Sleep Yourself Thin

Sleep may be THE most important key to fat loss.

Click below to listen to our podcast episode on The Importance of Sleep:


A History of Sleep Neglect

In high school, I regularly slept 3-4 hours a night and got my additional sleep during classes at school. In college, I pulled all-nighters about once every other week, often pulling 2-3 per week around midterms and finals. I frequently went to bed when the sun was coming up, and started to play when the sun went down… and I loved it! Then, I started playing with polyphasic sleep… everything from bi-phasic sleep to the uberman schedule (20 minute naps only)… and I did the uberman longer than most people… about 4 months.

But I was fat, sick, and stupid.

nick in college

Book Smart & Health Smart are 2 Very Different Things!

The reasons I neglected sleep for so much of my life were due to ignorance and inexperience. I simply didn’t know how important sleep was, or how much better I would feel if I got more of it.

After reading about the dramatic differences sleep makes in fat-loss, recovery, mood, stress, productivity and general well-being – I decided to give it a shot.

What a world of difference!

Maybe you’re a lot smarter than I am and KNOW how important sleep is, but it’s just hard to make time for. Maybe you’re as ignorant as I was and just need a bit more convincing.

Regardless, if you’re looking for more reasons to justify your sleep, you’re in luck because that’s exactly what I’m about to share.

Instead of addressing the millions of excuses people can come up with for not getting more sleep, I’ll be covering a few reasons why it’s critical for fat-loss… so critical, that I won’t teach any kind of radical diet or exercise until you have your sleep habits under control.

This article will provide abundant support for the following recommendations:

  • If you’re sleep deprived and trying to lose fat, the best thing you can do is sleep more.
  • Forget diet, forget exercise… catch-up on sleep first and you’ll get far better long-term results with much less work.

The beginning of this article will be conversational, then it will be more research-oriented, and finally, we’ll look at specific action steps you can take based on what you’ve learned. If it’s too long to finish in one sitting, bookmark this post and come back to it later… there’s a lot to digest!

So get a warm drink, sit yourself down comfortably, and get ready to learn all about the importance of sleep for fat-loss.



The Pros & Cons of Sleep

The Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fat Loss

  • Less Fat Loss
  • More Muscle Loss (Lower Basal Metabolic Rate [BMR])
  • Less Resistance to Stress
  • Lower Human Growth Hormone (HGH) Production
  • Increased Insulin Resistance
  • Increased Leptin Resistance
  • Elevated Cortisol
  • Greater Hunger
  • Hungry More Frequently
  • Eat More Calories
  • Less Energy (which leads to less movement)

The Positive Effects of Sleep on Fat Loss

  • Lose More Fat
  • Lose Less Muscle (Higher BMR)
  • Greater Resistance to Stress
  • Greater HGH Production
  • Faster Muscle Recovery
  • Naturally Less Hungry, Less Often
  • Naturally Eat Fewer Calories
  • More Energy (which leads to more movement)



When you’re sleep deprived…

  • It’s not your diet that’s holding you back… (I may eat more junk than you)
  • It’s not your exercise that’s holding you back… (I may work less hard than you, especially if you’re a beginner)


It’s your LACK OF SLEEP that’s holding you back!


Of course, it could be a consistency problem… but even that is secondary when you’re sleep deprived because…

It’s SEVERAL TIMES HARDER to lose fat when sleep deprived than it is to lose fat when well rested.

Lack of sleep throws your hormones all out of wack, making fat loss and muscle gain ridiculously difficult. It makes you more likely to be more hungry, more often, and to eat more. And even when you’re doing everything else right, it may take you five times longer to get to your goal if you’re sleep deprived. And this article isn’t even touching on sleep deprivation’s impacts on energy, depression, productivity, immune system function and likelihood of developing serious diseases.

Lack of sleep is BAD for fat-loss!



Are You Sleep Deprived?

“If you do not sleep you will:

  1. Completely cock-block your fat loss.
  2. Get fat, sick and diabetic.
  3. Get old and wrinkled before your time.” (1)

But how do you know if you’re sleep deprived?

Here are a few indicators (many which I’ll reference later):

  • You sleep less than 7 hours a night
  • You’re tired in the morning or have a hard time falling asleep
  • You wake-up to an alarm clock in the morning

Let’s talk about the last one quickly because I can hear some objections already.

What would you do if you didn’t have an alarm in the morning?

Sleep more, right?

And why is that? Because your body could use it!

How many more hours do you need per night so that you’re not waking up to an alarm in the morning and feeling well rested?

1 hour?

[contentbox width=”550″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”none” bordercolor=”000000″ dropshadow=”0″ backgroundcolor=”F3F5D0″ radius=”0″]The more hours you need to catch-up on, the more sleep deprived you are, and the harder the fat-loss journey will be for you.[/contentbox]


Also, it’s not just the quantity, but also the quality. If you go to bed all liquored up at 9pm, it’s better than liquered at 4am, but you still may not feel well rested. Likewise, if you sleep from 6am to 3pm in a bright room, you’re not going to feel as good as someone who slept from 9pm until 6am… just keep these in mind as we talk about being “well rested.”



