Ever hear that you burn more fat when you sleep? This is kind of true. What it means is that when you are just lying around, your body does not need to burn as many carbohydrates, which are there as a QUICK source of energy. Obviously, when you are asleep, there is nothing particularly quick going on. BUT, you are also not burning a ton of calories. So, while the percentage of fat you are burning is higher during sleep, it’s still not enough to send you to the sack as part of your weight loss program.
Hormones and Brain Activity
There are some other things about sleep and fat that have to do with hormones and brain activity (and the rest of you too). I hope that at this point you are not tempted to stop reading! I will do my best to make this simple and interesting.
Foremost, it turns out that you DO need good quality sleep to keep you lean.
Here there are two hormones to talk about. There’s ghrelin, which is stimulated in your gastrointestinal track when your stomach is empty. Once that happens, you feel hungry.
Then there’s leptin, which is a messenger protein made in your fat cells. This stuff goes to your brain and tells you that you have enough energy to be active in the ways you want to be. In other words, it tells your brain that you don’t need to eat. Great! But one of the downsides is that, when you lose fat, you also lose leptin. Then, after you have valiantly dieted and lost some weight, you get extra hungry. A cruel twist of fate for sure.
Another thing. The receptors in your brain for both ghrelin and leptin are found on the same cells. That means that when one is there, the other one can’t be. This system also has strong links to another area of the brain that has to do with REWARD perception. Busted! Here is where food addiction can come in. At the very least, here is where we can get hooked on highly palatable, calorie-dense foods. Ice cream anyone?
Sleep and Fat
So, to get to the sleep thing. When you don’t sleep enough (pundits say at least 7 hours at night), your ghrelin levels stay high, and your leptin levels go down. You think you are hungry. On top of that, a sleep-deprived brain is more emotional, and you are more apt to make poor food choices. I think we are all familiar with this. Your brain tells you that if you just had some yummy fast food, you could perk up and get beyond feeling tired. But no.
Little wonder that sleep deprivation has been called “the royal route to obesity” by a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
There is something else nasty going on. When the sleep thing is out of whack, you tend to put your fat on around the middle, otherwise known as visceral fat. This type of fat, as opposed to the kind that lies around under your skin, is much more metabolically active. This means that it interacts with many, many feedback systems in your body, and messes them up. Like blood sugar regulation, brain function, inflammation, cholesterol clearance, and appetite control. Most notably, visceral fat is directly related to pre-diabetes and diabetes. To put it bluntly, visceral fat is highly correlated with a shorter life.
Therefore, getting enough sleep is something that just makes life easier, healthier, and more balanced.
PS. Studies have also shown that people are more likely to blow off their workouts if they are tired. Exercise is another way to keep off the visceral fat, as it literally changes many of the systems that put it there in the first place. Add this to the fact that exercise helps you sleep better, and you are almost looking at a “magic bullet”. At least, it is something that can get you started down a very, very, good road.
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