Sleep is the most overlooked factor when trying to address fat loss plateaus. If you’ve been eating like a cave person and have been training the house down yet see very little to no results, it could be your quality or lack of sleep that is seizing your fat burning furnace.
Not only is sleep essential to optimise energy levels, but it is also essential to hormonal balance. Hormonal balance is imperative to fat loss. An imbalance of hormones from lack of sleep can cause a halt to your fat burning ability.
A naturally produced steroid in the body, cortisol is released in acute stressful situations (fight or flight response). Essential to the body for a variety of cellular functions, here’s how increased cortisol levels are detrimental to your fat loss efforts:
- Increased blood sugar levels – Improves the risk of diabetes.
- Increased appetite (comfort eating) – Increase of unnecessary calories which leads to excessive fat stores.
- Reduced ability to process amino acids for muscle development.
- Reduces growth hormone production.
False Hunger Signals
A study conducted in Chicago found that sleep deprivation led to increases in appetite. The onset fatigue from sleep deprivation confuses the brain into thinking that energy sources are low and therefore triggers the hunger signal.
Lousy sleep patterns also cause a reduced sensitivity to glucose and insulin, the hormones responsible for hunger satiety ( appetite satisfaction – no longer feeling hungry) after ingesting a meal.
Increased Visceral Fat Stores
The most dangerous form of fat, visceral (stomach) fat refers to the fat stores surrounding your internal organs in your stomach. At high levels, visceral fat is highly detrimental to your health and greatly increases the likelihood of heart disease.
A study conducted by John Carroll University used a continuous dark versus continuous light exposure test to assess the impacts on a group of animals. Three groups of animals were assessed and placed in a standard condition with 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, 24 hours of darkness, or 24 hours of continuous light. Measurements were taken on melatonin levels, the metabolic parameters, the circadian rhythm activity patterns, as well as any behavior changes.
The group of animals that were exposed to 24 hour light showed a significantly greater increase of visceral fat when compared to the other two groups who did have darkness hours as well.
In another study published in Physiological Research, researchers from the Czech Republic found that 7 hours of sleep was the amount of time needed for optimal weight management, establishing the guideline for how long our trip to dreamland should be.
An active person, training at least 3 times per week at moderate to high intensity should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to promote recovery. The greater the intensity of workouts, the better recovery needed to help repair broken down muscle tissue. If 7-9 hours isn’t manageable, a good ol’ kip will do the trick!