Everyone spends all their time and energy on exercise and diet, but rest – more specifically sleep – is the most overlooked factor, when it comes to shedding fat and getting lean…as well as achieving optimum health.
There are many studies that show the importance of sleep, but when it comes to finding out exactly how many hours we need to maximize our health potential…well, the numbers get a little skewed.
For instance, a research group from Surrey University did a small sleep study on 26 people. They were divided into 2 groups. One group got less than 6 hours of sleep a night for one week and the other group got 10 hours of sleep a night for week. And after one week, the group that slept for less than 6 hours a night showed altered gene functions. More specifically the genes responsible for producing protein to repair and replenish the body – and enhance metabolic processes – was found to have been deactivated.
Since our body requires a constant supply of proteins for repair, these findings suggest that long exposure to sleep deprivation may increase the risk of developing serious health problems. Not to mention lack of fat loss. Remember your biggest fat loss occurs during your sleep..especially if you’re doing short intense workouts that promote EPOC, so deactivating genes that promote this process is not good.
At first glance the results of the study seemed straight forward, we know sleep is important for optimizing health and maximizing fat loss, so the findings make sense. Generally, the more sleep we can get the better off we are…right?
BUT is that really the case?
Well, the answer may not be so straight forward. According to Dr. Kripke from UCSD who specializes in sleep research, more sleep may not be better.
A study conducted by the American Cancer Society as part of the Cancer Prevention Study collected data (age, diet, previous health problems, and risk factors like smoking) from 1.1 million people between 1982 – 1988.
Because of the enormous scale of the study, it took almost 2 decades to analyze the massive amount of data. And they were able to compare in detail, health risks associated with the exact number of hours of sleep per night. And the results were pretty surprising.
The study showed, people that slept 7 hours per night had the best survival rate. However, the people that slept 8 hours a night didn’t fair as well as initially thought. In fact, they had a lower survival rate than the people that slept 5 or 6 hours a night.
And here’s the real kicker, people that slept 10 hours a night had the worst survival rate…even worse than people that slept for as little as 3 hours a night!
Now granted this study is looking at the mortality rate, and not specifically fat loss, the correlation between having optimal health and maximizing fat loss is unquestionable. So it’s pretty safe to assume that group with the highest survival rate also had optimum health and metabolic function, compared to all the other groups.
The biggest surprise (to me) was seeing how much of a difference one hour of sleep makes. (7 hours vs. 8 hours) Although the earlier study that I mentioned found that less than 6 hours of sleep caused genes to deactivate, it didn’t specifically look at 7 hours or 8 hours of sleep. And if we take the results from the Cancer Prevention Study into account and correlate the two studies, it may well be that our genes function most optimally with 7 hours of sleep. This I guess we’ll have to wait and see for future studies to know for certain.
Now, I’m not saying that you should set your alarm clock so you get 7 hours of sleep a night, in order to maximize your health and fat loss potential. But it does make you realize how intricate and sensitive our bodies are. And how important getting the right amount of rest is to optimize all functions in our body.
So if you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying a sleep throughout the night, here’s a few sleeping tips you can try:
- Make sure that you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet. Taking 300 – 600 mg of magnesium supplement can really help.
- If you’re on a low carb diet eating a little fat before bed can help. Try having a teaspoon of MCT oil or a tablespoon of coconut butter or almond butter.
- A tablespoon of raw honey can also help if you’re on a low carb diet and can’t sleep.
- A cup of warm (non-caffeinated) drink can help calm you down and help you sleep. I recommend an herbal tea like chamomile tea.
- GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that really calms you down and helps you sleep. It’s especially good if you end up staying up late working or doing something that’s stimulating before going to sleep.
- Try sleeping in the dark without any ambient light. The darker the better, especially for quality deep (REM) sleep.
- If possible try and get to bed before 11pm. You get better quality of sleep when you go to bed before 11pm rather than after 11pm.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you get some quality shut eye, so you can optimize your metabolism (fat loss) and longevity!