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Sleep = weight loss.

How sleeping results in improved metabolism, healthier living, and successful weight loss.

Sleep is primarily a brain thing. Thousands of articles and many books have been written on sleep as it relates to brain function, brain waves, thinking, memory, mood, etc. The role of sleep in physical metabolic change, though, is what matters for those looking to lose weight.  Simply put, sleep is the time that your body builds a new machine for burning calories. Exercise is nothing more than a stimulus for adaptation, a calculated assault on our body’s muscles, lungs, heart, and nerves. Our brain then says, hmmmmpphh, if we are going to have to keep doing this task, I’ve got to change a few things. The brain, then, as the master molecular organizer, sends out messages through the extensive network described above, to re-organize things so we can do the task. The changes the brain orders up are called anabolic changes.  Seventy five percent of the changes we need to ultimately lose weight – and keep it off – will occur during sleep (the other twenty five during rest). I would go so far as to say that adequate and extra sleep are more important than diet or exercise when it comes to sustainable weight loss. 

Structurally, your body is making molecules during sleep that follows exercise which will do the following useful things for you: strengthen your muscles, lower your blood pressure, neutralize inflammation, increase your metabolism, decrease damage caused by stress,[1] give you energy, protect your heart, protect you from cancer, protect you from diabetes, mobilize your protective immune response so you get sick less, safeguard you from depression, injuries, and stroke, as well as make you smarter. (1-17)

Imagine a new flower you bring home from the Piggly Wiggly to brighten
up the kitchen. You water it because you want it to bloom, grow, and be
beautiful. Then you water it again, and again, and again – without leaving
adequate time in between for the flower to absorb the water, take in light, and
change. The flower needs the water, but
more importantly it needs the time in the sun following the water application

to restructure itself and bloom. The
water itself, like exercise, is there to induce
change. If we water again before the changes have occurred, the flower will
drown and die – and you will quit your exercise program. 

The hook, I am betting for many readers, though, is that sleeping enough will also make you eat less. Right, eat less. Functional MRI scans of the brain have been studied that show people are far more interested in eating when they are sleep deprived. Moreover, sleep deprived subjects are more driven toward unhealthy foods when given the option. Sleep deprived subjects also have increased levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, and decreased levels of leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full. And it’s not just eloquent brain MRI studies and hormone level draws that have been done, subjects have been shown to actually eat more food and actually gain more weight when sleep deprived, and population based studies have shown increased BMIs in people with less sleep hours. (16, 18-33)

In short, sleep has been shown to correlate with a multitude of positive reorganizations in the human body following exercise, including increased exercise capacity, less metabolic disease, and decreased appetite. 

1. Siegel JM. Clues to the functions of mammalian sleep. Nature. 2005;437(7063):1264-71.

2. Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A, Monico Neto M, Souza HS, Tufik S, et al. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses. 2011;77(2):220-2.

3. Demarzo MM, Stein PK. Mental Stress and Exercise Training Response: Stress-sleep Connection may be Involved. Frontiers in physiology. 2012;3:178.

4. Kalsbeek A, la Fleur S, Fliers E. Circadian control of glucose metabolism. Molecular metabolism. 2014;3(4):372-83.

5. Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354(9188):1435-9.

6. Irwin MR. Why Sleep Is Important for Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Perspective. Annual review of psychology. 2014.

7. Irwin MR, Olmstead RE, Ganz PA, Haque R. Sleep disturbance, inflammation and depression risk in cancer survivors. Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2013;30 Suppl:S58-67.

8. Thomas KS, Motivala S, Olmstead R, Irwin MR. Sleep depth and fatigue: role of cellular inflammatory activation. Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2011;25(1):53-8.

9. Vgontzas AN, Zoumakis E, Bixler EO, Lin HM, Follett H, Kales A, et al. Adverse effects of modest sleep restriction on sleepiness, performance, and inflammatory cytokines. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. 2004;89(5):2119-26.

