Select Page

“Sleep matters”: The importance of sleep, and how to get better sleep


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have written before about the importance of sleep. I’ve mentioned the importance of sleep in several of my books as well. Quality sleep is vital.

You will say you know that, and nod your head in agreement with that statement, but in my coaching it is the first thing so many people will sacrifice in the course of their week. Not many people will go out of their way to ensure good sleep. This is often how sleep issues begin–by not paying it the attention it deserves.

People talk about wanting to do things to extend their lives. Well, sleep quality is the single biggest predictor of longevity. YES, more important than diet and/or exercise! The research is pretty clear on that. More importantly for people who follow my work, is that sleep is crucial for optimal metabolic function, hormonal balance and immunity; in other words, it's crucial for real-world, long-term fitness and wellness. If you truly want to help yourself prevent metabolic dysregulation, metabolic damage, and protect your natural hormonal balance… then improve your quality of sleep WITHOUT meds!

I will give you ideas for doing so below, but most people simply won’t follow good and sound sleep hygiene habits. It’s kind of like dieting to lose weight. People want to be told what to do, but then they just won’t do it consistently enough to effect real healthful change.

When it comes to losing weight and long-term weight control, the truth is if you haven’t got a regular full 8 hours of sleep, it is going to be harder to take weight-off, and keep it off. The flip side of this equation is also true: without REGULAR and CONSISTENT quality and quantity of sleep, it is going to be easier to gain weight (and then harder to take that new weight-gain off again).

Chronic under-sleeping and disrupted sleep does three damaging things to your metabolism.

  • It decreases your daily energy expenditure
  • It increases your appetite
  • It negatively impacts your body’s ability to deal with glucose properly (this is the metabolic dysregulation and hormonal obstruction I’ve been referring to so often in my discussions of metabolic damage).

It’s not just improper “dieting” that has a negative impact on weight-control. It’s improper sleeping as well. People need to start taking sleep-relevance a lot more seriously.

Disrupted sleep and improper sleep are also connected to binge eating and overeating. I deal with this issue daily with coaching clients who have these particular issues. They don’t make the connection between their lack of proper sleep and the eating issues they have.

Animal studies and human studies both show that sleep restriction and under-sleeping leads to hyperphagia (aka binge eating). Less sleep is directly connected to increased caloric intake specifically from mindless snacking, and also indirectly from a weakened resolve and lack of control. Obesity research is pretty emphatic in illustrating an inverse linear relationship between weight and quantity of sleep time. (See my book Beyond Metabolism) In short, it is absolute fact as far as I’m concerned that quality feeding and quality sleeping are inter-connected. As another example in the research, animals that are starved sleep less, and animals that sleep less, eat more! (Nedeltcheva, A V et al. “Sleep Curtailment Is Accompanied by Increased Intake of Calories From Snacks.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89.1 (2008): 126–133. Web. ) The title of this research says it all when it comes to what you need to understand yourself,  especially if you struggle with food or weight, or both.


Ghrelin, Leptin, and Sleep Loss

As your body fights to find energy during your waking hours because of consistent lack of adequate quality and quantity sleep, the hormones are the first things to get out of balance and/or get obstructed. Chronic sleep deprivation lowers leptin levels while increasing ghrelin levels, resulting in you being both hungrier and heavier. Even one single night of deprived sleep can show these hormonal changes and a resulting “craving and appetite” for very calories-dense foods. The increase in ghrelin and decrease in leptin negatively impacts your weight-loss efforts.

Quality and quantity of sleep remains a key element of weight-control that is still being largely ignored by consumers with weight issues. I’ve said this a million times. By scouring websites and book shelves for some new “magic” diet to follow, and foods to fear, consumers continue to dismiss and ignore things directly within their own control, things that can help weight-control be much healthier and easier. The truth is this: sleep better if you want to be leaner. This is the operating mantra you need to adopt. It all starts there.

In short, not enough consistent quality and quantity of sleep makes you hungry, impotent, disinterested, hypertensive, and fat… just to name a “few” consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is now linked to insulin resistance and susceptibility to Type-2 diabetes as well. Furthermore, disrupted sleep empties willpower reserves and that can spell disaster for someone with a long-term goal, like weight-loss. This explains why sleep deprivation has long been used as an interrogation technique–it wears down willpower, clear-thinking, and resolve. Think about that fact for a minute, especially next time you contemplate why you “just don’t understand” why you keep sabotaging your diet efforts.

As a culture North Americans are more and more sleep deprived. In 1910 the average adult slept nearly 10 hours nightly. In 1960, it was 9 hours. Nowadays people on average report getting about 6-7 hours sleep per night. And, just because people are getting less quantity of sleep doesn’t mean sleep is easy to come by once someone retires to bed either. Chronic sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep lead to higher cortisol levels, so the insomniacs and those of you who continue to push the envelope when it comes to sleep, you actually end up more wired at the end of the day, so that you can’t wind down naturally. Throw in maladaptive behaviors like staying “plugged-in” right until the hour of slumber is upon you, and you'll add to the intensity of being “too wired to sleep.” This becomes a negative feedback loop where you’re so tired you’re wired; and then you’re so wired, you’re tired.  Some people think of being able to wind down as some sort of weakness. WTF is that about?


The Gender Disparity and Sleep

And yet this tired and wired inner partnership is why so many people opt for sedation instead of learning to practice better sleep hygiene. The demographic group opting for sleep meds are older, well-educated women. Almost 70 MILLION prescriptions are written yearly for hypnotics like Ambien — that one alone earning $2 BILLION in sales in 2011. Sleep meds are huge business!

