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Our Debt to Sleep: How Sleep Affects Weight


“Some experts believe that sleep might have originally been a mechanism to conserve energy. If we fail to get enough sleep to meet our energy conservation requirements, our body moves to the next best choice for energy conservation – fat accumulation.”
-Percival, Mark D.C., N.D., Kelly Gregory, N.D., Body by Design, Health by Choice

In the last blog post on sleep, it was mentioned that lack of sleep leads to your body’s collection agency grabbing health assets from another part of your body. When you have a sleep debt from lack of one form of nourishment (sleep), your body requires another form of nourishment to compensate: stored energy, or body fat.

Your sleep account and body fat account are interconnected – they are always communicating with each other and affecting each other. If you start eating less, you start needing more sleep. If you sleep less, you need more calories.

Even quality of sleep is affected by what, when, and how much you eat. Your body likes schedules and habits! Skipping breakfast, eating late at night, etc., disrupts your body fat regulating system, which in turn makes it impossible to have all the factors needed for high quality sleep.

You may spend an adequate amount of time in bed, but if your restorative sleep is insufficient, you are only increasing your sleep debt. If your sleep account is over-drawn, your body fat account will defend a higher amount of body fat. Increased fat storage is the only choice the body has if sleep is decreased.

A section in the chapter on “Sleep and Shape” in Shape Shift by Dr. Gregory Kelly and Dr. Mark Percival talks about the relationship between sleep apnea and abdominal visceral fat. Over the years it has been observed that most individuals suffering from sleep apnea are also overweight. This extra weight has been named as the cause behind sleep apnea.

Yet sleep apnea seems to precede weight gain in most cases, suggesting that the fragmented sleep caused by sleep apnea causes an increase in fat. In scientific studies, the use of a CPAP (a device that helps regulate breathing) for sleep apnea sufferers tended to “melt away” visceral body fat.

Hmmm. So if fixing a disruption of sleep also improves the individual’s shape, it could be gathered that sleep deprivation is a direct cause, not a result, of weight gain. As Dr. Gregory and Dr. Mark write, “We have observed cases of sleep-deprived individuals getting fatter despite their best efforts at eating well and exercising appropriately. And we have seen a reversal in this struggle once they began to get more, or better quality, sleep.”


Check back soon for the next blog post: Common Disrupters of Sleep!

Dr. David Haase

Dr. Haase is the Founder and CEO of MaxWell Clinic- a Collaborative-Care, Functional Medicine Clinic. He is committed to finding and addressing the underlying causes of illness in his patients.