BEFORE YOU THROW IN THE TOWEL, PICK UP THE BLANKET.
In so many of the online keto and intermittent fasting groups I’m a part of, I see the same question over and over – “I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks/2 months/2 years/2 LONG and I’m not seeing any results! What do I do?!”
First of all, to address the very first thing – two weeks is never going to be long enough to create and see lasting body composition change. You may get a kick start depending on where you’re beginning from (meaning the more inflammation, water retention, and overall weight you have to lose usually leads to rapid weight loss that would return rapidly if you returned to your original eating habits), but HOLD YOUR HORSES & CALM YOUR FARM! Consistency is your best friend.
To the peeps who’ve been at this longer and watched the numbers on the scale stop moving even though you’ve been eating in a reasonable calorie deficit for your body, exercising, and potentially playing with your fasting & feasting windows, it really could be sleep deprivation screwing up your progress. Before you try further restricting your calories, cutting more carbs, or lengthening your fast, try prioritizing your sleep.
WHY IS SLEEP SO IMPORTANT?
Human bodies operate on an internal clock – actually several internal timepieces. Every organ and cell has its own schedule, based on a 24 hour sleep-wake cycle, that make up your Circadian Rhythm. When the sleep portion of this gets thrown off, the production of every single hormone gets thrown off, and especially those involved in blood sugar regulation and appetite control.
That means too little sleep results in:
- increased hunger & cravings,
- higher stress and inflammation markers,
- and a repeatedly proven decreased ability to efficiently process blood sugar.
Within only FOUR DAYS of sleep deprivation insulin resistance increases significantly, metabolic dysfunction increases, and even an otherwise healthy person can start inching towards pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.
Other hormonal changes triggered by not getting enough sleep include:
- Increased cortisol, the “belly fat” & stress hormone that inhibits insulin production AND raises blood sugar
- Decreased Human Growth Hormone, which helps to repair, build, and maintain healthy skin and muscles as well as plays a role in fat metabolism
- Increased ghrelin paired with decreased leptin, meaning more hunger signals vs satiety signals
- Decreased sex hormones – testosterone in men and estrogen in women – and WHO WANTS THAT?!
As if all of this weren’t bad enough, it quickly turns to a vicious cycle. The less sleep you get, the less sleep you are able to get, and the less likely you are able to make up for short term sleep debt.
IT’S EVEN MORE IMPORTANT *NOW*
Sleep deprivation was a common problem even BEFORE the pandemic we’re currently in, but it’s only gotten worse for society over the past year as anxiety & depression have increased and consumption of alcohol, comfort foods, and screen time have skyrocketed. All of these things exacerbate sleep problems, which further exacerbate mental health issues. GAH!
I’ve been dealing with it myself – my insomnia has been OUT OF CONTROL for months, whether due to generalized worry or the painful shoulder injury I’ve recently recovered from. For both, I tried wine, dumb TV, and even cannabis to help me conk out – but all of those options only made things worse. I’ve finally REALLY committed to doing something about it in the last two weeks, and I can’t believe the difference that has already been made..
In only this very short time, I have been watching the scale, measurements, and body composition scans move in the direction I want. I am also happy to report feeling an INCREDIBLE surge in creativity, productivity, and positivity. These measurable improvements have been achieved by only increasing my sleep hours from around 5 1/2 to 7 hours per night, with the goal of 8 hours per night in my sights.
Now, I am NOT perfect and I am still working on this, but prioritizing sleep is WORTH IT. The ideal amount for adults according to the National Sleep Foundation is 7 – 9 hours. Less than 7 hours is correlated to declining health markers, impaired brain function, and significant weight gain & increased visceral (aka the unhealthiest, most dangerous & life-shortening) fat over time.
HOW TO GET BETTER SLEEP
I go much more in-depth on the hows and whys of resetting your sleep clock in this post, but these are the basics:
- Decide you’re going to make it a priority. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Never do anything half-assed. Always use your FULL ASS.”
- Give yourself a minimum of 3 weeks to get the following habits down. I’m not saying to do them perfectly. It’s going to take practice, you will make mistakes, but work every day to get better.
- Get outside every day to soak up some natural light. This is ideally done as early in the day as you can because sunlight absorbed through the eyes and skin really gets your body clock on schedule among other health benefits. If you can’t get outside, you may want to invest in a sun lamp or at LEAST sit by a window.
- Eat on a (fairly) regular schedule. Food is second to light to getting your Circadian Rhythm on track.
- Finish eating 3 hours before bedtime, and ideally while it’s still at least a little light out. Three hours before you intend to lay down will drastically reduce indigestion. Eating while it’s still a little light out will ensure you are ingesting your fuel while your body is still at peak insulin production, meaning that your body has a chance to clear excess blood glucose that would otherwise prevent sleep-induced metabolism & fat burning from proceeding.
- Turn off screens 2 hours before bedtime or at least use “night-mode” or blue-light blocking glasses. The light of electronic screens inhibits your body’s melatonin production, and without that, you will find it nearly impossible to sleep!
- Get dark. Turning off screens will help with this, and so will blackout curtains or a sleep mask. The darker the room, the better the sleep.
- Chill (but keep your feet warm). Lower the thermostat and/or take a cold shower. One of my fave authors even swears running her arm under an icy shower helps! Cool temperatures for the body and cozy feet prepare your body best for zzz.
- Take a low dose of melatonin 30 minutes prior to or exactly at the time you want to fall asleep. Since it CAN give people (myself included) crazy dreams if the amount is too high, I recommend only 1-2mg. Doing this for a week or two will literally train your brain to make its own at that particular time.
What do you think? Do these sound doable to you? Let me know in the comments!