Poor Sleep Impacts Fat Loss and Ability to Build Muscle

insomniaThe Study

A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and funded by the National Institutes of Health, took a group of overweight men and women, and put them on the same low-calorie diet, and had them sleep in a sleep lab for two weeks.  Half of the participants were allowed to sleep up to 8.5 hours every night while the other half were only allowed to sleep up to 5.5 hours per night.

The researchers measured fat loss, lean muscle mass, changes in substrate utilization, energy expenditure, hunger, and 24-hour metabolic hormone concentrations.  This was a well-controlled, thoughtful and intense study.

The Results

Both of the groups lost roughly the same amount of weight, losing some fat and some muscle.  However, the cohort that only got 5.5 hours per night had these additional results:

  • They lost more muscle mass and less body fat.
  • They reported more hunger than the other group.

Meanwhile, the group that slept 8.5 hours per night experienced greater percentage of fat loss, while also retaining more muscle, all without experiencing as much hunger.

The conclusion from the researchers was that sleep loss compromises the effects of a reduced-calorie diet. They noted that sleep deprivation itself may have considerable catabolic effects that resemble malnutrition.

Practical Implication

The study participants would have done better if they’d been lifting weights and eating enough protein (for reference, only 18% of their daily calories came from protein.) This clearly explains, at least in part, why both groups lost muscle.

Moreover, the calorie deficit in the study was 700 calories below maintenance, which is quite severe. Most experts tend to suggest starting diets at an approximate deficit of 300 calories.   In my opinion, this diet was rather harsh.

Regardless, the main conclusion from this study is that those getting inadequate sleep lost more muscle and less fat while using the SAME diet as those who got plentiful sleep.

Sleeping Better –  Beyond Sleep Hygiene

I have written previously about intentionally choosing good sleep hygiene habits.  See Sleep Rituals and Practical Tips for Better Sleep.

If good hygiene is not working for you, then it may be time to consider a sleep supplement.  If you go this route, I highly advocate choosing a natural remedy and staying clear of pharmaceuticals.  Numerous studies have proven that pharma helps one to fall asleep, but the quality of sleep tends to be quite poor.  It is a much wiser and safer bet to use a natural supplement.  Here are some examples:

  • Valerian Root – valerian root reduces anxiety by slowing down the central nervous system, and acting as a mild sedative
  • Magnesium – magnesium is one of my favorite sleep aids, because it is generally considered safe in low doses, high quality magnesium not hard to source, and it works! It is known that insomnia can actually be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.
  • Melatonin – melatonin is a great natural sleep aid, but can be have diminishing effects over time, so it should be cycled. I use small doses and never use it for more than 5 nights at a time, before taking several nights off.


Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity

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