There is now mounting evidence that sleeping pills like this are riskier than you may know. A government study reported trips to the emergency room from Ambien TRIPLED from 2005-2010, from 6,111 to 19,487, two thirds of those visits were by women (Holland, 2015 p. 211) In general, women are more sensitive to sleep deprivation than men. For instance 3 out of 4 insomnia patients in sleep clinics are women. and twice as many women use sleeping pills as men. And 80% of women surveyed self-report being too stressed or worried to fall asleep easily. (See research and references below.)


Better Sleep Hygiene Answers

People ask me all the time “So, what is good sleep hygiene then? How do I get better sleep?

Good sleep-hygiene includes the little things like sleeping in a dark and cool room and avoiding bringing “work and worry” into bed with you.

“How” you do that is an individual variant you will need to work on… then PRACTICE. Also, I recommend trying to exercise earlier in the day, and not within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Find ways to wind down in those few hours before bedtime. Research is showing that it is not only better, but practically crucial to keep the same sleep schedule seven days per week if possible.

For instance, I have had many one on one coaching clients with binge-eating issues, and the first thing I address is their sleep habits and their sleep hygiene. Almost all of them are lacking in this area. They can’t get right to sleep at night. They sleep in on weekends. They like to party when they can, and all of this throws off what used to be just natural winding-down human nature. I instruct them to aim for regular sleep and wake times. Most of them resist. I also instruct that if they are the type to sleep in when they can, then STOP DOING THAT. Get up at the same time every single day, no matter what time you got to bed the night before. Stay up for an hour or two and then, if you want to go back to bed, do so. Most clients will not follow this simple direction consistently enough to create healthy change. They refuse to accept how this inconsistency with sleep is contributing to their food and eating issues!

I'll be blunt: Sometimes people just want the answers to be in the form THEY WANT, rather than the truth of HOW IT IS!

Furthermore, we know melatonin (commonly known as the sleep hormone) is suppressed by light, especially sky-blue sunlight. Exposure to artificial light at night disrupts melatonin production and delays the onset of sleep. Just 2 hours of iPad use at maximum brightness is enough to suppress normal nighttime release of melatonin. Two hours of computer use closer to your sleep time not only lowers melatonin secretion but also enhances cognitive attention, lighting up the brain to “be awake.”

In reality, you shouldn’t be looking at any “glowing screens” at least one to two hours before retiring to bed to sleep. If you are going to read close to bedtime, then hardcopy books or mags are the way to go, not anything “close-up and backlit.” Even e-readers can have this effect and delay the length of time it takes you to fall asleep. In a sleep deprived culture, this only adds to the problem.

Your natural rhythm (you have to pay attention to figure out what yours are) will present a particular window of opportunity for falling asleep, and if you miss that window because you are doing something with a close-up glowing screen,; or “staying up past your regular bedtime” as I explained above, then you may end up tossing and turning most of the night.


My Personal Sleep Ritual

On a personal note, I never get sick and never run out of energy and never have a problem sticking to my Cycle Diet meals.

I don’t ever struggle to stay lean, even though I am not naturally lean. Honestly, I know that a lot of this has to do with the fact that I go to sleep and wake up the same time of day, every day… 7 days per week. I wake up at 4:00 a.m. every day and I go to sleep at around 8:00 p.m. every night.

A trick I fell into using was developing a regular “sleep-trigger” habit that I didn’t even realize I was doing at first. My office is downstairs. I make sure to stop working (staring at a glowing screen) at least two to three hours before bedtime each day. But for the last 15 years or so, every night at 8:00 o’clock I turn on Seinfeld re-runs. I have my bowl of cottage cheese and watch the first 10-15 minutes of Seinfeld reruns. Over time, this ritual became a neurological “trigger” to induce sleep. It's a habit cue.

There are also many nights where I'm so full of energy, that an hour or two before sleep-time I think to myself, “Well, I’ll be up for the whole episode of Seinfeld tonight.” I just have those nights where I feel so much energy and mental activity going on. Yet because of this personal sleep hygiene ritual,  without fail I fall asleep each and every night naturally between 8:00 and 8:15. My body just knows to fall into slumber based upon repetition of this simple, but personal ritual and routine. All you have to do is start with regular sleep and wake times and stick to them no matter what. And eventually you will likely develop your own sleep-hygiene ritual as well.

Sleep matters! For now, I leave you to just “sleep on it.”



Breus, Michael The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, 2011

Gangwisch, J. E. et al, “Inadequate Sleep as a Risk Factor For Obesity, Sleep, 2005

Holland, Julie Moody Bitches, 2015

Krystal, Andrew “Insomnia in Women,” Clinical Cornerstone, 2003)

Schussler, P. et al, “Nocturnal Ghrelin, ACTH, GH and Cortisol Secretion After Sleep Deprivation in Humans,Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2006

Schmid, S.M. et al, “A Single Night of Sleep Deprivation Increases Ghrelin Levels and Feelings of Hunger in Normal-Weight Healthy Men,” Journal of Sleep Research, 2008

Spiegal, K. et al, “Sleep Loss: A Novel Risk Factor for Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes,” Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005

Taheri, S. et al, “Short Sleep Duration is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index,” PLOS Medicine, 2004

Yaggi, H.K. et al, “Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for the Development of Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care, 2006)