Sep 26, 2022
When it comes to metabolic health, we usually prioritize exercise and eating right—the things we can tangibly do to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose.
Sleep is an afterthought for us because we think of it as the absence of doing.
But IRL, sleep is the bedrock of excellent metabolic health. And no amount of kettlebell swings or fat bombs (or fasting) can undo a lack of it.
Today we’ll elucidate why sleep, this black sheep of health advice, should be your #1 metabolic health hack. And for all you doers, we’ll share action steps on how to get better sleep quality, too!
Life is stressful. It’s so stressful that we need a system for recovering from the day’s wear and tear just so that our brains and bodies can function.
And that system, of course, is sleep.
During sleep, the body’s metabolic rate declines as each cell takes as much of a break as it can. It’s during this respite that our cells and organelles (including the mitochondria) are renewed in the process of autophagy.
Now imagine that you worked every day without a weekend or vacation. The blechk you’d feel is exactly what happens to mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouses—when they’re sleep deprived. And when the mitochondria aren’t functioning at top form, your metabolic health nosedives.
This is because mitochondria produce up to 95% of your cellular energy.
In an interview on Found My Fitness, Dr. Matthew Walker, neuroscience professor at UC Berkeley, explained that skipping out on sleep “just annihilates the balance of energy intake and energy expenditure.” He pointed to 10-year study on 70,000 nurses which showed that sleeping five hours or fewer is highly associated with diabetes and obesity.
It seems that tired mitochondria just can’t make enough energy for vibrant health. And in lieu of producing adequate energy from our food, our bodies store the energy as metabolically unhealthy fat.
How the mitochondria prevent issues like insulin resistance is complex. But one reason is that when they’re not operating at 100%, the body accumulates toxic fat particles that decrease insulin sensitivity—which increases blood sugar.
A 2010 study on 9 healthy people showed that a single night of sleep deprivation led to a large decrease in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Another study that restricted nightly sleep to four hours for a week showed metabolic declines to the point where participants could have been classified as pre-diabetic.
That’s just one week of not sleeping enough!
In the second study, researchers noted how cortisol and fight-or-flight nervous system activity were higher in sleep-deprived people than in rested. So sleep and metabolic health isn't linked by just one pesky fat molecule, but by the entire autonomic nervous system, which controls our hormones.
Dr.Walker said that the endocrine system is profoundly altered during sleep loss due to the autonomic nervous system. We can see this borne out in the research, where hunger hormones, satiety hormones, and fat-burning hormones are all flipped on their heads after a poor night’s sleep.
The bottom line here is that sleep affects the balance between your fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest nervous systems, which in turn affects your hormones. If you get enough quality sleep, your hormone profile will promote energy expenditure and insulin sensitivity. If you don’t get enough sleep—or even if you get too much*—your body will favor fat storage and disease.
*Studies show that getting over nine hours of sleep is associated with just as many metabolic health problems as not sleeping enough.
Sleep is necessary, and getting enough quality sleep will amplify all your other dietary and lifestyle efforts. Here are some ways to help promote better rest.
A team of researchers concluded that writing down your top goals for five minutes before bed will help you fall asleep faster than even journaling about what you already have accomplished.
The act of writing about your goals turns any intangible stress into real, actionable tasks. This helps your brain to let go of the stress and get to work subconsciously on how best to accomplish those tasks for a relaxed, productive day.
Shutting off blue light for two hours before bed has been scientifically demonstrated to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia. Ways to help reduce blue light exposure at night:
In a study conducted on 26 healthy people, fiber was associated with significantly more deep sleep compared to processed foods. Theories abound as to why—gut flora and post-biotics could be a big part. But it could just be that fiber is increasing glucose stability, which in turn promotes deep sleep.
For all of you who have to have an afternoon cup of coffee to make it through the day…that very cup could be the reason you can't get through the day without an afternoon cup of coffee.
Here's the deal:
So choose decaf after 10:00 a.m.
We want to get better quality sleep so that we can have better blood sugar. But actually, that solution works both ways. One can hack their way into better sleep with glucose management. Blood sugar spikes are very stressful to the body. And the stress of continually elevated blood sugar is associated with poorer sleep quality and duration. 
The solution is threefold:
To see how sleep affects your blood sugar in real time (and over time), we recommend using the Veri continuous glucose monitoring app. It’s the best way to see how your food is affecting your glucose, to see how sleep is affecting your glucose, and to manage your insulin and blood sugar for vibrant health.