How Much Harder is Fat-Loss Without Sleep?

Here’s a little formula for ya:


Take the extra hours of sleep you need to wake up naturally and add one.


This will be how much harder it is for you to succeed than someone who is waking up naturally and well-rested in the morning. If you’re undersleeping 1 hour per night, fat-loss will be TWICE as hard.

  • Sleeping 2 hours too little? – Fat-loss will be 3X harder.
  • 3 hours?  – Fat-loss will be 4X harder.
  • 4 hours? – Fat-loss will be 5X HARDER!

Apologies to my lawyers friends who are chronically underslept… but weight loss is going to be really hard for you if you don’t sleep more. So maybe, instead of making fat-loss your goal, you can just focus on sleeping an extra hour or two for now. It’ll help keep you from getting fatter and you’ll have more energy and less stress during the day.

You’re overachievers, so once your job is only 2-3x as difficult as it is for the average, well-rested person, your chances of success will go up dramatically.

In my fat-loss coaching, I realized that while sleep is frequently sacrificed or ignored, it is ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL FAT-LOSS ACCELERATORS, as well as THE BIGGEST FAT-LOSS BARRIER for overweight, underslept people.

“Just one night of missed or inadequate sleep is sufficient to make you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic. Think about how crappy you feel when you miss sleep. That’s how much fun it is to be a type 2 diabetic all the time! Exercise can help, but your physiology never gets to normal without adequate sleep.” (1)

Ick! I don’t like feeling like a diabetic… how about you?



The Good News

Unlike diet and exercise, which require sustained diligence, determination, and energy to be successful…




It’s also something every one of us actually looks forward to!


Aww, I miss waking-up to an alarm clock in the morning!” -said Nobody… Ever!


Compare: “Aww, it’s been a long day. I don’t have energy to workout,” with, “Man, I’m well rested and full of energy… what should I do with myself?! So many possibilities!”

If diet and exercise require energy and determination that isn’t there to begin with, wouldn’t it make sense to build greater energy and determination FIRST by getting more sleep, and enjoying fat-loss at the same time?


Once your sleep needs are taken care of (and you’ve likely shed a few pounds in the process), then you can consider diet and exercise.



When Should You Go to Sleep?

If the sun’s gone down, it’s always good to consider sleeping. If you go to bed at 9pm, you will sleep more and be better rested than if you go to bed anytime later.

Can’t fall asleep right away?

No problem! Just relax, empty your mind and stay in bed until you do. Having a hard time falling asleep until 10pm is better than going to bed at 10pm and having a hard time until 10:30… that’s an extra 30 minutes of sleep!

And once you get into the habit of sleeping earlier… guess what?

It becomes easier! You’ll stop worrying so damn much and actually let yourself sleep.

But like anything good in life, it takes practice.

As a Type A personality, I loathed sleep for the majority of my life. I made the same mistakes lots of people do and thought I was being more productive by sleeping less. Despite gaining several hours in my day through polyphasic sleep deprivation techniques, I’ve found that I’m happiest, healthiest and most energetic with a solid 8-9 hours at night. It’s funny, you sleep more, feel better AND somehow manage to get twice as much done because you have so much more energy and concentration… not to mention that getting stronger and leaner in the gym becomes several times easier!

I mean, unless you’re a totally different breed of monster than me, you’d also like to get the best results, as quickly as possible, and with the least amount of work involved… right?


If Your Kids Can Do It…

Nobody would argue that growing kids need their sleep. It’s essential for growth.

But what about growing adults?

Kids bodies are constantly changing so they need their rest. If you want to change your body, doesn’t it make sense that you might want to get a bit more rest too?

And how about bedtimes?


Kids don’t want to go to bed at 9pm any more than you do.


But you set the rules for them, and force them to obey. If you set and enforce the same rules for yourself, you can go to bed earlier too.

  • Afraid of waking-up at 4am in the morning?
  • Don’t know what to do with all that free time before work?
  • None of your favorite TV shows on and nobody to booze with?
  • Afraid of working while well-rested in the peaceful silence of the early morning instead of while burnt-out and inefficient at night?
  • Scared of not having plenty of time to exercise so you can’t fall back on your favorite excuses, and actually having a bit of time to enjoy a cup of coffee, listen to the birds and watch the sun rise?

Again, I can’t fight your demons for you, only you can do that. And the only way to grow is by conquering your fears instead of staying a slave to them.


These are good problems to have, so welcome them, and learn to deal with them.


The negative vices of the evening don’t exist in the early morning, so work on getting to bed earlier and enjoy easier fat-loss, more energy, less stress and a happier life!

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” -Benjamin Franklin



Sleep & Weight Loss Research

After all this talk about the importance of sleep, let’s start looking at some research!

[contentbox width=”550″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”none” bordercolor=”000000″ dropshadow=”0″ backgroundcolor=”F5F5F5″ radius=”0″]Both better sleep quality and more than 7 hours per night increased the likelihood of weight-loss success by 33%. (13)[/contentbox]

And how many of us are getting it?

