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2 min read

Sleep The Fat Away?

“Six hours for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Were Napoleon’s sentiments correct? Was the man who would rule over most of Europe right in his prescription? What about Leonardo da Vinci who had a sleep cycle of 20-minute naps every 4 hours? In contrast, Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” From Aristotle to Sigmund Freud, people have pondered the role of sleep in our lives. Since the discovery of brain waves in 1875 by Richard Caton, we now have more information than ever.


In this day and age, I wager that most of us are privy to the many benefits of sleep. At the same time, we would also confess that we have a strained relationship with sleep. We envy Rip Van Winkle, who went up the Catskills and slept for 20 years. Or we’d we wish we could work like King Louis XIV, who would hold court in one of his 413 beds.


Since we can’t nap for 20 years or have beds in our offices (yet) we need to face facts: Our sleep patterns cause us trouble. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on a study published this year in the journal Sleep. It’s an aspect of sleep and sleep-restriction that many of you will find interesting (hint: fat loss). Before I go into the study; some sleep data.

Inadequate Sleep: <7 hours/night

Adequate Sleep: 7-9 hours/night (sorry, Napoleon)

Here is a look at the amount of “inadequate” sleep in the US Population…

  • Adults: 35%
  • Men: 35.5%
  • Women: 34.5%

Don’t celebrate, ladies. Women need more sleep than men and will respond worse to inadequate sleep than men. The top age group: 45-54 years old (39%).

In teenagers, the situation gets grimmer…

  • High School Students: 68.8%
  • Male: 66.4%
  • Female: 71.3%

Two-third's of high school boys and almost three-fourth's of high school girls lack sleep. This is interesting, seeing that the numbers shift after High School.

People suffering from inadequate sleep have a higher risk of:

  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t care about arthritis, provided I have abs.”

Well, that’s a poor attitude, but ok. What about fat loss? That’s the exact subject matter tackled by researchers in Sleep. They investigated the question: Is “mild” sleep deprivation influential on fat loss?

Both groups received an appropriate caloric intake during the 8-week study. Group 1 slept an even 6:20 hours per night. Group 2 slept 5:40 Monday-Friday and 8:40 on Saturday and Sunday. Take note that only Group 2’s Saturday and Sunday qualifies as “adequate” sleep.

Group 1: 6:20 hours, 7 days a week

Group 2: 5:40 M-F, 8:40, Sat-Sun (sound familiar?)

What happened?

BOTH groups lost weight, to the tune of ~6.6lbs. Hooray!

But wait, there’s more to this story.

Group 1: -5.3lbs fat, -1.2lbs lean mass

Group 2: -5.4lbs lean mass, -1.1lbs fat mass

Wow. Can it get any clearer? If you want to lose fat and look good, you can’t skimp on the sleep. I would argue Group 1’s results would have been better with adequate sleep (7-9).

A summary of key takeaways and some additions of my own:

  • Even a reduction of 1 hour per day is enough to completely disrupt body composition results
  • “Catching up” on sleep does not mitigate this effect
  • Consistent sleep > Inconsistent sleep
  • Calories still matter for weight loss
  • Make sure you lift weights, but watch the workload if you have inadequate sleep.
  • Nutrient-dense foods are your friend, particularly in the presence of inadequate sleep
  • Develop a “nighttime routine” to maximize you sleep, even if your hours are lacking (new baby, for example)

The topic of “sleeping better” is the focus of many books and podcasts (like ours, *cough, cough*). I will refer you to those to help you get your arms around it.

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” -Homer, The Odyssey

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