How to Burn Fat While Sleeping
Burning fat while you’re asleep sounds like a dream come true, however sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction.
Sleep studies have shown that when we sleep more deeply (and for the correct amount of hours), we actually build more muscle and burn more body fat compared with poor quality sleep.
These beneficial effects on muscle and fat loss are primarily due to the release of Human Growth Hormone that is released during deep sleep(3).
Effects of Poor Quality Sleep
There are several bad effects that poor quality sleep can have on our hormones that affect weight gain.
Firstly lack of good quality sleep can cause insulin resistance which leads to weight gain (4)
Second, ever notice how you’re more hungry after a poor night of sleep?
Our hunger hormone ghrelin (I call it “greedy ghrelin”) also increases with poor sleep – This causes cravings for high carbohydrate and sugary foods, so we tend to eat more snacks like chocolates, peanuts and potato chips that pack on the pounds… (2)
Another important hormone that poor sleep affects here is leptin.
Leptin is the hormone that tells our brain that we feel satisfied and that we’ve had enough to eat. Known as the satiety hormone, I call it “leave-it leptin” ( as-in leaving the food on the plate!) (2)
So in order to feel satisfied with eating less, our leptin levels need to be kept higher and our ghrelin lower by ensuring a good night’s sleep!
Stress, Cortisol and Sleep
Good quality sleep also allows the adrenal glands to recharge. The adrenal glands are small triangular organs that sits above each kidney, and they’re responsible for creating the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the stress hormone which through natural evolution was designed to give our bodies a boost of energy when running away from a hungry predator such as a tiger. So yes, cortisol can get a bad rap!
However there is a good side to cortisol too, which means we need it to be in balance (not too high, not too low).
So in the right amounts, cortisol gives us the energy we need these to feel awake, alert and ready to spring out of bed the next day!
When we’re feeling energised, we’re also much more motivated to exercise. Cortisol also helps to reduce the effects of soreness or inflammation in the body which can happen in our joints and muscles after exercise or interval training.
However stress caused by lack of sleep or simply the everyday pressures of life can cause cortisol levels to raise too high (7). Unfortunately this can stimulate blood sugar levels, leading to weight gain (8).
Another effect of stress induced cortisol, is that it can make falling asleep much harder. -And this can become a vicious cycle if we’re not careful. (7)
So it’s important to take time out to relax, whether that’s through meditation, a long walk or simply our favourite TV program.
In summary, keep stress levels low to ensure fat burning during sleep.
Ideally schedule workouts in the morning or afternoon…not too late in the evenings as this will raise cortisol levels too high, keeping you awake (9).
Load bearing exercises such as using dumbbell, kettle weights or simple body weight routines are highly recommended here, especially using short bursts of intense activity which are the best for burning fat quickly. This is also known as High Intensity Interval Training.
Food and Alcohol
Don’t eat big meals right before bed. Studies have shown that consumption of meals just before bedtime have a much lower thermic response than those eaten earlier in the day. This means that the body uses less energy to consume a bed time meal than a day time meal.
Obviously less energy burnt means we are holding onto those night-time calories which leads to wait gain (1)
For standard early evening meals, a good amount of Protein can help, as it has a thermogenic effect.
This means that the body uses more energy to consume the protein in the food, compared with the same amounts found in carbohydrate or fat rich foods.
As a result, studies suggest relatively higher protein portioned meals can assist with weight loss (10,11)
With regards to alcohol it’s generally recommended to have this with your meal, as this helps to limit the rate that alcohol is absorbed.
Don’t drink too much alcohol right before bed as it’s known to interfere with the quality of healing REM sleep. Alcohol can also cause a reduction of blood oxygen levels (12).
Both these things can lead to weight gain.
However if you do feel like a small “night-cap”, spirits like whiskey, vodka or gin are preferable being “low-carb”, followed by wine, then standard strength beer being the worst for calories. -Go easy on drink mixers as ginger ale and tonic water contain added sugar. -Otherwise sugar-free mixers would be fine.
Cool and Quiet
Keep your room fresh and breezy. So long as you have enough fresh air, say via air conditioning or open bedroom door, I recommend closing your bedroom window to keep out noise that could disturb your sleep.
Studies suggest that when room temperature is cooler than standard body temperature (98.6 degrees F or 37 degrees C), you’ll lose weight.
Room-wise, a good rule of thumb is around 60 degrees F or 15 degrees Celsius (eg cool air-conditioner). This will help you to lose weight as the body raises the metabolic rate, by burning more calories to keep warm (6)
Regarding fresh air, the availability of additional Oxygen is the key benefit.