“Sleep deprivation is a growing problem, with 28 percent of adults now reporting that they get six or fewer hours of sleep per night.” (15)

“According to annual surveys done by the National Sleep Foundation, by 1998 only 35% of American adults were obtaining 8h of sleep and that number had fallen to 26% by 2005.” (14)

“[A] study looked at 1,088 pairs of twins and found that sleeping less than seven hours a night was associated with both increased BMI and greater genetic influences on BMI. Previous research has shown that genetic influences include things like glucose metabolism, energy use, fatty acid storage and satiety. In this study, the heritability of BMI was twice as high for the short sleepers than for twins who slept longer than nine hours a night.” (12)

“Evidence suggests that individuals who report fewer total hours of sleep are more likely to be overweight or obese.” (13)

OK, so sleep is important for weight loss. But HOW important is it… really?

Consider the following:

  • “The only ways to boost your metabolism are exercise, regular sleep, and healthy eating.” (6)
  • “A sleep schedule is vital to any weight-loss plan. Too much or too little shuteye can add extra pounds” (7)
  • “Bottom line: not enough sleep makes you fat, hungry, impotent, hypersensitive, and cancerous, with a bad heart.” (4)

But the story doesn’t stop there…



The Sleep & Weight Loss Information Gap

Despite the preceding quote-laden section, finding research on sleep and weight loss is actually quite hard to come by.

Consider this literature review:

“A literature search was conducted for all articles published between 1966 and January 2007 using the search “sleep” and (“duration” or “hour” or “hours”) and (“obesity” or “weight”) in the MEDLINE database. Additional references were identified by reviewing bibliographies and contacting experts in the field. Studies reporting the association between sleep duration and at least one measure of weight were included… Thirty-six publications (31 cross-sectional, 5 prospective, and 0 experimental) were identified… Short sleep duration appears independently associated with weight gain, particularly in younger age groups. However, major study design limitations preclude definitive conclusions. Further research with objective measures of sleep duration, repeated assessments of both sleep and weight, and experimental study designs that manipulate sleep are needed to better define the causal relationship of sleep deprivation on obesity.” (14)

36 studies is NOT a lot… that’s less than 1 study per year from 1966 to 2007!

Only a quarter of us are getting enough sleep and 68.8% are classified as “overweight or obese,” 35.7% as obese, and 6.3% as extremely obese. (16) That’s 19.8 million people who are EXTREMELY OBESE in the USA alone… and if we look at everyone classified as “overweight or obese,” that’s a whopping 216 MILLION US citizenz who would probably like to lose a few pounds.



And we know sleep affects weight loss…

So why isn’t more research available?


Turn that idea around in your head for a while…

I’d wager it’s because there’s lots of money in pills, but very little money to be made in prevention with natural cures that anyone can do for free (like sleep). At least, that’s one possible reason for the lack of research into this topic. I’d wager several authors and exercise centers have done studies of their own… but getting published in journals is usually a bit more expensive and rigorous.

Another thing that’s easy to overlook in the meta analysis above is…


ZERO experimental studies were found!


However, despite the problem, researchers like Christopher Gardner at the Stanford School of Medicine and others are looking at sleep as a possible weight loss intervention. I’m eagerly looking forward to these results, but until they’re published, we’ll have to be content with what we know so far.

And what we already know is very compelling.



Research on Sleep

People who sleep less…

  • Eat more calories than those who sleep more.
  • Lose less fat and more muscle when on a diet.


Diet, Sleep Deprivation & Weight Loss

In one study, overweight adult volunteers were observed in a lab where their calories, diet, exercise & sleep window were carefully controlled. One group were allowed 8.5 hours to sleep, and the other group were allowed 5.5 hours of sleep. The results…

Both groups lost 6.6lbs on average, but the sleep deprived group lost 55% less fat and 60% more muscle!




The sleep deprived group lost precious muscle… recall that a pound of muscle burns 50 calories per day. So if you lose 10lbs of muscle and 10lbs of fat, you’ll burn 500 fewer calories per day… NOT GOOD!

Not only are they losing an important metabolic advantage from their muscle loss, they’re losing less fat for doing the same amount of work. I don’t know about you, but I like to be efficient with my exercise. Who wants to burn less fat and have to eat less because they’ve lost the passive fat-burning ability of muscle… sounds like a double edged sword to me.

So far, not getting your Z’s while dieting sounds like about one of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to lose weight.

But what if you’re not dieting?

No Diet, Sleep Deprivation & Weight Loss

In another study, calories weren’t controlled. Subjects ate and slept like they normally would for 3 days to establish baseline sleep and calorie consumption. Then, one group was allowed to continue sleeping as usual, while the other group were woken up an average of 80 minutes earlier than they did over their 3 day baseline average.

The result…

Over the next 8 days, the sleep deprived group ate 549 MORE CALORIES PER DAY than the control group!


That’s a pound of weight gain per week!


Remember this the next time you’re “too busy to sleep.”

By going to bed earlier, you have less time to eat, and for most of us, that means less time to eat the really bad stuff that creeps into our diets late at night. So instead of making a bag of popcorn and plopping yourself down in front of the TV, GO TO BED!

If you’re ever wondering if you should sacrifice sleep for exercise or calories… my advice is simply:

Don’t make a habit of it!

