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Why Sleep Deprivation Is Sabotaging Your Shape

over 40 fat loss Nov 15, 2023

Would you be surprised if I told you that sleep deprivation is one of most common tell-tale signs of metabolic dysfunction, I look for with individuals who workout and eat healthy, but still find themselves gaining weight? It’s true. While the tendency is to over analyze on the calories burned / calories consumed side of the equation, the opposite is also true. There’s a tendency to underestimate the importance of things like sleep.

Understand that if you’re looking to have a leaner, more toned physique, factors outside of your food choices and workouts will play a significant role as well. Yes, things like resistance training definitely help improve body composition, but working the muscle is just the first step. The rebuilding, recovery, and fat burning processes occur after your workout, mainly while you’re sleeping.

So, to put it bluntly, if you’re not getting adequate sleep you can forget about seeing much of a change in your shape. Well, hold on, let me rephrase that last statement as it’s not exactly true. Better stated would be that you won’t see a desired change in your shape.

Chances are if you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’ll continue to see a change in your shape, but it will be in the form of increased body fat and a wider waistline.


Most people clearly understand that a person needs to exercise consistently and eat clean. No surprises there. But it amazes me how many people completely overlook the impact of chronic stress and sleep deprivation. It’s such a huge deal. But the interesting things is I’ve found when I start talking about the subject of sleep with struggling clients there’s often a yawn (no pun intended) and “yeah, yeah” type of responses. This should be a record scratch revelation though as it’s literally a bomb that blows up your progress.

When you don’t get enough deep sleep your body stays in a catabolic state for longer than it should. The following list outlines some things that happen in your body when you don’t get adequate sleep and recovery.

What happens with chronic sleep deprivation

- Decreased growth hormone production

- Increased body fat storage

- Elevated cortisol levels

- Decreased immune function

- Decreased testosterone production

- Reduced thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) production

- Adrenal suppression and diminished hormone secretion

- Increased insulin sensitivity

- Increased inflammation

- Increased fatigue, lethargy, brain fog

- Increased moodiness, irritability

- Increased buildup of metabolic toxins and waste products

- Likelihood for appearance of cellulite with females

- Decreased muscle repair and rebuilding resulting in diminished growth

- Increased hair thinning and loss

This list could be expanded, but it would just be more bad news. Not getting enough sleep brings a lot of negative side effects that transcend far beyond being simply being tired and fatigued. When you don’t get enough sleep, you literally start breaking your body down while losing your health and vitality.

Also, you can gather from this list above that we see a host of hormonal shifts. I want you to read the following statement a couple of times to let it sink in.


Fat loss and muscle development are both controlled by the hormonal balances in your body.


This is why to a large degree many individuals have an easier time managing their weight and shape when they’re younger because hormonal levels are naturally higher. As we age and start to see an attenuation of hormones and the loss of muscle mass, things aren’t as easy as they may have been in the past.

But here’s the thing. Yes, hormones are important, and yes levels tend to decrease with age, but don’t let this become an excuse that steals your health and robs you of the joy that comes with feeling strong and fit.

Your actions and decisions do have an impact!

What and how much you eat matters…

The type of exercise you do matters…

How much quality sleep you get matters….

How you mitigate and manage stress matters…

And on and on. The lesson here is you have a choice in many of these areas. If you’re not getting the outcome you want with changing your shape, look to make other decisions. Focus on what you can do yourself first before looking outward for things to blame.

If you’re regularly not getting enough sleep, what steps are you taking to do something about it?

If you’ve just accepted it as part of your life and shrugged your shoulders, well then, you’re failing yourself.

Now before this come across as being insensitive or overly harsh, let me say this. There will be times in your life when sleep will be compromised due to a physical or emotional trial that is very stressful. I’m empathetic to this and can personally attest to the difficulties that are often outside of our control. There’s a season for all things as it says in the scripture.

So just know I’m not speaking of this, but rather the continuation of habits and practices that are within our decision-making abilities that contribute to chronic sleep deprivation.

Recommendations if you’re struggling with chronic sleep deprivation.

