Nutrition’s Elite 8: #7 – Sleep, an Underrated Rockstar
It’s often said that there are three pillars of health. Diet, exercise and…sleep. Often times, we choose to ignore that last part. To some, sleep is just a period of inactivity where nothing gets done.
However, when pressured by a medical professional, personal trainer or coach, we tend to admit that “we should sleep more.” But do we? Rarely, I bet.
Without really going into an extreme amount of detail, sleep promotes recovery. Typically, this is done via hormonal pathways, often triggered by the release of melatonin in the body. Melatonin release increases in the evening when you prepare for bed and drops off in the morning when you wake.
If you have ever heard of the circadian rhythm, this is it. None of the information I have presented so far is earth shattering and it can all be found with a quick google search. Yet I needed to set the stage, so thanks for sticking with me.
Quick note on sleep and weight gain research: ethically this is a tough hypothesis to test. You either have to sleep deprive people and see if they gain weight or take obese people and force them to sleep more (tons of error in the latter since you can’t ‘trust’ folks). Legitimately though, I read about a study that was terminated early because people wouldn’t adhere to the structure.
Therefore, research often focuses on people self reporting their sleep at multiple stages in life then gauging the relative risk of becoming obese. Here’s what research consistently finds: children that are sleep deprived throughout development have between a 60-80% increased chance of becoming overweight or obese later in life. With young adults, the risk is between 40-60%. With women aged 39-65, the risk of gaining >30 lbs body weight over 16 years was increased by 42% and 10% when they sleep for <5-6 hours per night, respectively. This was compared against those sleeping 7 hours per night1.
Research on adults can be somewhat inconsistent. My guess is that sleep plays more of a role in weight management for women later in life than it does for men. That’s probably why some studies have found a relationship while some have not.
A child’s relative risk of becoming obese later in life is decreased by 50% for each additional hour they sleep (0-18 yrs old).
So I’ve set the stage a little bit and here’s where I tie it all together. So at night, your circadian rhythm starts to kick in, melatonin starts to be released and the body’s resting hormone cascade kicks in. This includes your highest levels of growth hormone release. Growth hormone does exactly what it sounds like by allowing tissues (bone, muscle, etc) to repair and with children, to grow2.
Growth hormone is especially good at liberating fat from the body to provide energy for such repair and growth. Now, if we’re sleeping less, and repairing less, we’re probably not taking full use of the effects of growth hormone. This could be especially detrimental for children, hence the increased risk for children.
So let’s summarize and add a few more gems. Sleeping less increases your risk of weight gain. It can be worse for youth and young adults.
A certain study showed that after acute episodes of sleep deprivation, people eat about 600 more calories that following day3. Nearly every study that examines performance and sleep extension finds a good positive relationship: more sleep, perform better4.
Another quick recap on extending your sleep: we recover more, we take full use of growth hormone, we eat less, we perform better. Why do we ignore this crucial part to a healthy lifestyle?
I hope I have showed some new information on sleep that perhaps will help you start to value the underrated rock-star: sleep.
- Eat Less, More Often.
- Snacking Stay Power.
- Swap Fat for Fat.
- Water, Drink It.
- Activate Once Every Hour.
- Meal Prep, A Plan for Every Day.
- Sleep, an Underrated Rockstar.
- Nielsen LS, Danielsen KV, Sørensen TIA. Short sleep duration as a possible cause of obesity: critical analysis of the epidemiological evidence. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(2):78-92.
- Takahashi Y. [Growth hormone secretion during sleep]. Horumon To Rinsho. 1974;22(7):829-838.
- Brondel L, Romer MA, Nougues PM, Touyarou P, Davenne D. Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(6):1550-1559.
- Marshall GJG, Turner AN. The Importance of Sleep for Athletic Performance. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2016;38(1):61-67.