There are special cases where the lack of sleep won’t hurt much, and pre-competition for powerlifting, a bit of deprivation can actually help with strength… but these are special cases, and not the norm. It’s when you get into the habit of sleeping too little that you start to see problems.

When sleep deprived, going to bed as quickly as possible is probably the best thing you can do for your fat-loss. You’ll conserve more muscle than you’ll conserve by exercising, and lose more fat than you’d lose by exercising… so there’s no reason for most of us to exercise when sleep deprived… fix that first and THEN consider exercise.

If you feel too tired, too often, you really need to take care of it sooner than later or you’ll forever miss out on the many benefits that exercise provides (including being 10x more likely to keep the weight off than non-exercisers).

In short, if you’re not getting your Z’s (7 hour minimum for most people), you…

  • Burn less fat
  • Lose more muscle
  • Eat more calories

And this list will just get longer and longer as we go along.

Why You Must Sleep When Dieting

Sleep deprivation hurts everyone… perhaps the dieters most of all!

Non-dieters will get fatter, but dieters will also lose precious muscle, likely yo-yo, and get back to the same weight with fat where muscle used to live… yikes! This means they get to eat less and gain more than before they decided to go on a diet while sleep deprived!

So if you’re fighting the flab, remember that sleep is your sword! If you’re not getting it, it’s like a dull blade… you’re going to have to do a lot of hacking to make any progress! Probably a lot safer just to sharpen the darn thing before you go into battle!


Before majoring in the minors, look first at your sleeping habits.


You may be working several times harder than the guy next to you in the gym that is getting the same results AND enjoying a good night’s rest.

Now, let’s turn our attention to how sleep deprivation affects several critical fat-loss hormones.



Hormone Levels (Dials on an Equalizer)

“Anything that disrupts our sleep-wake cycle will disrupt our diurnal rhythm and our hormones will go out of balance.” (3)

You can think of hormones like dials on an equalizer. When you get plenty of sleep, the dials are in the optimal position. But when you’re sleep deprived, it’s like a little kid came by and messed everything up. We’re now going to look at some of the dials that we know get messed up when you aren’t sleeping enough.

The Fountain of Youth Hormone: HGH

The first switch is for human growth hormone (HGH):

  • “Growth hormone (HGH) is critical for maintaining lean body mass, burning fat, and even fixing DNA damage. Its secretion is dramatically improved by brief intense exercise, low carbohydrate intake, punctuated eating (intermittent fasting), and restful sleep. HGH levels tend to decrease with age, but by emulating the exercise, food, and lifestyle of our HG ancestors, we can dramatically improve our production of the youth hormone.” (1)
  • “During deep sleep, your brain secretes a large amount of growth hormone, which tells your body how to break down fat for fuel.” (5)
  • “And HGH is secreted only during deep sleep. Without sleep, even the most ardent weight watcher will experience plenty of frustration but not much weight loss.” (9)
  • “HGH is often called the ‘fountain of youth’… HGH can shed body fat, increase muscle tone, boost your energy, reduce wrinkles, help you sleep better, improve sex drive and performance, improve immune and heart function, improve brain function.” (10)

Human growth hormone is important, not just for fat loss, but for energy, aging, health and cognitive functioning. Since intermittent fasting also helps with both the production of HGH and fat loss, it is one of the reasons that I eventually teach many clients how to stave off hunger while skipping breakfast in the morning. However, we’ll save these and other recommendations for another blog post.

If you’re not getting your Z’s, your HGH switch gets all out of whack. Get more sleep and you can enjoy this natural fountain of youth that is always present within your body.


It’s more efficacious than every “anti-aging” cream on the market, and a lot cheaper too!

Understanding Hormonal Resistance (The TV Remote)

Like an equalizer, TVs have settings on them as well such as brightness, volume, contrast, etc. To explain hormonal resistance, imagine you have a TV remote in your hand.

If the picture’s too bright, you probably want to adjust it with the remote instead of crouching down and fiddling with the buttons. It’s the same story for any of these settings – you just use the remote from the comfort of your chair. If your remote’s not working, it makes it a lot harder to enjoy watching the boob tube.

But there are 2 kinds of problems you will frequently encounter with your TV settings:

  • The first problem is that someone messed up the volume, brightness or some other default setting, and you’ve got to fix it. This is analogous to having your hormone responses all screwed up because you’re sleep deprived.
  • The second kind of problem is that your remote may not work too well. You want to change the channel, but you have to hit the darn button 5 or 6 times before it works!

This is analogous to HORMONE RESISTANCE.

For example, if you develop insulin resistance, your cells will not respond to insulin as they should. Instead of shuttling nutrients to your cells efficiently, the nutrients don’t get where they’re supposed to go in time. So your body keeps producing more and more insulin until it gets the result it desires.

It’s like those 5 wasted clicks on the remote… your body is waiting for response so it keeps clicking the button.

The problem is, it’s worse than the failing remote. When the channel has changed, you stop clicking. However, once your body absorbs what it should, it’s left with tons of leftover insulin that needs to be dealt with. This in turn will make your cells even more insulin resistant.

