Could Your Sleep Be Hindering Your Weight Loss Goals?

Have you ever had a late night, or experienced disrupted sleep and found that you could not control your appetite the next day?

Anything not nailed down was in danger of finding its way into your gaping maw.

I have been there, and I am sure you have too.

A couple of nights burning the midnight oil to get a work presentation done or a few nights of sub-par sleep due to a screaming newborn baby and you’re likely to be at risk of emptying the pantry.

Why?

Stress!

Sleep restriction is a stress, and a huge stress. After a few days without sleep we essentially start to go crazy. So while we can survive without sleep for a few days, mentally we are done. Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days and holds the world record for the longest time without sleep. Here is what he experienced over the course of the 11 days [1].

  • Day 2: Difficulty focusing eyes and signs of astereognosis (difficulty recognizing objects only by touch).
  • Day 3: Moodiness, some signs of ataxia (inability to repeat simple tongue twisters).
  • Day 4: Irritability and uncooperative attitude, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. Gardner’s first hallucination was that a street sign was a person, followed by a delusional episode in which he imagined that he was a famous black football player.
  • Day 5: More hallucinations (e.g., seeing a path extending from the room in front of him down through a quiet forest). These were sometimes described as “hypnagogic reveries” since Gardner recognized, at least after a short while, that the visions were illusionary in nature.
  • Day 6: Speech slowing and difficulty naming common objects.
  • Day 7 and 8: Irritability, speech slurring and increased memory lapses.
  • Day 9: Episodes of fragmented thinking; frequently beginning, but not finishing, his sentences.
  • Day 10: Paranoia focused on a radio show host who Gardner felt was trying to make him appear foolish because he was having difficulty remembering some details about his vigil.
  • Day 11: Expressionless appearance, speech slurred and without intonation; had to be encouraged to talk to get him to respond at all. His attention span was very short and his mental abilities were diminished. In a serial sevens test, where the respondent starts with the number 100 and proceeds downward by subtracting seven each time, Gardner got back to 65 (only five subtractions) and then stopped. When asked why he had stopped he claimed that he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to be doing.

By day 4 things were getting ugly, so yeah, lack of sleep is a HUGE stress.

One of the ways humans like to cope with stress is to eat food, in particular food we find pleasurable.

Why?

When we eat something pleasurable it causes a release of a hormone called dopamine, the “feel good hormone”. This hormone helps relieve the stress we experience from sleep deprivation [2]. This can be a vicious cycle when it comes to weight loss goals.

Less sleep, means more stress.

More stress means a greater consumption of hyper-palatable foods.

The hyper-palatable food causes us to over consume calories because they are typically higher calories and our “monkey brain” loves calorie dense foods.

Sleep deprivation also affects our hormones in different ways. As you might know there are two main hormones that play a role in whether we are hungry or not, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is released by the body in order to promote that full feeling when you have had enough food. Ghrelin is a release by the body when you need to eat more food. (An easy way to remember this is when you see ghrelin think of your stomach growling). Turns out when you are sleep deprived your leptin decreases and your ghrelin increases, aka you get more hungry than you would if you got a normal night’s sleep [3]!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/

In addition, when you are sleep deprived you will have more opportunities to eat because you are awake longer. In a recent study, sleep deprivation participants ate 671 additional calories during the additional time they were awake! The interesting part of this study, is that it wasn’t consistent sleep deprivation that caused the participants to overeat. Even when given 5 nights of normal sleep, as soon as they were sleep deprived they overate the next day [4]!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7550992/

The late night feeding that people often participate in when sleep deprived then effects the next nights sleep [5]. This then starts the vicious cycle all over again!

Does lack of proper sleep directly cause you to gain weight?

No, but it does cause a number of downstream effects that will sabotage your weight loss goals.

Here are some tips that can help you prepare for getting a good night’s sleep.

  • Finish your last meal a few hours before you intend on going to bed
  • Make your room as dark as possible and no electronics in the bed room
  • Turn off electronics an hour or two before bed or use a pair of blue light blocking glasses
  • Get outside first thing in the morning and get some sunlight in your eyes
  • Be active and move frequently throughout the day
  • Exercise
  • Do something relaxing before bed, read, do a puzzle, meditate, pray, etc
  • Try eliminating alcohol
  • Don’t drink any caffeinated beverages after noon

If you find yourself struggling to lose weight despite doing “everything right”, you might want to take a look at your sleep. If we think back to how our ancestors lived, sleep came quite natural to them. After the sun went down, there wasn’t much to do. Try it yourself. Once the sun goes down, don’t turn on any lights, use candle light, no TV, phone, computer…just sit and relax. I bet it won’t take long until you are tired and ready to crawl into bed.

Not willing to do this at home?

Try going camping the old school way, in a tent, no electricity.

An hour after sitting by the fire, I bet you will be ready to crawl into your cozy sleeping bag!

This brings me back to my overarching belief when it comes to improving health, eliminate ancestral mismatches and your health will improve drastically. To learn more about how eliminating ancestral mismatches can help you improve your health and reach your own goals, sign up for my newsletter by using the form below.

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  1. (1998, March 1). Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency | Psychiatric Times. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/sleep-deprivation-psychosis-and-mental-efficiency

  2. (2014, October 30). Stress and Eating Behaviors – NCBI – NIH. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/

  3. (2004, December 7). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated …. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/

  4. (2020, September 3). Caloric and Macronutrient Intake and Meal Timing Responses to …. Retrieved February 13, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7550992/

  5. (2020, June 20). Mealtime: A circadian disruptor and determinant of energy balance …. Retrieved February 13, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jne.12886

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