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Sleep: Is it Really the Key to Easy Weight Loss?

I can’t help cringing a little when I read stuff like this:

“Sleep more, and body fat will simply melt off!”

“Sleep is the most important thing for weight loss!”

You’ve just got to love the Internet, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong – I like sleeping just as much as the next person.

(Especially if the next person didn’t sleep right for two years after their first child was born…)

But the whole idea that sleeping allows you to lose weight quickly and effortlessly has gotten a bit out of hand.

So, let’s cut through the BS and see what the deal really is…

Does Sleeping Burn Fat?

First off, we need to be clear about one thing:

At any one time, we can be doing only one of two things – either storing fat or burning fat.

That’s it.

There is no “option three”.

So, fat storage tends to happen during and after meals, while fat burning tends to happen mainly while we’re asleep.

Like in this dinky little graphic…

Burn fat while sleeping

OK, I know what you might be thinking:

“Eating just makes you fat!” and “you can only burn fat and lose weight while you’re sleeping!”

I mean, that’s how it appears, right?

But here’s something that almost everyone overlooks:

By far the most important thing is the net result of all that storing and burning.

Which means fixating on whether you’re storing fat or burning fat at any given instant is a complete waste of time.

OK, I know that sounds a bit heretical, so let’s check out an example.

Just think of your bank balance.

(This is actually a really good analogy as fat stores are basically the body’s energy bank)

fat gained equals fat burned minus fat stored

So, here’s the question:

What determines your statement balance at the end of the month?

A) When your salary was paid in and when the rent/mortgage/credit card/utility bills got paid?


B) The net result of all the incoming and outgoing funds over that period?

Yep, you’ve got it… B.

Put it this way:

Getting your salary paid in a few hours earlier than usual or paying the rent a few hours later than usual will have zero effect on the statement balance at the end of the month.

After all, over that one-month period the incoming total and the outgoing total are still the same, right?

And it’s the same deal with fat loss.

So, here’s the bottom line:

Obsessing over whether you’re in “fat-storage mode” or “fat-burning mode” while you’re sleeping, running or whatever is pretty much pointless.

The only thing that matters is the net result over a much longer period – think days, weeks and months.

And the reality is…

Sleep Alone Won’t Make or Break Your Weight Loss

OK, I realize that may be at odds with what the Internet says, but stick with me.

Now, when someone claims that something is “essential” or “always works”, I try to think of examples where it’s not true.

Fundamentally, that’s how science works.

You actively look to disprove your own theory.

So, if I read that “sound, restful sleep is essential for fat loss”, these two guys immediately come to mind:

Jerry Coffee, a Vietnamese POW who spent 7 years in a tiny cell with only a concrete slab for a bed

Viktor Frankl, MD, Holocaust survivor and best-selling author of Man’s Search for Meaning

Obviously, neither was getting in a restful 8 hours per night on a Sealy Posturepedic.

But guess what?

Both lost a massive amount of weight during their captivity.

So, sound, restful sleep can’t be essential for weight loss.

And, a bit closer to home, I slept pretty much the same number of hours per night while ballooning up to 242 lbs back in 2014…

One year fat gain

…as I did while losing 61 lbs in 2015.

So, sleep alone isn’t going to make or break your fat loss.

It can’t – our bodies simply aren’t that fragile or sensitive.

But that doesn’t mean sleep is irrelevant if you want to lose weight.

We just need to see it in context.

Like this…

You Snooze, You Lose (Fat)

OK, we know that sleeping more isn’t going to turn you into a fat-burning furnace.

And we know that sleeping less isn’t going to turn you into a fat-storing machine.

Nope, the effects are way more subtle than that.

But those subtle effects can really add up.

Research has found that reduced sleep can do weird things to your appetite, causing you to consume hundreds of extra calories per day.

I’m sure anyone that’s pulled an all-nighter can relate to that.

(And yes, I’m just as guilty of throwing a pizza in the microwave at 2am as anybody else)

End result? Caloric intake creeps upwards.

But that’s only the beginning…

Why? Because reduced sleep can also put the brakes on your metabolic rate.

It does this by depressing resting metabolic rate, the thermic effect of feeding, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (check out this article for more info. on those).

So it’s a treble whammy.

And your metabolic rate could slow down by several hundred calories per day.

End result? Appetite ↑ and metabolic rate ↓ is going to cause fat loss to slow down, stall or may even lead to some weight gain.

It won’t be instant and dramatic – it will tend to just creep on under the radar.

So, here’s the bottom line:

Stop watching late-night TV, quit fiddling with your iPhone in bed, and get some quality sack time in.

It’s only going to nudge weight loss in the right direction.

Don’t Forget Hormones!

Now, we older dudes tend to have significantly lower testosterone levels than we did back in the day.

That’s a natural consequence of ageing and a huge reason why strength training is so important once we hit 35 or so.

And guess what?

A lack of sleep has been found to further reduce testosterone levels, which is a real kick in the nuts that we’re better off avoiding.

So, once again, make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep in every night, OK?

And, whatever you do, don’t buy into all the stuff you read on the Internet about trying to control, optimize or “hack” certain hormones.

(Things like cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, and insulin come to mind here)

That’s back-asswards.

Our job is to simply do what’s necessary to lose weight (reducing energy intake and/or increasing energy expenditure), and the body will take care of the rest.

Trust in your biology – human physiology has been doing this stuff for a loooong time.

Put it this way:

If you wanted to have a good time and be really happy, which would you do?

• Try to “hack” your body’s production of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine


• Things you find pleasurable like going to a water park or hiking with your family

It’s obvious, right?

You do the activity you know you’ll enjoy, and you trust your body to squirt all the right hormones that make you feel good in return.

Well, it works the same way for weight loss.

So forget about “hacking” fat-loss hormones – get the big things right (including getting enough sleep) and let your body take care of the rest.

It doesn’t need to be micro-managed.

Sleep & Fat Burning: The Bottom Line

Ultimately, we all need to do whatever it takes to get in 8 hours per night.

You’ll feel better, function better, be able to train harder and be just plain more awesome.

Look, even the US Army (not known for paying folks to lie in bed) recognize that sleeping at least 7-8 hours in each 24-hour period is beyond important.

But over 30% of us don’t manage to do that on a consistent basis.

And the big question:

Will getting in sufficient sleep help you lose weight?

Sure, it will help but it’s not going to be the deal maker or deal breaker.

As Examine.com founder, Sol Orwell put it:

Sleep deprivation is not adverse to weight loss per se, but it can cause you to overeat or move less

So, ignore those click-bait headlines claiming that you can “melt off body fat while you sleep”.

Unless you’re sleeping on a George Foreman Grill, that’s never going to happen.

Rather than being the secret to rapid and dramatic fat loss, sleep is simply a very important part of a much bigger picture.

That’s all it really boils down to, so be sure to get your 8 hours in.

While it won’t turn you into a fat-burning furnace, it’s a step in the right direction.

And your body will love you for it!

– Tim

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Images: Bigstock



Sleep in the Military: Promoting Healthy Sleep Among U.S. Servicemembers

Sleep: What the Research Actually Says

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