So next time you need to change the channel, you won’t need to click 5 times, you’ll need to click 7 times. The following time you’ll need to click 11 times, and this number keeps increasing. Eventually, this number becomes so high that it looks like your remote control is BROKEN.

The remote not working would be like type II diabetes. Your body just stops responding to the signals it should be receiving from insulin.

So when talking about insulin resistance, leptin resistance, cortisol resistance, or any other kind of resistance, it’s like your remote control is dying.

You keep producing the hormones, but your body stops responding to them.

Now that you understand hormone resistance, let’s look at the major players involved in hunger and how sleep affects them.

The Hunger Hormones: Leptin & Ghrelin

“Leptin is the chemical messenger that transmits signals from fat cells directly to the brain. When leptin binds with the brain’s receptors, it shuts down appetite and speeds up metabolism.” (3)

“Poor sleep also causes insulin resistance, which in turn causes leptin resistance. It’s a vicious cycle, but even worse. The body’s natural response to hormone resistance is to make more of the hormone to overcome the resistance. But when your sleep is troubled, you’re put at a major disadvantage because you can’t ramp up leptin production when it’s most needed.” (3)

“Fat breakdown is principally controlled by the single hormone that inhibits its activity. That hormone is insulin.” (18)

Just like the remote control that gets worse and worse over time, sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance and this means less fat loss than with normal insulin levels. This, in turn increases leptin resistance, meaning you are less likely to be satisfied with your meal, and more likely to overeat. As we saw earlier, this is exactly what happened to the sleep deprived group in the study that ate 549 more calories than the well rested participants.

Since leptin tells your body when to stop eating, developing resistance to leptin makes you more likely to overeat.

Another hormone called ghrelin tells your body when to start eating

Guess what?

Sleep affects ghrelin too.

[contentbox width=”550″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”none” bordercolor=”000000″ dropshadow=”0″ backgroundcolor=”F5F5F5″ radius=”0″]”Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin.” (17)[/contentbox]

So when you’re sleep deprived, you not only eat more, but are also hungry more often.

Hungry more often, more likely to overeat, and less capable of burning fat…

This is NOT a good combination for fat-loss!

The Stress Hormone: Cortisol

We’re talking about stress because cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is closely tied to your sleep and weight loss efforts.

“Cortisol increases blood pressure and acts as an anti-inflamatory by lowering the activity of the immune system. It will trigger the breakdown of muscle mass by converting protein (amino acids) into glucose via gloconeogenesis. Cortisol decreases insulin sensitivity lowers the rate of bone formation, and causes a loss of collagen in the skin and other connective tissues. The following increase cortisol levels: intense or prolonged physical activity, caffeine, sleep deprivation, stress, subcutaneous fat tissue, and certain contraceptives.” (1)

So if you’re overweight (with lots of subcutaneous fat tissue), stressed out, or not sleeping well, your cortisol gets elevated. Unlike exercise where cortisol is beneficial and short in duration, continuous stress, sleep deprivation and being overweight lead to regularly elevated cortisol levels.

“But even if you stop eating carbohydrates, your cortisol, insulin, and prolactin won’t drop to winter levels unless you sleep 9.5 hours a night, starting as close to dusk as possible.” (4)

 Yikes, 9.5 hours… even I don’t get that!

But the main point here is that even if you fix your stress issues, you will STILL have high levels of cortisol if you’re not sleeping enough!


The only CURE for sleep deprivation is…



But if your cortisol is elevated, it’s HARDER TO SLEEP!

“Staying up too late, or simply neglecting sleep quality and duration, can seriously undermine your ability to deal with otherwise manageable levels of stress.” (1)

“It is a nasty snowball effect that is called a ‘feed forward’ mechanism in biology. Abnormally elevated cortisol begins to disturb sleep, which makes us more prone to daily stress, which raises cortisol. The consequences of this downward spiral include suppressed immune function, chronically elevated blood sugar levels, decreased insulin sensitivity, impaired ability to form long-term memory, and decreased sex drive and libido. Yes folks, cortisol is a big deal.” (1)

Normally, healthy individuals will wake up with high cortisol and go to bed with low cortisol, but in the case of what Charles Poliquin calls “tired and wired,” many people actually get high cortisol in the evening and have low levels in the morning.

This means no energy when getting up in the morning, and too much energy when lying down for bed at night!


This is a NASTY cycle… and most of us are in it!


I won’t get into sleep tips much in this article, but if you have this problem and feel tired at night… take your body’s cue and go to bed immediately!

Otherwise, you’re likely to get a second wind around 10pm and be up several more hours whether you like it or not. Don’t pass-up the chance for an early night’s rest. Your other responsibilities can wait until the morning!

“Stress has an additive effect… sleep is likely the most important factor… concerning stress, but day-to-day stress can elevate cortisol in the evening and leave you tired and wired, thus affecting sleep. It’s a catch-22 if you don’t have your ducks in a row. Meds and booze do not fix the situation. Any questions?” (1)

OK, well it seems clear that lack of sleep increases cortisol and can reduce your resistance to stress.

On the flip side of the coin, getting enough sleep can help buffer against stress and lower elevated cortisol.