Sleep studies on people who have trouble breathing at night (eg obstructive sleep apnoea) show that the lower blood oxygen levels cause hunger levels to rise, due to stimulation of grehlin (the hunger hormone).
My speculation here is that the body is trying to increase the amount of available energy lost from an oxygen shortage, by replacing it with additional energy from food.
Higher grehlin of course leads to over-eating and weight gain (5).
If you think you might have a problem with not being able to breath easily at night, I’d recommend chatting to your doctor about potential CPAP treatment to allow you to breath correctly.
In summary, a nice airy room helps keep hunger at bay!
Personally I’ve also found that sleeping with the top of my head towards a wall is much more restful than sleeping with your head pointing towards a window (probably due to less noise, and the added feelings of security).
Regular Sleep Time
Try to set a regular bed time. Our bodies work best when we get into a regular healthy rhythmn.
I like to go to bed around 10pm, as the hours spent asleep from around 10am to 2am are the most valuable in terms of healing the body.
This is due to the main spike of human growth hormone (HGH) that occurs during this time (13).
HGH helps keep us young, repairs the body, and also burns fat.
Testosterone also gets a boost with good sleep (14). This is good for muscle repair and sexual function.
Of course both men and women have testosterone (women less than men), and one of the main benefits is that it helps to keep estrogen under control.
Both sexes also have estrogen, which is another hormone known to play a role in fat storage, especially around the hips and thighs in women, and around the belly and “man-boobs” in men. Unfortunately when estrogen is high, it can suppress some of the good effects of testosterone.
Fat also stores estrogen, so the more fat we hold, the harder it can be to lose.
Smart phones / devices and TV
Try to limit the time spent watching TV or using mobile phones or smart devices just before you go to bed.
The reason for this is that the blue light emitted from the screens makes our brains think that it’s still daytime (because the sky is blue).
Essentially our brains produce stimulating serotonin when sunlight enters our eyes, and switches to melatonin production when darkness arrives.
Melatonin helps us to wind down and prepare our bodies for sleep. And as any doctor will tell you, a lack of melatonin will give rise to poor quality sleep.
So the use of artificial lighting in our homes and especially the blue light from our screens from our entertainment devices can interupt the natural circadian rhythm of day and night that we need to stay healthy (15)
Thankfully for those of us addicted to smart devices like myself, there is a solution!
- If you have a Samsung galaxy S7 or S8, you can remove the blue light by going to Settings > Display > Blue light Filter.
- For iphone users (iOS 9.3) go to Settings > Display > Night Shift > Enable until Tomorrow (and adjust the colour so that it’s more orangey).
- For PC / Mac / Linux / iPhone / Android use, also check out F.lux to reduce blue light https://justgetflux.com/ it’s free!
At the end of the day, if you still find you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you may wish to consider taking some Melatonin tablets.
As discussed, Melatonin is the chemical your brain makes to help you to fall asleep.
Schiff’s Melatonin Ultra comes highly recommended here, as not only does it contain Melatonin, but also GABA, L-Theanine, B6 and Calcium, all of which may help with relaxation and getting a restful night’s sleep.
1 Dont eat at night: Romon M1, Edme JL, Boulenguez C, Lescroart JL, Frimat P. Circadian variation of diet-induced thermogenesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 Apr;57(4):476-80.
2 Bad sleep connected with weight gain via lower leptin and raised grehlin (increaseing hunger by around 24%) and carb craving https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/
3 Growth Hormone is released during deep sleep. Growth hormone is known to help build lean muscle tissue and reduce body fat
4 Poor sleep insulin resistance https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20371664
5 Keep well ventilated suggests low oxygen levels caused by patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (trouble getting enough oxygen through propper breath) gave rise to higher grehlin, and weight gain http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/22/2/251.full
6 Higher metabolic rate in cold http://www.physiology.org/doi/pdf/10.1152/jappl.19184.108.40.206
7 Poor sleep causes cortisol to rise next evening https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9415946
8 Cortisol stimulates insulin and therefore weight gain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7917157
9 Exercise keeps you awake cortisol https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2425585/pdf/postmedj00246-0005.pdf
10 Protein, weight loss https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15466943
11 Protein, weight loss https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/60/7/189/1839762
12 Alcohol = less oxygen http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0002934381901248
13 Growth hormone 10 to 2am https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC297368/pdf/jcinvest00244-0147.pdf
14 Boost testosterone wth good sleep https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21890115
15 Blue light supress melatonin http://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/japplphysiol.01413.2009