So, I’m eating right and I’m working out HARD. Why can’t I lose my spare tire? What am I missing out on?
Well…how much are you sleeping?
I get it, we’re all busy with our daily lives. Juggling work, finances, relationships, families, feeding yourself, staying fit, etc…it’s never ending. Who has time for sleep? In fact, our society tries to de-emphasize the need for sleep. “Sleep is for the weak!” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” Well, it turns out that if you don’t slow down a little and get some rest, that may come much sooner than later.
Research has shown that the lack of sleep has been tied to all sorts of serious ailments we hear about all the time in modern times. Lack of sleep (possibly from stress) further raises stress levels which in turn raises blood pressure and increases your heart rate which over time can lead to hypertension. If that’s not bad enough, it has been associated† with diabetes, obesity (late night snacks anyone from staying up late?), depression, heart attack, stroke and most recently even breast cancer!
Now, I didn’t start this blog post to tell everyone that they’re going to suffer disastrous consequences if they don’t sleep. Well, I sort of did…but what I want to talk about is how the basic biochemical mechanism behind how getting enough sleep will help you lose body fat and further complete the loop in achieving a better and healthier self. Believe it or not, sleep plays an incredibly important role in not only resting your body and mind, but also in regulating your hormones, which play a huge role in your ability to manage body fat. The hormone I want to talk about is cortisol. Cortisol is widely known as the “stress hormone” and influences or regulates things such as blood sugar levels, immune responses, anti-inflammatory actions, blood pressure and central nervous system activity, just to name a few. For more detailed information about how cortisol affects all of those functions, check out the chapter of Rob Wolf’s book, “The Paleo Solution,” titled, “Sleep you Big Dummy!”
For this article, I just want to talk about how cortisol helps us get moving every day. To borrow a diagram from Rob Wolf’s book,
This is how your cortisol profile should look. Your cortisol levels should be at its highest points in the morning so you’re ready to tackle the challenges of the day. As the day goes on, your cortisol levels should drop, eventually bottoming out after midnight when you should be sound asleep. Sometimes during the day, there might be a short spike in cortisol levels to handle a stressful situation, but that should quickly fall back to normal. Problems begin to occur when cortisol levels stay too high for too long or are elevated at the wrong times.
Remember when I said that cortisol plays a role in regulating things like your immune system? Cortisol can partially shut down your immune system by interfering with T-cell production and function, thereby making you more susceptible to getting sick. Ever notice how highly stressed out people seem to be sick all the time? (OK, getting back to body fat, but I threw that one in there to highlight the need for stress management) For purposes of your love handles, staying awake when you should be sleeping also raises your body stress cortisol levels which in turn raises blood sugar levels. Your body probably thinks you’re about to go to war, when instead you’re awake doing something that could probably wait until tomorrow (next WOD is in 6 hours but the next Netflix episode is only 10 seconds away!) What happens in the human body when we have excess sugar and energy that isn’t used? It gets stored as fat…predominantly abdominal fat.
So there you have it. Stress is bad, sleep is good. To steal a line (after borrowing two of his graphs) from Rob Wolf’s book where he paraphrased from the book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival: Sleeping might cut into your social life, but so will cancer, diabetes and dementia! Do yourself a favor, get some sleep and lose your love handles and live, look and feel better!
-Dr Bobby C
†http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/ Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors.National Academies Press (US); 2006.
Before having the ability to bottom out in his squats and not stand back up, Bob has published in peer reviewed publications such as the American Journal of Physiology and PLoS One and has also had long stints in Microbiology, Gene and Tissue Engineering and eventually 4 years in a Neonatology Department before obtaining his PhD in Chemical Engineering.