So the good news is, some changes in habit can make it all better… awesome! No pills required, no expensive specialists needed, just build more sleep into your schedule and you won’t have to earn so much to pay for your medical problems… oh, and you’ll feel better too.


But why is elevated cortisol bad for weight loss?

“Shorter nights meant less melatonin. Less melatonin meant more estrogen and testosterone, more cortisol, and, of course, more insulin.” (4)

It keeps coming back to elevated insulin…

Elevated insulin leads to insulin resistance and the host of problems that follow that we outlined in the previous section.

I’d hate to make a slippery slope argument… but these things are all tied together!

Don’t sleep enough and you are more hungry, more often; you eat more and have lower resistance to stress. Start getting sleep deprived and you have a harder time sleeping at night, and waking up in the morning.

It’s a nasty downward spiral that makes fat-loss damn near impossible.

That being said, let’s end on a nice note for cortisol because it’s great when it’s “switch” is on the right setting:

“Cortisol shouldn’t be feared, because it is a crucial anti-inflamatory — we just don’t want too much of it.” (1)



Stressed Out, Tired & Wired

I’d wager continuously elevated stress started somewhere around the time we decided to trade 5 days of our lives for 2 days to drink beer and buy stuff for our houses that we never have time to actually enjoy – because the future is definitely going to be more stressful than the present… at least, that’s what I used to think.

Let me paint a depressing picture… but don’t worry, there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

[contentbox width=”550″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”none” bordercolor=”000000″ dropshadow=”0″ backgroundcolor=”F5F5F5″ radius=”0″]”People with demanding jobs and not much freedom to make decisions have a 23% higher chance of experiencing a heart attack than those whose jobs are less stressful.” (11)[/contentbox]

If you’re not “busy” these days, you’re not to be respected by others… If you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough…

“Hey Bob, how ya been?”
“Pretty busy Mark… how bout you?”
“Aww, life’s been crazy!”

Which is more and more frequently code for, “I’ve made some poor financial choices and now I spend every day worrying about the future and regretting my mistakes in the past. This makes me stressed out, unable to sleep, and fat. And this downward spiral continues… because I just get more tired, more stressed, and fatter.”

And if that’s not bad enough, we then trade an hour of sleep so we can work an hour more!


Our Actions are INSANE!


I know that spiral all too well… been there, done that, don’t ever want to go back. This is what you get if you follow the status quo… and that’s why it’s good NOT TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

And being abnormal by sleeping a bit more than your obese co-worker, who spends 10 minutes circling the parking lot instead of parking 20 feet further from the door, is a good place to start.

If you want health like the average American, just behave like the average American.

And if you want worse health, work like a lawyer!



It’s time to break the cycle!

Of course, genetics play a role, but genetics are secondary to your habits. There’s a great new field emerging called epigenetics that studies how heritable changes in gene expression can occur and be passed on to future generations by factors other than changes to your underlying DNA structure. In other words…

Improve your habits, and your body can drastically change!

“In the Överkalix study, Marcus Pembrey and colleagues observed that the paternal (but not maternal) grandsons of Swedish men who were exposed during preadolescence to famine in the 19th century were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. If food was plentiful, then diabetes mortality in the grandchildren increased, suggesting that this was a transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. The opposite effect was observed for females—the paternal (but not maternal) granddaughters of women who experienced famine while in the womb (and therefore while their eggs were being formed) lived shorter lives on average.” (19)

Furthermore, those positive changes can be passed onto your children! But the same is true for negative changes as well…

So are you passing on the best genes possible to your kids, or are you setting them up for teenage diabetes?



Act AS IF…

If you want to have better health, you need to act “As if” you were a healthier person – even if that suddenly makes you “abnormal” or “extreme!” Do this long enough, and you eventually will become that healthier person.

On one of my favorite podcasts, Fat 2 Fit Radio, has a ridiculously simple way to guarantee you get to your ideal weight…

Just eat the same daily calories as a person at your ideal weight!

As always, there are caveats to consider, but the main principle remains the same… act like the person you want to become and your chances of getting there will rise exponentially.

  • If you want to be better rested, sleep as much as well-rested people sleep.
  • If you want to be strong like an Olympian, find an Olympic weightlifting coach and get training.
  • If you want to be better at math, no matter how bad you think you are, just hire a tutor, buy the recommended math books, and put in 10,000 hours. I guarantee you’ll become an amazing mathematician!

It’s not like the Karate kid where you train hard for a few weeks and become a champion everybody loves.

Sushi masters spend a lifetime perfecting their art, and all they do is put a piece of meat on top of a rice ball… easy to talk about, but hard to master. Top sushi chefs can make over $1000 per hour for the art they spend decades perfecting… but they don’t get there after a 10-day seminar that costs $5000.



Imagine A Well-Rested Life

Take a couple minutes to imagine what life could be like on just 1 extra hour of sleep per night.

Being a little less stressed each day, a bit more kind, generous and understanding of the people in your life. A bit more energetic and playful. A bit happier, a bit healthier. Just a little bit more of these each day.

