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The Effects Of Sleep On Fat Loss

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You know the feeling the morning after a fitful night’s sleep or a redeye flight? It’s like you’ve been drugged; your limbs are leaden, the usual caffeine fix doesn’t work, and you crave a takeaway breakfast.

You may also experience these symptoms if your sleep schedule is insufficient in compensating for your exercise output. Sleep is a crucial recovery period from exercise and helps you to achieve optimal body composition (the ratio of fat and fat-free mass in your body).

In this article, we’ll delve into the latest sleep research and share practical tips about sleeping well to help you improve your performance at work or in the gym.

[If you’re pushed for time, scroll down to the bottom for our tips on improving your sleep]

What are the common side effects of sleep deprivation?


Sleep deprivation has a wide-ranging potential to affect your health adversely. It can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, and several inflammatory markers. These inflammatory factors promote immune system dysfunction and leave you more susceptible to illness.

Impaired glucose metabolism may follow; this is where your body struggles to use insulin appropriately and begins storing body fat instead of using nutrients for fuel. Hormonal regulation is also damaged. Research has confirmed a correlation between a high level of the ‘hunger hormone’ Ghrelin and a decrease in calories burned. Basically, the more tired and lethargic you are, the hungrier you will feel.

Cognitive performance

Chronic or acute sleep loss has a detrimental effect on the health and growth of our synaptic network. [Despite some of the pseudo-scientific theories regarding the changes in some areas of the brain after sleep deprivation.]

The synaptic network is a critical part of our nervous system, widely believed to be closely tied to memory. Sleep deprivation impairs learning, short and long-term memory, and mental health. It increases the likelihood of depression and risk-taking behaviours. Additionally, it damages emotional well-being and contributes to fatigue and anger.


Research indicates that just a few nights of restricted sleep can lead to an increase in pain perception, decreased sociability, and an increase in ‘body discomfort.’ When you reintroduce a regular sleep pattern, you reverse these effects.


If you lead an active lifestyle but sleep less than eight hours per night, you’re increasing your risk of injury by 1.7x. Research in this area suggests that the elevated risk is due to reduced concentration. It’s not unreasonable to assume that this lack of focus will also negatively affect our capacity for work. Growth hormone too, which is important for the tissue rebuilding processes, is similarly reduced by sleep deprivation.

Sleep and fat loss

So, how does sleep influence fat loss? The current consensus is that the ‘calorie equation’ is all that matters. But is that correct?

In 2010, a 14-day study revealed some startling results about the effects of sleep poverty on body composition.

Participants were matched for age and body mass. Their calorie intake (including the ratio of carbohydrates to protein and fat) and energy expenditure were identical. They differed only in the number of hours of sleep granted.

They formed two groups:

  • 8.5 hours of sleep
  • 5.5 hours of sleep

What happened?

Both groups lost 3 kg of mass. The result was unsurprising as individuals in each group consumed an equal amount of calories and performed the same amount of activity.

However, what is noteworthy is that the group sleeping for 5.5 hours lost 0.6 kg of fat mass, while the group sleeping for 8 hours lost 1.4 kg of fat mass. That’s a pretty significant variance!

Ready to improve your sleep quality? Here are our top tips for longer, better quality sleep:

We all know that sleeping for longer, 7-9 hours per night, is important. Unfortunately, with frequent transatlantic flights, young children, and stressful jobs, that’s not always possible. These suggestions will put you on the right track, even if you can’t consistently get the recommended 8 hours.

  • 1. Sleep in the dark
  • 2. Turn down the radiator
    • Go to bed in a cooler room
  • 3. Keep it quiet
  • 4. Limit screen time before bed
    • Electronic devices emit a blue light that disrupts your circadian rhythm
  • 5. Change the colour of your screen.
    • If you absolutely must use a screen (and we really don’t recommend it), try this software:
      • For iPhone and newer Macs, use ‘Night Shift’ mode.
      • For older Macs and Windows use f.lux
  • 6. Find a pattern and stick to it
    • You’ll thrive if you go to sleep at the same time every night
  • 7. Develop an evening ritual
    • Much like the habit above, you can train your mind and body to wind down effectively and prepare for sleep
  • 8. Minimise alcohol consumption
    • Depending on how you process alcohol, reduce or avoid alcohol entirely in the evening
    • If performance is important, whether in the gym or the office, limiting alcohol will make a huge difference
    • Research shows a decrease in REM sleep following alcohol intake
  • 9. Limit caffeine
    • Test this one out according to how well your body processes caffeine. Some of our clients find it best stop drinking coffee after 11 am, while others are fine with an espresso just before bed
  • 10. Limit fluid intake 2-3 hours before bed
    • If you often need the toilet during the evening, reduce your fluid intake
  • 11. Eat a small amount of carbohydrates before bed (preferably a high-GI meal)
    • Research has shown a greater level of REM sleep following a carbohydrate-rich meal

At Integra, we understand the effects of sleep deprivation, both from research and from years of working with clients. We know these healthy habits will help you increase both the quality and the length of your sleep.

We hope you find our tips useful. Don’t try them all at once – start with the first few and work your way up to the rest. Like all change, new habits, and their benefits, form over time. We recommend you begin with tips 1-3, commit to at least 21 days, and then build from there.

Written by: 

Michael Goulden

Last updated: 

13 April 2020

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