10. Bahijri S, Borai A, Ajabnoor G, Abdul Khaliq A, AlQassas I, Al-Shehri D, et al. Relative metabolic stability, but disrupted circadian cortisol secretion during the fasting month of Ramadan. PloS one. 2013;8(4):e60917.

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12. Perry GS, Patil SP, Presley-Cantrell LR. Raising awareness of sleep as a healthy behavior. Preventing chronic disease. 2013;10:E133.

13. Liu L, Mills PJ, Rissling M, Fiorentino L, Natarajan L, Dimsdale JE, et al. Fatigue and sleep quality are associated with changes in inflammatory markers in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2012;26(5):706-13.

14. Meier-Ewert HK, Ridker PM, Rifai N, Regan MM, Price NJ, Dinges DF, et al. Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2004;43(4):678-83.

15. Anafi RC, Pellegrino R, Shockley KR, Romer M, Tufik S, Pack AI. Sleep is not just for the brain: transcriptional responses to sleep in peripheral tissues. BMC genomics. 2013;14:362.

16. Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Cairella G, Garbagnati F, Cappuccio FP, Scalfi L. Excess body weight and incidence of stroke: meta-analysis of prospective studies with 2 million participants. Stroke; a journal of cerebral circulation. 2010;41(5):e418-26.

17. Fullagar HH, Skorski S, Duffield R, Hammes D, Coutts AJ, Meyer T. Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports medicine. 2015;45(2):161-86.

18. Vanitallie TB. Sleep and energy balance: Interactive homeostatic systems. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 2006;55(10 Suppl 2):S30-5.

19. Nicolaidis S. Metabolic mechanism of wakefulness (and hunger) and sleep (and satiety): Role of adenosine triphosphate and hypocretin and other peptides. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 2006;55(10 Suppl 2):S24-9.

20. Gallagher T, You YJ. Falling asleep after a big meal: Neuronal regulation of satiety. Worm. 2014;3:e27938.

21. Wong-Riley M. What is the meaning of the ATP surge during sleep? Sleep. 2011;34(7):833-4.

22. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Annals of internal medicine. 2010;153(7):435-41.

23. Taheri S, Mignot E. Sleep well and stay slim: dream or reality? Annals of internal medicine. 2010;153(7):475-6.

24. Calvin AD, Carter RE, Adachi T, Macedo PG, Albuquerque FN, van der Walt C, et al. Effects of experimental sleep restriction on caloric intake and activity energy expenditure. Chest. 2013;144(1):79-86.

25. St-Onge MP, McReynolds A, Trivedi ZB, Roberts AL, Sy M, Hirsch J. Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2012;95(4):818-24.

26. Chaput JP, Klingenberg L, Sjodin AM. Sleep restriction and appetite control: waking to a problem? The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2010;91(3):822-3; author reply 3-4.

27. Pejovic S, Vgontzas AN, Basta M, Tsaoussoglou M, Zoumakis E, Vgontzas A, et al. Leptin and hunger levels in young healthy adults after one night of sleep loss. Journal of sleep research. 2010;19(4):552-8.

28. Chapman CD, Benedict C, Brooks SJ, Schioth HB. Lifestyle determinants of the drive to eat: a meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2012;96(3):492-7.

29. Brondel L, Romer MA, Nougues PM, Touyarou P, Davenne D. Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2010;91(6):1550-9.

30. Spaeth AM, Dinges DF, Goel N. Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults. Sleep. 2013;36(7):981-90.

31. St-Onge MP, Wolfe S, Sy M, Shechter A, Hirsch J. Sleep restriction increases the neuronal response to unhealthy food in normal-weight individuals. International journal of obesity. 2014;38(3):411-6.

32. Cappuccio FP, D’Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010;33(5):585-92.

33. Cappuccio FP, Cooper D, D’Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European heart journal. 2011;32(12):1484-92.



[1] “stress” here is a whole host of things, from external stressors that increase cortisol levels to store fat to direct reduction (chemically and literally) of something called oxidative stress which accelerates aging.

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