The importance of sleep for weight loss

Sleep, so what’s the big deal? 

Sad fact, it’s important! 

VERY IMPORTANT! 

In the early days of becoming a PT I didn’t fully understand the true need for quality sleep, I would listen to motivational videos talking about long days and late nights with 5am starts and I thought this was part of the formulae to becoming a better me. 

I was wrong! 

After spending far too long grinding out long days and hard workouts I started to realise I wasn’t really moving forward anymore, I was tired and flat and the thirst for life and learning I had developed started to slip away. 

I put it down to simply working hard and cracked on! 

It wasn’t much longer after this that I started to really notice the negatives, was it my training? Nutrition? Supplementation? COFFEE? 

NOPE, it was simple old sleep. 

I started to respect my sleep more, changing seemingly little things, things didn’t change over night! But the more I put active energy in getting better sleep the better I felt, it was working! Something as simple as sleeping a little better was having a HUGE effect on the rest of my life, investing an extra 2 hours a night in better sleep made the rest of my remaining hours far more productive and focused. 

But it wasn’t just my mind that was refreshing, I started developing better in the gym, losing body fat after a stalling point I thought I wouldn’t ever break, I don’t tend to worry about body fat these days. but for those of you looking to lose more body fat, it may be worth looking at your sleep quality. 

Things can be tracked with apps like sleep cycle and the internet is full of advice on how to improve sleep, it won’t all work for you but it’s worth trying different things to improve your sleep – I found myself including things I felt would work for me and then kept the things I got a solid response from. 

The world today has us all running around tired and stressed, most grinding through to the end of the week so they can have a night out or catch up on sleep but we need sleep to be a regular and steady thing, it’s not always possible but we can try! 

Remove one hour of TV or phone/computer time before going to bed (2 if you can) and change that habit into something like reading, yoga or meditation. 

So what’s actually going wrong when we get poor sleep? 

The biggest issue when it comes to poor sleep is your hormone balance. The major hormones that are affected are:

  • melatonin
  • growth hormone
  • cortisol
  • insulin

Melatonin

The body produces this hormone as the sun sets and it gets dark, it’s part of the body’s natural hormone cycle that should realistically be dictated by a natural day. It’s produced in the pineal gland and sets a healthy sleep cycle. You can assist your body in its natural production of this hormone by reducing light levels pre-sleep, and avoiding light if you wake up in the night, it makes the stumble to the bathroom harder admittedly!

Growth hormone aka somatotropin

Growth hormones are also produced during your sleep (deeper sleep) and are linked to the development of healthy muscle and bone as well as assisting in fat loss, as we grow a little older it naturally declines so throwing poor sleep on top of that is not the best idea. Better sleep will improve the production of somatotropin and keep you in a better place to build healthy tissue as well as burning fat, so sleep well! 

Cortisol

Commonly referred to as the stress hormone, cortisol is part of your survival mechanism, or ‘fight or flight’. It comes into use when we need to be alert in a situation the body/mind feels is threatening or dangerous to our safety.  We produce cortisol naturally in the morning as we wake up, and our levels gradually lower as the light fades and we move into the evening. Modern life in all its glory has made our bodies feel like its living in the upside down, things are all out of whack and back to front. 

The natural cycle our bodies should follow is our circadian rhythm, the natural sleep/wake cycle i mentioned earlier that should be dictated by a “natural day”. We are supposed to produce cortisol in the morning which helps us wake up and the level should then lower gradually throughout the day as you get into the late afternoon and early evening. The problem with so much of today’s society is that cortisol remains high right up to bed time and is the main reason why you struggle to fall asleep. People watch television too late, use laptops in bed, drink alcohol in the evening and don’t respect the body’s desire to relax and unwind ready for the next day.

Insulin

Insulin is a major hormone that is responsible for controlling blood sugar. An imbalance in your hormones will leave your body overly stressed and as a result your rest and recovery will decline. You may find yourself tired and lacking motivation and drive or you will be unable to control your hunger. This is a classic situation that sets you up for weight gain or a stall in body fat loss. So again, another reason to focus on restoring your sleep patterns.

So what are some easy to implement changes to improve sleep? 

  • Routine: go to bed and wake at the same time every day if possible and aim to get at least 7 – 8 hours sleep
  • Limit light: fit black out blinds, remove electronic lights, don’t spend all night on your phone, computer or watching TV. 
  • Be grateful: before you go to bed fill out a list of 5-10 things you are grateful for, these could be as simple as the foods you enjoyed or family, friends or events that have happened to you. 
  • Avoid caffeine or stimulants after 2pm.
  • Drink chamomile tea to wind down in the evening before bedtime. 
  • Have a warm bath, maybe try throwing in 200-300g of Epsom salts.

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