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Duckie #1: What Affect does Sleep have on Weight Loss?


The average human will spend 1/3 of their life sleeping, which equates to about 20-25 years over 75 Year life span”
The National Sleep Research Project

As a teenager I was fascinated with a
sci-fi book called Beggars in Spain.

[Yeah, so I was a bit of a nerd-linger...but if you are into sci-fi I can highly recommend this exploration into themes of equality, consequences and discrimination.]

Beggars in Spain is set in the future where scientists have worked out how to manipulate the human genome so that sleep is totally unnecessary.  The genetically modified ‘Sleepless’ do not need to sleep at all…ever.  As a result, they are 30% more productive than the ‘Sleepers’ (attractive to employers because they can easily work day and night) and as an added bonus the ‘Sleepless’ are more intelligent.

How intriguing is the idea of not needing to sleep?  At all…ever?

Imagine what you could get done if you were not sleeping a third of your life away.

I think we have probably all at some stage or another pushed the boundaries with how little sleep we can “get away with.”

A US survey of over 110,000 people found that almost 30% of adults consistently get less than 6 hours sleep in a 24-hour period and that shorter sleep time is associated with working more than 41 hours per week.  (Out of interest, only 8.5% of adults surveyed sleep 9 or more hours) [1].

Employers often expect more than just the 9-5, which means we are generally under more stress at work and we are getting home later than we would like to.

So we end up having to cram the rest of our living into a smaller amount of time. This might include going to the gym, spending time with family, cooking, chores, playing a sport, checking Facebook and watching TV or YouTube.  All of this happens at the expense of our sleepy-time, because “you snooze, you lose”, right?

Unfortunately for us though, getting enough quality sleep matters.

If you don’t snooze you lose, but it certainly won’t be your weight that gets lost.

We are not wired up like the ‘Sleepless’ of the genetically modifiable future.  With our genetics, things start to go very wrong if that sleep duckie steps out of line and wanders off leaving only the evidence of his poor house keeping.

New Digs

Some comments on how a lack of sleep can affect your levels of body fat:

  • “You probably won’t even consider this one [sleep], but it is the single best weight loss tool, muscle gain tool, training tool, life tool, I have ever encountered.” - Dan John, Strength and Track & Field athlete and coach
  • Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in dramatic changes in appetite and food intake. Others have shown that restricting sleep to 5 hours a night for just one week impairs carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Researchers now believe that sleep deprivation is the single best predictor of overweight and obesity in children” - Chris Kresser, is The Healthy Skeptic and an acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine
  • “Lose 14.3lbs [about 6.5kgs] per year by sleeping 1 hour more each day instead of watching TV.” - Sleep Is Awesome Infographic, claim is based on findings from this study
  • “In the Whitehall II Study, short sleep duration was significantly associated with obesity risk….Patients who slept 5 hours or less had a 65% increased risk for obesity compared with those who slept 7 hours” – Findings from this study linked to from Marks Daily Apple
  • “If you do not sleep you will:  1. Completely cock-block your fat loss”   [this is a true quote] - Robb Wolf, the author of The Paleo Solution, former research biochemist and one of the world’s leading experts in Paleolithic nutrition.

So, why does this happen?

“We are seasonal eaters and breeders with a feast-famine metabolism who develop diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and severe depression on anything less than 9.5 hours a night for at least seven months out of the year.”
Lights Out!  Sleep, Sugar and Survival, T.S Wiley & Bent Formby

After millions of years of living in sync with our environment, many of our physiological, biochemical and behavioural processes have adapted to a circadian rhythm based on the the light/dark cycle.

Biological clock human

In Lights Out! T.S Wiley references evidence that suggests our ancestors adapted to roll with the seasons.
In the longer nights of winter they slept more and would ‘hibernate’ to conserve energy, as food was likely to be scarce (famine-time).
In the shorter nights of summer, our ancestors slept less and spent the longer days mating and eating calorie-dense carbohydrates to store as fat (feast-time) to deal with likely food shortages in the coming winter.
However, in our modern world we have electricity and inside lighting that extends our productive ‘daylight’ hours. This seriously disrupts our natural circadian rhythms.

We also have an endless supply of food.
So, we can effectively fool our bodies into thinking it is summer all year round and you know what that means:

Feast-time!…All the time!

Lights On Feast Time, by alykat, flickr

The problem with an endless summer feast-time though, is that our programming is always switched to storage of body fat against the famine of a ‘winter’ that is never going to arrive [2].

Our survival adaptations have become evolutionary hangovers that now cause us issues with weight gain and make it harder for us to lean out and drop unwanted body fat.

The take home messages here are:

  • Although we might be diligently eating well and exercising sensibly, if we are not getting enough sleep we are probably still retaining more body fat than we should be.
  • We are not the ‘Sleepless’ so we cannot function without sleep, we are just not wired up that way.
  • However, we are wired up to eat to excess when the going is good in the ‘summer’ time and store the extra energy as body fat so we will have the fuel to get us through the famine in ‘winter.’
  • Due to the benefits of modern technology we are constantly in fat storage mode.
  • The key here is to try to keep our bodies in tune with the seasons.  Sleep more when the nights are longer and still try to “sleep as much as you can without getting fired or divorced” when the nights are shorter [3].  The reality is, that even though the nights are shorter in the summer giving us more lee-way, we are probably still not sleeping enough.

[I don’t want to put you to sleep with crazy long blog posts, so the woolly mammoth is going to step in here.  You can keep an eye out for the next blog post for an explanation on how we gain weight (or fail to lose weight) when we don't get enough sleep.

“Duckie #1: How Does Sleep Affect Weight Loss?” will be up in a couple of days...Although if you are having trouble sleeping, it may just help to read a few of these end on end]

Until then, eat, sleep, move…and then get some more sleep – it certainly couldn’t hurt!


References and Further Reading, Watching or Listening:

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