365 extra hours of sleep over the course of a year can make a HUGE difference… and that’s several THOUSAND more hours of sleep in the next decade.

Oh, and dare I mention that several studies suggest that sleeping longer may mean living longer!

Wouldn’t it be better to have a long, well-rested life where you’re living at your optimal potential than a short life with more stress, less focus, and a harder time with even the most mundane of tasks?

Just as lack of sleep creates a downward spiral, getting more sleep creates an upward spiral!

  • It’s not just about fat-loss, it’s about having more energy, which affects your vitality, happiness, playfulness and productivity.
  • It’s about having a better mood, which affects your happiness, your relationships, your playfulness, your productivity, your attractiveness.
  • It’s about having better health, which also affects your happiness, your relationships, your playfulness, your productivity, your attractiveness, your confidence…

Sleep affects you, for good or for ill, in every aspect of your life.

So are you setting yourself up to succeed, or are you setting yourself up to fail?



Sleep vs. Diet & Exercise

When it comes to fat-loss, how does sleep compare to diet and exercise?

“If you get a better handle on your sleep, you will recover faster from exercise, have better memory and recall, and have fewer allergies and significantly less inflammation. All of the stuff we talked about with regards to insulin and inflammation, sleep affects this about as powerfully as food.” (1)

Even if sleep and diet are not identical in their efficacy, they’re both very important. So would you rather work hard at improving your diet, or sleep more, feel better rested, and enjoy the same metabolic advantages?

I know hundreds of people who will go to the gym for a few months each year. They work to the point of exhaustion. They puke… they give it their all…

And they get nowhere.

I spent several years going nowhere too… as a matter of fact, I spent about a decade yo-yo dieting before I finally understood the importance of sustainability… of not stretching yourself until you break.

These days, I don’t work that hard, but I’ve worked out several times a week, just about every week, for the past 7 years. Like Dave Tate, I only have 1-2 “tough” sets in me per workout. But as a result of my consistency, I’ve gotten progressively stronger and leaner since I started, and finally saw my abs for the first time this year.

My lifts are also just as strong as they were when I was 10kg heavier, so my relative strength has gone through the roof.

Nick's six-pack

Sleep is good for fat-loss!

It’s kinda like that sushi chef who keeps working at his art. You need to develop a master’s mentality… to be in it for the long run. Sleeping-in during vacation is great, but wouldn’t it be better to feel as good as you feel on vacation… every day of your life?!

If you like to work hard just for the sake of working hard… be my guest, BUT…

Don’t bitch about it, don’t expect results, and don’t expect anyone to respect you.

Consistency is respectable.

Using your brain is respectable.

Stupid training, despite “working really hard,” is NOT respectable.

From what I’ve seen, most people don’t need to work any harder, they need to work SMARTER… and they need to work smarter consistently.


The smartest thing you can do if you’re sleep deprived is to catch up on your sleep.


That’s something I can respect… and it takes some balls!

Just try it and see how much resistance you encounter, not just from your friends and family, but from that little voice in your head that got you into this mess in the first place.

Chris will back me up on this. Sure, it doesn’t look sexy to go into the gym and bench an empty bar to 40% of your max on the first set… but it looks even worse if you’re still benching the same weight 10 years later!



Sleep Is A Badass Angel…

Sleep is a completely different monster than diet and exercise… in fact, if diet and exercise are monsters, sleep is a badass angel that slays monsters by the score!

Diet requires energy.
Exercise requires energy.




From ALL of the evidence I’ve seen regarding sleep deprivation, sleeping is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than diet or exercise alone. But let’s pretend that’s not the case since this particular study hasn’t been done yet (and since some may accuse me of confirmation bias or anecdotal evidence). Even if diet or exercise were more effective than getting out of sleep deprivation for fat-loss…

You should STILL catch-up on your Z’s first!

If for nothing more than for the simple fact that more sleep will give you more energy for future dietary improvements and exercise.

Because after all, you’d like to be well rested, eating well and strong as Hercules eventually… right?

So when you’re waking up every morning before your alarm goes off, THEN you can consider major changes to diet or exercise… not before.

You’ll have more energy for them because of the sleep, you’ll have more willpower because of the sleep, your body will respond to them better because of the sleep so you’ll get better results becauase of the sleep, and you’ll be more likely to succeed because of the sleep.

Really, how on earth does sleep get left out of the fat-loss equation?

No matter who I talk to, it’s always the same “diet & exercise” advice for fat loss!

When I respond, “And sleep?”

… Crickets!

Followed by, “Well, anabolics, if you’re into that sort of thing…”

And the exceedingly rare, “Oh yeah, and sleep.”



Sleep is Already a Scheduled Habit

Sleep is already a scheduled activity & regular habit whereas a new diet and exercise require new habit formation. This makes it easier to work.

When changing your diet or exercise, you easily fall into old habits and have to think of new, novel solutions. The only thing you have to think about for improving your sleep is what would make a good bedtime.

Having a specific goal at a regular time increases your chances of doing it by 300%, so set a bedtime and go for it.

You may want to Kaizen this process for greater success (see my newsletter at where I mention Kaizen in the 4th issue).



