Most people are shocked to learn that half a slice of plain toast is the difference between being awake and being asleep. That’s right, when you sleep for 8 hours, your body burns only about 140 fewer calories than it would have done if you had stayed up all night watching TV instead.
Burn Calories as you Dream!
This means that even when you are dreaming, with your voluntary muscles paralysed and motionless, you are using almost the same amount of energy as when you are sitting on the train or doing spreadsheets at the office. How does that work, and what does it matter for your weight-loss strategy?
Scientists are still trying to figure out what sleep is and why we need it, so we will not go into too much detail here, except to cover the key points from a calorie-burning perspective. By far, most of the energy your body uses on an ongoing basis goes towards maintaining your basic bodily functions. An example of a basic bodily function is the building and repair of proteins in your muscles.
Building Muscles = Calorie Burn
Building and repairing proteins in muscle uses up about 20% of all of the energy your body uses for basic bodily functions. You do not need to “do” anything to use this energy, because your basic bodily functions are happening all of the time for as long as you are alive.
These processes do not stop when you sleep, in fact they become much more active in some ways. When you dream, your brain becomes just as active as it is when you are awake, if not more so.
Hormones are the key
Sleep causes many hormone stores and nerve pathways to be refreshed, and your body works harder on “clean-up” or “de-tox” processes where waste products are removed from circulation. All of this extra activity off-sets the energy-savings you get from resting your muscles and lowering your body temperature during sleep.
Revving up the ZZZZZZs
If you think about it, this information has enormous meaning for weight-loss strategies. If you lose weight by using more calories than you consume on an ongoing basis, then it makes sense to try to increase the number of calories your body burns for basic bodily functions. If you could find a way to increase the amount of energy your body uses when you are inactive, you will literally burn fat whilst you sleep.
Think of your sleeping body as a car in Park with the engine running, with you at the wheel waiting to drive off. Your car is using fuel even though your journey has not started yet. Now imagine that you are impatient to begin the trip so you put your foot on the accelerator. The car does not move but it does go Vroom! a lot louder and it uses much more fuel. Are there some ways to increase the revs of your body’s engine so that you lose weight whilst asleep under the covers? Yes, there are:
- Build more muscle: Different types of body tissue uses different amounts of energy for basic functioning, maintenance and repair. Muscle needs about 5 times more energy to maintain than fat does, which is one reason why an active 100kg body-builder needs many more calories than a 100kg sedentary overweight person. Having more muscle is probably the surest way to increase the rate of calories burned during sleep. Women should remember that weight-training does not naturally lead them to gain large bulky muscles, because their bodies do not have enough testosterone to allow large muscle mass without hormone supplementation.
- Exercise to strain your body: When your body is strained through high intensity workouts it takes hours to recover, and the recovery process burns calories throughout. An example of a high intensity workout would be going all-out on a rowing machine for 2 minutes, as opposed to rowing sedately and steadily for 20 minutes. You will continue to burn calories in your sleep from the 2 minute row, whereas your calorie burn from the 20 minute row pretty much ends when your workout does.
- Do not starve yourself: Whilst it is okay to fast for about 24 hours, it is not a good idea to move onto a very low calorie diet for a sustained period of time. Other serious health reasons aside, starving yourself will cause the rate of energy used for basic bodily functions to drop significantly. This is because your body tries to conserve energy when it is shocked into “thinking” that you cannot get enough food to survive, so it slows down inside.
- Relax and breathe: Taking time out of your day to relax and focus on deep, even breathing will reduce stress levels. Stress causes the body’s internal functions to slow down because the same hormones which indicate the threat of starvation are active. A stress-free body will burn more calories over time than a stressed-out one.
When you turn in tonight, think about how much work your body is about to do, then think about how you can kick it into overdrive! The best way to lose weight whilst you sleep is to increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The best way to increase your BMR is to build more lean muscle mass through weight-bearing exercise.