Lack of Sleep and Muscle Loss

In this post, I’d like to talk to you about muscle loss &  how to retain lean body mass (or even gain some) while dieting, by avoiding common mistakes that lead to muscle loss. One of those mistakes is lack of sleep. I’m not sure about you, but in the last few years I’ve been hearing a lot about the effect of sleep on body composition.

Specifically, I’ve been reading about how insufficient sleep can hinder fat loss or even lead to fat gain and muscle loss.

The earliest of these studies started with an observation of an association. In this case, researchers noticed that sleep duration has decreased over the last two decades and that a rise in obesity has paralleled the decrease in sleep duration.

Of course, this only reveals a correlation and correlation does not equal causation. So at that point, researchers began looking for mechanisms that might explain this correlation, and they wondered if they’d find a casual link between lack of sleep and gaining fat.

Indeed, they found a mechanism: even partial sleep deprivation increases plasma concentrations of ghrelin and decreases leptin.

Ghrelin is a stomach hormone that increases appetite (ghrelin goes up, appetite goes up).

Leptin, a hormone produced primarily by fat cells that signals your brain about the status of your energy stores. (in fat) and energy intake (food / calories coming in). In that sense, leptin, an anti-starvation (anorexigenic) hormone (when leptin goes down, the “starvation” signal is sent, so your body starts to hold on to stored body fat in a variety of hormonal and metabolic ways)

That’s not all. Researchers have also discovered that reduced sleep can decrease physical activity-related energy expenditure. That’s not surprising. When you’re tired and fatigued from lack of sleep, you’re liable to move less in general, skip workouts or work out with less gusto.

Wait. It gets even worse.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (October 2010) says that insufficient sleep may not only promote retention of fat, it may compromise the maintenance of fat-free body mass

After comparing the effects of 5.5 hours of sleep against 8.5 hours of sleep, they reported the following:

“We examined whether experimental sleep restriction, designed to approximate the short sleep times of a growing number of persons in modern society, may compromise the effect of reduced-calorie diets on excess adiposity…. The combination of energy and sleep restriction in overweight adults resulted in a modified state of negative energy balance characterized by a decreased loss of fat and considerably increased loss of fat-free body mass. Our experimental data now indicate that sleep plays an important role in the preservation of human fat-free body mass during periods of reduced caloric intake.”

The previous research had already made it clear how sleep deprivation could hinder your fat loss. The key finding of this newest study was how sleep deprivation under conditions of caloric deficit (dieting for fat loss), could adversely affect the metabolic effects of calorie restriction and lead to loss of lean body mass.

Based on this research, it appears that during times of calorie restriction, your body amplifies the metabolic, neuro-endocrine and behavioral compensations which oppose your attempts at fat loss.

In other words, depriving yourself of sleep is bad. Doing it when youre on a calorie restricted fat loss diet is double bad.

If you’re also stressed out, now it’s triple bad!

High levels of unmitigated stress can increase cortisol and linked to increased visceral fat. Also insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, impaired glucose tolerance, altered lipid profile. Even a higher incidence of coronary artery disease.

Sleep deprivation + stress + low calorie dieting = “The MUSCLE-WASTING TRIAD OF DOOM.”

Now, we do know that including heavy resistance weight training (I mean heavy – none of that pink dumbbell or light-weight circuit training stuff) combined with adequate protein intake helps mitigate muscle loss while youre dieting in a deficit.

However, how much that will prevent muscle loss in the presence of high stress and sleep deprivation is unknown.

And by the way, if you’re on a low calorie diet and stressed. While sleep deprived AND protein intake is inadequate while weight training.  Lean muscle’s DOOMED! You’ll lose weight alright, but under those conditions if you lose MORE LEAN TISSUE than body fat!

I’d like to think getting 8 hours of sleep and keeping stress at bay is common sense advice. Actually the areas get most taken for granted and blown off. Even the savviest, most experienced bodybuilders and fitness practitioners.

How many readers will fess up and admit to sleeping less than 8 hours a night while also dealing with high stress and simultaneously trying to lose weight on a reduced calorie diet.

The truth is, many people are out there searching for a magic diet pill or workout program. Most bodybuilders want to grow big muscles as well. While ignoring some of the simplest, easiest to apply lifestyle strategies such as good sleeping habits and stress management.

Other people want to know what supplements to take.  Or what specific foods are best to eat and in what combinations.

Given how most people so easily overwhelmed, why not get the simple lifestyle stuff in order first… starting with a good night’s sleep.

Because it’s now science fact. Getting your zzzzz’s is crucial not just for getting leaner and healthier. But also for gaining and maintaining muscle.