Treat Your Sleep Like a Bank Account

Here are a few final rules for managing your sleep debt:

  1. Stop treating your body like a credit card. Don’t spend energy you don’t have by trying to start a diet or exercise you can’t sustain because you’re already near your limit.
  2. Pay yourself by sleeping.
  3. Use your sleep to pay off your energy debts – and then make that account positive. Most people don’t know this, but there’s a special discount on diet and exercise benefits for people who don’t have sleep debt. You can get the same benefits at a tiny fraction of the cost!
  4. Make sure you can pay for your energy expenditures in cash by paying off your debts first, and storing some money in the bank.

“If you are sick or overweight, this is a nonnegotiable topic… sleeping more might cut into your social life, but so will cancer, diabetes, and dementia!” (1)



Sleep & Fat-Loss Summary

So to recap, prioritize sleep for fat-loss because:

  • Sleep gives you more energy & willpower
  • Sleep optimizes your hormones & reduces stress
  • Sleep improves your fat-loss results when dieting
  • Sleep improves your muscle gain/retention/recovery when exercising
  • Sleep is cheaper than anything you pay for including cosmetics, counseling, anti-depressants, supplements, etc. and without the side effects!


Sleep is NOT OPTIONAL if you want to lose fat and be happy in the long run.


Most Americans get 6-6.5 hours of sleep per night, but 95% of us need 7-8 hours to feel well rested.

You can be dragging your ass, running on empty and lose a few pounds… but is it worth it?

Wouldn’t it be better to take it a bit slower, feel better rested and, gasp, “More Energetic” as well-rested exercises often claim?!

Why bother getting leaner if you’re going hate every step of the process and then hate what you have to do to maintain your results?

Maybe I’m weird, but I’d like to ENJOY the process & the RESULTS of my efforts.

I bring this up because I’ve been there, and it’s not a good place to beI ran myself into the ground over and over for YEARS and don’t want to see you go through the same hell I did.

If the gas gauge in your car is running on empty, you’d be insane to say, “I don’t have time to go to the gas station!” You’ve gotta refill your tank, and the more you fill it up, the further you can go between visits to the gas station. If you’re low on energy, it means you need to refill your tanks.

If you ignore the meter and let it get to empty, it’s going to take a lot longer to get to your destination… PLUS you’ll have a whole lot of walking to do!

“The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity.” -Thomas Carlyle

So where should you start?



Sleep Recommendations

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Occasionally Sleep Deprived

Catch-up on sleep ASAP.

Don’t sacrifice sleep for diet/exercise.

Expect low energy.

Expect missed workouts.

Expect a lack of willpower.

Expect to make more poor dietary choices.

Feel free to miss a workout to catch-up on sleep instead.

If you’re tired and the sun’s gone down, before doing anything else, go to sleep!


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Normally Sleep Deprived

Work on your sleeping habits (or habits that support your sleeping habits) before anything else.

Don’t try to do everything at once; just get into the habit of getting more sleep each night.

Expect results to be several times harder to achieve, and several times harder to maintain.

Very minimal changes in diet/exercise are possible while sleep deprived, but you must make these changes very small and give yourself more time than usual to make them habits.


You may want to also review the “treat your sleep like a bank account” section just before the summary.


The Key to Success, As Always, Lies in Your Habits

Each of us only have 24 hours in a day, so if you want to sleep more and all 24 hours are packed, something else has to go. It’s the same as adding any activity into your schedule.

As I taught in Fat Loss 101, you have to be ready to substitute a sub-optimal activity, for a better one. So if you’re watching 4 hours of TV each night AND only sleeping 4 hours a night, cut the TV and you can get 8 hours.

Sounds easy, and it is, but only if you make sleep a higher priority than the things that are detracting from it.

If you don’t have Fat Loss 101, pick up your copy today. It’s just $2.97 and teaches you how to make new habits that stick.

Chris says this is a must-read if weight loss is your goal because if you have fat to lose, it’s because you haven’t mastered the basics.



In Closing

This has been a pretty long post…

So I hope you’ve enjoyed it, reference it often, and share with a friend who will appreciate it too.

Finally, if you have any questions or comments, I look forward to reading them in the comments below! :)

Stay Mighty!





1. The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

2. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

3. The Leptin Boost Diet: Unleash Your Fat-Controlling Hormones for Maximum Weight Loss

4. Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival

5. The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight through Better Sleep

6. Leslie Sansone’s Eat Smart, Walk Strong: The Secrets to Effortless Weight Loss

7. The Supercharged Hormone Diet: A 30-Day Accelerated Plan to Lose Weight, Restore Metabolism and Feel Younger Longer

8. Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep

9. The Insomnia Solution: The Natural, Drug-Free Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

10. Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being

11. Work Stress Increases Heart Attack Risk By 23% from

12. Short sleep duration increases expression of genetic risks for high body mass index from

13. Relationship Between Sleep Quality and Quantity and Weight Loss in Women Participating in a Weight-Loss Intervention Trial from

14. Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review from

15. Quote from Andrew D. Calvin, M.D. at

16. Overweight and Obesity in the U.S. from

17. Quote by Michael Breus, PhD from

18. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

19. Epigenetics from