It’s nearing midnight and you’ve just finished binge-watching whatever’s new on Netflix. You hop into bed for some shut eye, but not without scrolling the ‘Gram one more time just to make sure no one has posted anything you might have missed in the last 10 minutes. Finally, you shut off that awful blue light and lay down to close your eyes, knowing that you have to be up for work in just 5 short hours. Each day, this loop plays on repeat.
It might not go down that exact way for you, but when asked how many hours of sleep they get, most folks answer a consistent 5 to 6 hours. You’ll sleep when you’re dead, as the expression goes. Whatever reason you have for not reaching that dodgy 8 hours of sleep, I’m here to tell you that you need to figure out a way to help your body rest and recover properly — no if, ands or buts about it.
There are countless reasons for why a lack of sleep is so horrible for a person’s health, but I am going to cover the one I know best based on the industry I represent: How sleep helps in overall weight loss and keeping quality muscle mass.
There are a wide variety of sleep studies conducted over the years in which the data has stayed very consistent. These studies are finally getting recognition now, and quite honestly, factors like sleep need to be discussed more inside the fitness and health industry. People seem to think losing weight only means keeping a caloric deficit and working out as hard as they possibly can. Don’t get me wrong, those things matter greatly, but sometimes the equation doesn’t stop there.
The connection between sleep and weight is becoming more and more clear, but the exact components involved are still being studied.
From what we do know, based on the way our bodies work, insufficient sleep does cause changes in the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is our “appetite” hormone and leptin is our “full” hormone. Sleepy people tend to be more hungry, meaning they will consume more energy than someone who is more fully rested.
The National Sleep Foundation published an article proving that, through imaging studies, we know that when a person is sleep-deprived, they are less likely to resist eating unhealthy foods or food in bulk.
But ghrelin and leptin aren’t the only hormones affected either, insulin plays a role as well. Less sleep will absolutely affect the production of insulin, which in turn lowers an individual’s metabolic rate (slow metabolism, as most of you know, is not so good for fat or weight loss).
So how much sleep is needed for a more healthy lifestyle regimen? As I noted above, and has become common knowledge to the point of almost being a cliche at this point, the simple answer is at least 8 hours.
In a study done by Nedeltcheva et al. in 2010, subjects were placed on a weight-loss diet and divided into two sleep interventions: 8.5 hours per night for two weeks or 5.5 hours per night for two weeks. Calories and macronutrients were evenly distributed amongst both groups. Weight loss happened in both groups, but significantly less fat and more fat-free mass (aka muscle) was lost during the 5.5 hour condition.
That is absolutely, 100% not what we want to see when we are looking to improve our body composition, now is it? We want to keep as much good quality muscle as we can while getting rid of the extra flabby fat we have.
In that same study, it was also shown that RMR (resting metabolic rate, or what you burn calorically each day by just resting) decreased significantly in the 5.5-hour group compared to the 8.5-hour group. Again, we really want our metabolism to work for us at the highest rate possible if we want to cut fat and lose weight.
So you see, the saying, “You snooze, you lose,” is actually quite accurate when it comes to weight.
Now that you know the facts, all it takes is making sleep a priority. Taking a step back and figuring out why you can’t sleep or don’t sleep enough can be more simple than you think. One way to start is by putting down the phone, turning off the television a couple hours before bedtime — maybe reading a good book instead or meditating to some nature sounds before finally tucking yourself in. Obviously, you’re also going to want to make that bedtime a bit earlier, if you can.
As they say, we don’t ever get back the time we’ve lost sleeping, but we can definitely better our sleep for a more productive future.
Brittney Pereda is the owner of eXtreme Body Benefits, a south Charlotte-based fitness and nutrition company.