, what causes us to sleep and what are some effective remedies for this?
Problem: Alcohol – Interferes with deep sleep
Whilst seemingly harmless, even after just a couple of drinks in the week which may seem very little to some, is followed by a lethargic feeling the next day and the need to play catch up with sleep. The problem here is that even just 1 or 2 simple drinks will significantly disrupt deep sleep, producing the knock on effects that I mention earlier which will easily derail your progress if it happens with any sort of weekly frequency.
Solution – When you are aiming to get maximal results and committing to get in the very best shape possible in a given time frame, it is very prudent to minimize your alcohol intake and as such, our Roar Transformation programmes ask clients to cut this out for a period of time if they are serious about achieving amazing results. It’s extremely detrimental to drink alcohol whilst looking to get exceptionally lean in a short period of time.
We do however understand that socialising is a thing and that many of our clients work in industries where going out for drinks is expected but also, we encourage all our clients at Roar to abstain for a relatively short period of time and then phase back in a bit here and there that is sensible, but crucially allows you to maintain all the results you worked so hard for.
Problem: Your computers and phones interfere with deep sleep
All tech devices with screens produce something called blue light. Blue light keeps your brain active and prevents you being able to settle easily into a restful sleep.
All that messing around on your phone, tablet or laptop before bed is actually preventing you from settling down at night.
Solution: Install these programmes
Your laptop can be configured to not emit blue light so that you can use electronics without keeping your brain from settling quickly.
On a computer desktop, simply install a programme called flux, it will manage the light emitted from your screen, plus you can manage the settings to turn it on/off as you see fit.
On a phone or tablet, use the twilight app to get your phone to emit a proper blue light filter on the screen.
If you’ve done this, you’ll have a sort of brownish tint to your screen colour. Try this on all devices that you use up until going to bed, you may be surprised.
Problem: You’re still in work mode
Can’t get your brain to shut up about work emails and things you’ve got to do, maybe upcoming deadlines? Learn to relax before you go to bed and switch off completely.
Solution: Get out of work mode well before bed
Don’t go to bed thinking about stuff otherwise you’ll lie there awake and get nothing from it. Instead switch off all work activities by a certain time and stick to it. Give some space before going to bed to do something to unwind. Personally, I like to read fiction, it takes your mind off of work and to another place completely. Gentle stretching, especially of the neck and upper back can be helpful, and slow diaphragmatic breathing for 5 minutes whilst focusing on clearing the mind of all that noise can be an excellent choice.
Wired on coffee all day? That may well last into the evening and into the night. I understand that many people are busy and need a boost, sometimes coffee is a quick fix that can do this. Caffeine however, will not lead to a restful night’s sleep, particularly if you have it later in the day
Solution: Go caffeine free or cut off at lunchtime
Caffeine doubles the half life of the stress hormone cortisol and can be in the body for a quite a while before the effects have fully worn off. As such, the best thing to do is to limit your intake to the first part of the day, many hours before that night’s sleep or even to go caffeine free.
If I could stress one very important, overlooked factor into great fat loss results, sleep would be it. Half the battle of losing body fat is the dieting and the training, the other half is the recovery. Remember, feeling tired all the time will eventually interfere with your ability to drop body fat as you end up with metabolic slowdown, cravings for junk food and a lack of willingness or capacity to train effectively.
Record your sleep at night with a fitbit or a mobile app such as SleepAs, these tools are excellent for giving you indicators of when you’ve had good any bad nights. This will enable you to assess where and if you are lacking enough rest and you can identify the problems and address with some of the solutions I’ve offered in this article.
At Roar, we encourage our clients to take specific supplements whilst on our fat loss programme. One such supplement is high quality pharmaceutical grade magnesium. Magnesium is well known for it’s ability to assist with insomnia along with many other amazing benefits.
Written by Roar Personal Trainer James Castle Mason