Let’s talk about sleep & fat loss, shall we? I can hear you already – you can’t possibly get more sleep because of your work schedule, your young kids, your evening committments, etc. Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to get more sleep. I want to talk to you about ways you can improve the quality of your sleep, not the quantity. So even if you’re reading this thinking, “Sleep isn’t my problem. I’m out like a light every night” I want you to consider that even you can improve the quality of your sleep by increasing the amout of deep, restorative sleep you’re getting. That’s right, there are specific changes we can make in our diet & lifestyle habits to allow our bodies to enter, and spend more time in, those deeper, restorative stages of sleep that will make a massive difference in our ability to lose fat and our overall health. Let’s dive in. I want to talk about why we need this deep, restorative sleep, how we’re keeping ourselves from it, what happens when we don’t get enough and then get into how to hack your sleep so you get more of this restorative-type sleep.
When we do not get the benefit of this deep, restorative sleep, bad things happen. Bad things that dramatically impair fat loss! Seriously. Just increasing the amount of time you spend in deep, restorative sleep can without a doubt improve your fat loss results. Why? Because just a couple of nights of sleep deprivation (lack of quantity, quality, or both) can lead to insulin resistance. Seriously. The studies are astonishing. Short term sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance dramatically – in some cases making you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic with just a few nights of poor sleep. No joke! Beyond that, missing out on this deep, quality sleep impairs our judgement, our willpower, our focus and our decision making skills.
During Stage 1 sleep we are drifting in and out of sleep. We can be roused easily and this is when we sometimes have that sense that we’re falling and are startled awake. In Stage 2 our eye movement stops and our brain waves slow down. It is harder to be roused during Stage 2. Stages 3 and 4 are the deeper stages of sleep. These stages are anti-aging. They allow for the release of hormones such as human growth hormone that help us heal & recover, these hormones stimulate fat burning, muscle growth and skin rejuvenation. Unfortunately, many of our lifestyle habits keep us from getting into these deep stages of sleep. How? Why?
It always comes back to hormones, doesn’t it? Hormones run the show. If you want to hack your sleep and get more of this deeper, higher quality sleep for faster fat loss, a healthier body and anti-aging benefits, we need to talk about the hormonal interplay and stop screwing with it. In order to get into those deeper stages of sleep (3 & 4) we need to take advantage of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Consider melatonin and cortisol (a stress hormone) like a see-saw. When one goes up, it pushes the other down and vice versa. So – we need adequate melatonin production and release in order to get into the deeper stages of sleep but when we elevate cortisol, we suppress melatonin and though we might fall asleep and stay asleep, we are inhibiting our ability to get quality sleep. Let’s look at some of the ways we’re elevating cortisol and thereby suppressing melatonin:
- Chronic stress – This elevates cortisol, thereby suppressing melatonin
- Eating before bed – The mere act of eating elevates cortisol. This is more dramatic in overweight or obese individuals. Do your best to avoid eating within a couple hours of bedtime.
- Chronic carbohydrate consumption – This is a stressor on the body. Follow the dietary principles outlined here to keep your hormones in balance.
- Exercising too close to bedtime – Exercise elevates cortisol. This effect is magnified in long-duration endurance activities like jogging and distance running. Do your best to not exercise within a couple hours of bedtime.
There are also ways in which we suppress melatonin beyond elevating cortisol. One of the most common ways we do this is via light exposure. It makes sense, from a common sense perspective when you stop to think about it. The presence of light tells your body that it is daytime. In day time, you don’t want to be falling asleep so the presence of light suppresses melatonin. It’s important to realize that our eyes are not the only way our body senses light. Our skin has photoreceptors. Again, this makes sense when you think about it – our skin can burn in the presence of light. Our body can convert cholesterol to vitamin D in the presence of light. Our skin senses the light and that will suppress melatonin production. So if you are someone who sleeps with an eye mask and thinks that means your body knows its dark, you’re wrong. You need to black out your room and block any and all sources of light, even from an alarm clock. I also want to make sure to address the fact that certain types of light suppress melatonin more than others. The biggest offender? Blue light. What emits blue light? Electronics. Your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, etc. Blue light suppresses melatonin more than any other light. Fortunately, if getting off your device a few hours before bed isn’t an option, there are some alternatives you can employ to block the light they are emitting, to some degree. Here are a few places to start.
- Blackout your room. Cover any and all sources of light. I bought this alarm clock that doesn’t emit light unless you press a button.
- Limit blue light exposure
- Limit screen time before bed
- Use a blue light blocker from software such as f.lux (Here’s how it works: you put in your time zone and it will automatically dim your screen and change the hue of the light at sunset while automatically changing it back around sunrise)
- Consider getting light blocking eye glasses like these (I wear them if I watch TV at night)
- Get a rock salt light for your bedroom for nighttime reading. This way you can still have light in your bedroom without supressing melatonin.
- Get the TV out of your bedroom.
- Get exposure to natural light in the morning. Work with your body’s natural rhythm by exposing yourself to the sun for a few minutes early in the day.
One of the triggers that messages our body to upregulate melatonin release is a drop in temperature. If we think about nature, the outside temperature usually drops at night. Our body is designed to work with nature so a drop in temperature increases melatonin release. Our body temperature naturally drops as we sleep and this triggers melatonin release. Unfortunately, many of us want to feel like a hibernating bear at night and we artificially elevate our body temp via a warm room or a ton of covers. The ideal sleeping temperature for deep, restorative sleep is between 60-68 degrees Farenheit. If the idea of such a cool temp gives you the chills, don’t worry about it. Adjusting your thermostat (down) by even a degree or two will make a difference.
Melatonin suppression has been linked to a whole host of diseases including heart disease, cancer, immune diseases, diabetes and obesity. This is nothing to play around with and it’s pretty easy to address. Besides, if improving your fat loss progress was as simple as improving the quality of your sleep, it’s worth a try, don’t you think??