How Sleep Can Make You Fat
You might know that lack of sleep makes losing weight more difficult.
What you don’t know is that even if you get plenty of shut-eye, sleep can still play a major role in why you have trouble getting rid of extra fat.
This Is Personal
I’ve had sleep issues for as long as I can remember.
There have been times in my life where I lie in bed for hours getting little to no sleep, and other seasons where I could sleep 10 hours and still be exhausted the next day.
When I turned 30 I had an epiphany: I’m not some teenager who stays out late and sleeps into the afternoon simply because I’m irresponsible.
I determined to figure out what was going on.
Sleep still doesn’t always come easy for me, but it’s gotten a lot better.
I’m no expert, but one thing I learned on my journey was, whether you think you have sleep problems or not, it’s a topic you shouldn’t ignore.
That’s why I’m sharing a few things I learned from the real experts.
What To Know First
Before we get into how even “enough” sleep could be making you fat, it’s important to understand what LACK OF SLEEP does to you:
It increases your risk of chronic diseases, especially stroke and cancer. (As this study found.)
It can make you eat more calories. (This study says why.)
If you lose weight, 55% less of it will be fat, 60% more of it will be lean mass. (As in this study.)
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep to avoid these pitfalls.
But let’s say you already sleep 8 or so hours every night. How could that sleep still contribute to weight gain?
More Than Quantity
Every bit as important as the number of hours you sleep each night is the quality of those hours.
Just because you’re in bed for 10 hours doesn’t mean you automatically wake up refreshed — ask any parents of a newborn.
If your sleep is constantly interrupted, even briefly, you don’t get the benefits of deep sleep. Which means 10 hours might be more like only getting 5.
That’s how some things you think are helping, or at least not hurting, are covertly destroying your slumber.
You say caffeine doesn’t stop you from falling asleep, and you might be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s good sleep.
Caffeine has been shown (in this study) to reduce the quality of your sleep when you have it within 6 hours of bedtime.
Your best bet is to avoid it after lunch.
Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but the quality of your sleep will be compromised.
Studies vary on advice. You might be fine with a drink or two (at most), but your best bet is to avoid it right before bed.
You may think the lights from your phone or TV don’t bother you, but they do. The light has been shown (in this study) to significantly suppress melatonin.
Which, you guessed it, messes with the quality of your sleep.
Your best bet is to avoid bright lights (including TVs and phones) at least 30 minutes before bed, if not more like 2 hours.
Melatonin has been proven to improve sleep, but there are 3 reasons I don’t recommend it as a first course of action:
1. It’s Unregulated
In the USA, it’s a supplement, and supplements aren’t regulated. Which means you could be getting way more, or less, than the label claims. It could also be filled with contaminants.
2. The Dosage
The recommended dosage of melatonin ranges all the way from 0.1mg to 5mg, yet many products contain way more than that. And if you take too much (potentially more than 0.3mg), it may not work. So knowing how much to take requires serious experimentation.
3. It Can be a Band-Aid
Melatonin can’t counter-affect other bad sleep habits.
Staring at your phone or TV for hours and then popping a melatonin pill might make you think you’re getting better sleep, but you aren’t.
It’s worth mentioning that being overweight can make you sleep less than normal, which you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of until you lost weight and started sleeping more.
In other words, if you sleep less, you’re more likely to be overweight. And if you’re overweight, you’re more likely to sleep less.
What To Do Instead
Poor sleep promotes weight gain just as much as lack of sleep.
As you can see, the quality of your sleep can be affected in many ways.
I barely scratched the surface.
Fortunately, you can also impact the quality of your sleep in a good way. Here’s a quick look at my favorite tips:
This one is the most boring, and probably the most important.
Do the same thing every night for at least 30-60 minutes before bed. Get ready for bed, then turn down the lights, turn off the electronics, read a book, meditate, etc.
Set an alarm to remind yourself.
Inconsistent noises can also diminish sleep quality. White noise drowns them out.
Working out during the day means better sleep at night. Just keep in mind, if you exercise intensely, you may need more hours of sleep for recovery.
I’ve already said I don’t recommend it as a first choice, but there’s no doubt that melatonin, in certain contexts, is a good idea. Just make sure it’s a good idea for you.
The supplement that helped me the most was magnesium.
For the same reasons I can’t advise you to take melatonin, I won’t say you should jump on the magnesium train. But if you already have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about testing for a magnesium deficiency.
Some things contribute to being overweight more than others.
Sleep is one of the big ones.
It’s every bit as important as diet and exercise. If you don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep, it’s probably a big part of your problem.
If you sleep 10 hours every night, but have a cup of coffee in the afternoon, or drink wine at night, or watch TV to fall asleep, and think you don’t need to reassess your sleep habits, you’re lying to yourself…
And it could be making you fat.
It’s time to take sleep seriously. What changes do you need to make to ensure better quality sleep?
(If you know you have trouble sleeping and want to dig WAY deeper into the science on this topic, I have links for you. My research for this blog came from many places, but two of the most helpful articles were from examine.com, which I use often, and Precision Nutrition, which is where Megan got her nutrition coaching certification.)