Sleep your way to a leaner, healthier body

I know, you are asking if you read the title correctly. Yes, you did and yes, it is correct.  Adequate sleep is a very necessary tool for both health and weight loss. I remember a time in Undergrad when I was averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep a night. Technically speaking, your metabolism is much higher when you are awake, therefor you are burning far more calories while awake. Fairly early in my college career, and only armed with this single tidbit of information regarding sleep, it seemed like I should be loosing weight like crazy….but I was gaining weight instead. This didn’t make since to me. I asked around and the best explanation that I received from fellow students, professors and even seasoned college strength coaches that i worked with was “it seems that way, but unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way” but no one could ever answer “why”.

Weight loss has always been an issue for me. I was obese by the age of 7 and it is the primary reason that I started working out. So solving this problem has always been at the top of the list for me. After a lot of reading and about 16 years of experience I have discovered the secret for me. About 8 hours of activity a day, lots of protein and vegetables, 1-2 heavy or high speed 1 hour workouts per day, under 70 grams of non veggie carbohydrates per day, and the key to making all of that work: about 9-10 hours of quality sleep per day. Makes it hard to be lean and have a “normal” life I guess. So the reality is a compromise in the middle…for now.

So the question is “why does sleep help?”. It has to do with hormones and how there are effected by sleep. For simplicity reasons, I will key on just a few of the vital hormones. The first is one that most of you have heard about, cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone which means that it increases in response to stress. Just a few of the many things that will increase cortisol are over-training, eating foods that you are allergic or intolerant to, having a stressful lifestyle (particularly without activity, a topic for another day), and not enough quality sleep (the big one). Technically, cortisol is catabolic (tissue wasting or tissue loss), which means you should loose weight when it is high. Unfortunately that is just a piece of the puzzle. It’s primary effect is muscle loss as it blocks all of the wonderful anabolic hormones like testosterone. From a weight loss perspective it has two very nasty effects…it increases insulin resistance (and hence increases insulin response) while simultaneously making you crave more sugary foods (also increasing insulin levels). As insulin climbs steadily over periods of sleep deprivation,   it begins to get high enough to block Human Growth Hormone production and reception…especially at night, when it is most important. The drop in Human Growth Hormone results in even lower quality sleep, and even higher cortisol levels. This creates a downward spiral.  This is the very short version of what happens, and I am stopping to keep it simple. There are entire book on this subject, so if you would like more information, shoot me a response and I will point you in the right direction. For now I will move on to fixing this issue of sleep.

First and for most, you must eliminate extra sugar from your diet because of the effects on insulin. This is also very important at night as the acute rise in insulin before bed can also cause some nasty effects on sleep. Many of you are thinking that sugar makes you sleep better. In reality, it causes an energy decrease which results in being sleepy, but typically results in a very poor quality of sleep. A protein snack like cottage cheese or turkey is a much better night time snack option, as it will not increase insulin, and will help drive night time Growth Hormone levels for the night. This will result in a better quality sleep and less night time waking and urination (ever notice that you always urinate when you wake no matter what time it is? You do not make urine in a deep sleep, so more deep sleep equals less urine production throughout the night).  The next thing is important thing is establishing a bed time ritual that begins about 1 hour before bed. This needs to include eliminating unnecessary light…like the television and computer which stimulate the brain and wake it up.  Obviously not what you want before bed. It also helps to get rid of ALL light in your bedroom at night, as even small amounts of light like a cell phone that blinks, will disrupt night time melatonin levels. I typically advise a few nature calming agents like chammomile tea and a natural lavender oil and water mix sprayed on your pillow at night. This will help relax you and set you up for better sleep. If this does not work, something more aggressive like melatonin or GAGA may be a better option until a healthy sleep pattern is established. Which brings me to the next point, establish a pattern by trying to go to bed within a 30 minute window and get up at the same time each day. And it is best to be in the bed by 10:30 at the latest as your first Growth Hormone spike is at 11 pm.

If you do all of this, you will crave less sugar, sleep better, recover better from exercise, put on muscle easier and have better success with weight loss efforts.

Try these for a while and if you need more help, just reply to this post.

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