  • Set consistent times for going to bed and getting up. Do this, even if you can’t sleep right away, need to set an alarm to get up, etc. Your body will adjust if you give it enough time.
  • Avoid alcohol past dinner and caffeine past mid-afternoon.
  • Use your bed for sleep. Don’t watch TV in bed or get on your phone / tablet. The research is clear on this. Spare me with the excuses and rationalizations, just get the TV out of the darn room and stop getting on devices when you climb into bed.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed to help induce a parasympathetic state.
  • Leave bed if awake for longer than 15 minutes and attempt to go back to sleep once you’re drowsy again after getting up to read a book.
  • Practice parasympathetic breathing exercises when struggling to go back to sleep. There are a few different examples of this you can do, but the general idea is you’re going to take long inhales through the nose and slow exhales through the mouth with your breathing.
  • Allow an “unwinding” period of one hour before bed.
  • Read or listen / watch music, videos, or shows that don’t overstimulate your brain during your “unwinding” period. Avoid watching or listening to things that induce fear, anxiety, anger, excitement, adrenaline, etc.
  • Avoid work related activities during the “unwinding” period prior to bed.
  • Drink bedtime teas or warm water with lemon and honey before going to bed.
  • Use aromatherapy with essential oils like lavender in your bedroom to help induce sleep.
  • Avoid eating a large meal right before bedtime, regardless of what it is. Having a full stomach will make it difficult for your body to enter into deep sleep.

Supplements that may help with sleep and muscle recovery.


Best known for its ability to boost immunity, healing, and recovery, Arginine works by suppressing the activity of “somatostatin”- a hormone that works to halt growth hormone secretion. Suggested dose: 3-5 grams before bedtime.


The amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid helps regulate sleep cycles by impacting the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is the source of growth hormone secretion. Researchers at the First Medical Clinic, University of Milan, recently reported that GABA increased blood levels of growth hormone after 90 minutes of intake. Suggested dose: 500 milligrams- 1 gram before bedtime.


Gluatamine is the most abundant amino acid found in the muscles and is a powerful recovery agent that boosts immunity. Research has shown that just 2 grams of glutamine is effective in raising growth hormone levels more than four times that of base levels versus a placebo. Suggested dose: 2 grams before bedtime.


Melatonin helps induce sleep and the secretion of growth hormone. A recent study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found impressive benefits of melatonin supplementation. Researchers looking at melatonin and heavy resistance training found that 5 milligrams at bedtime increased growth hormone levels while lowering somatostatin levels. Subjects in the test found an average decrease in fat levels by 14% and 9% increase in lean muscle development. Suggested dose: 5 milligrams at bedtime.


This stack has been around for years in the bodybuilding community, but you don’t need to be a hard-core weightlifter to benefit from it. ZMA stands for zinc magnesium aspartate, and it contains a combination of magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6. This stack can assist with both sleep and muscle recovery through a host of pathways. I’ve personally long used this supplementation stack at bedtime as it’s relatively cheap, natural, and safe.


This is an herb that falls into the category of what we call adaptogens which help your body respond to various forms of stressors. It works on the adrenal, pituitary, hypothalamus, and thyroid pathways to help promote parasympathetic and anabolic processes. Because it’s an herb you’ll want to be mindful with dosages, but having said that, this is an excellent sleep and recovery aid for a middle-age or older adult.

 Bottom line

There’s a lot more that we could get into with chronic sleep deprivation and things like adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome, etc., but I think it’s sufficient to say for now we addressed the role it plays with wrecking your weight loss goals.

I want to wrap this up by encouraging you if you’re someone who struggles with sleep. Take actions on some of the recommendations I provided. Perhaps have a sleep study conducted or schedule a visit with a functional medicine physician.

Bottom line is take one action.

Do one thing, even a small step, on something that you can do to make a difference. If I can help with coaching or personalized recommendations, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He has over 24 years' experience with fitness coaching and consulting and specializes in training programs for middle age and mature adults. If you live in the Charleston, SC area you can schedule a no-obligations consultation.


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