Do you want to lose weight? Then stay in bed.

I imagine this is the strangest fitness advice you will hear all year. But scientists from the University of Chicago have discovered that not getting enough sleep could ‘hormonally handicap’ you in your quest to lose weight. What this means is disturbing your natural sleep pattern also disturbs your fat burning hormones. For this exact reason, if you want to learn to lose fat you must first learn the art of ‘strategic sleep’.

Strategic Sleep

Thankfully, it’s not hard, nor does it require much effort: just a warm and comfortable bed with absolutely no alarm clock and 100% commitment to catching some much needed ZZZs. This is because you must first understand that sleep is the most effective rejuvenating tool we have readily available to us. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at the research published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, which teaches us that our recovery-boosting Growth Hormone spikes during sleep. Or the studies published in the Journal of Immunology, which found that it’s during this time your immune system – the body’s defence against disease – is re-fortified.

Sleep is essential to getting fit and healthy

Ross Edgley has also written about the fitness benefits of a healthy sleep. Click the image to read more.

Sleep and fat loss studies

In 1994, scientists made an amazing discovery. They found a powerful new fat-regulating hormone called leptin. Now, while modern science openly admits we’ve only just scratched the surface with our understanding of this hormone, we do know it has a significant impact on everything from our appetite to how much fat we store. To quote the Journal of Neurochemistry, ‘leptin is well known as a hormone important in the central control of appetitive behaviours’. Put simply, master leptin and you master your appetite, cravings and body fat.

 In summary, are we being so bold as to say thinner people are fonder of their beds? The answer is possibly ‘yes’.

So how exactly do we do this? Yes, you guessed it: sleep. This is because researchers from the aforementioned study at the University of Chicago took 12 healthy men aged 22 to 30, and then closely monitored their calorie intake, appetite and hunger during two days of ‘extended sleep’ and two days of ‘restricted sleep.’

Results revealed that during the two days when the subjects were restricted to only four hours of sleep, their leptin levels dropped by 18%. This, in turn, increased appetite by a staggering 23%. Researchers all concluded that this increase in appetite was specifically for ‘calorie dense foods’ with a high carbohydrate content like chocolate, sweets and generally junk food.

 A Digestive Tug-of-War

Sleeping causes a digestive tug-of-war, find out why on The Sleep Matters Club.

Finally, what’s interesting is they also reported a 28% increase in a hormone called ghrelin. Later dubbed the body’s ‘hunger hormone’, ghrelin is produced by the stomach, and signals to the brain whether we’re hungry or not. To use a sporting example, it’s almost like your stomach is in a tug-of-war competition. On the one side is leptin telling your brain you’re full and happy. On the other side is grehlin, which is telling your brain you’re hungry and need to attack the cookie jar. Depending on how much sleep you get may determine which team wins the ‘digestive tug-of-war’.

This, then, has important implications for your nutrition. Your cravings – and your (in)ability to stick to a diet – don’t actually have much to do with psychology and willpower. Instead, it’s much more to do with your body’s sleep patterns and corresponding hormones. As soon as you understand this, and the art of ‘strategic sleep’, you’re at a massive advantage against your battle with the bulge.

What does it all mean?

In summary, are we being so bold as to say thinner people are fonder of their beds? The answer is possibly ‘yes’. To conclude with the findings of a University of Texas study, scientists studied more than 1,000 pairs of twins to examine how people’s sleep influences their weight. What they discovered was, the shorter sleep duration was directly associated with an increase in body fat. Adding longer sleep times may help to ‘suppress genetic influences on body weight’.

The same scientists also documented that, over the past century, sleep deprivation has dropped by 1.5 hours a night. This seems to correspond directly with a rise in obesity levels, which the World Health organisation states have doubled since 1980. Coincidence? Personally, I think not, and believe it does have a part to play.

Therefore, together let’s buck this trend. Let’s turn off our alarm clocks, learn the art of strategic sleep, and bring our bodies back into hormonal harmony that’s conducive to losing fat.



Karine Spiegel, Esra Tasali, Plamen Penev and Eve Van Cauter (2004) “Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite.” Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004;141(11):846-850

Signore AP, Zhang F, Weng Z, Gao Y and Chen J (2008) “Leptin neuroprotection in the CNS: mechanisms and therapeutic potentials.” The Journal of Neurochemistry, 2008 Sep;106(5):1977-90.

Nathaniel F. Watson, Kathryn Paige Harden, Dedra Buchwald, Michael V. Vitiello, Allan I. Pack, David S. Weigle and Jack Goldberg (2012) “Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index in Twins: A Gene-Environment Interaction.” Sleep, Volume 35, Issue 05.