Turn Down the Lights, Turn Up Your Metabolism

Diane Sanfilippo Most Popular, Sleep 15 Comments

Are you struggling with sugar and carb cravings that seem to just take over? Are you trying to lose excess body fat but feel it's an uphill battle when foods you know you shouldn't eat are practically screaming at you to eat them? Do you feel like you just can't seem to get your body to burn fat no matter how much you exercise, what diet you try or what you're eating? We've talked about the sugar and carb craving hurdle before when I introduced my 21-Day Sugar Detox Manual (eBook available for download here), but this time I'm going to talk about a way to work on getting your body out of fat storage mode and kicking cravings that actually DOESN'T INVOLVE FOOD AT ALL. It's one simple rule for attacking your cravings and one big reason why your body wants to store fat at it's root. Are you ready for this?

TURN THE LIGHT'S OUT! You heard me. Turn the lights off. Get some shut-eye. Hit the hay. Give up the ghost. GO TO SLEEP!

Wow. This might just be some groundbreaking news for some of you. I'm sure you've thought of a million reasons why you should get more sleep or want to get more sleep, but this time, it's really compelling. You've also then thought of a million things you can be doing instead of sleeping; working, working out, watching television, doing chores, surfing the web or even eating a snack. Well, I'm going to say it now: you can lose weight by sleeping. 

The thing is, we're a lot more like our distant ancestors than we like to think. Sure, we've adapted and evolved and have invented lots of amazing devices to make life easier for ourselves. Heck, we've even “created” more hours in the day during which we can be productive. The problem is that, biologically, we're still wired to rise and fall with the sun. Since the advent of the electric lightbulb (the “created” hours to which I was referring), we've been suffering the consequences of man-made daylight in many ways, not the least of which is our waistlines.

Don't believe me? Well, according to T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, authors of “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival,” (a fantastic book, by the way- I highly recommend grabbing a copy) following our natural circadian rhythms and sleeping when it's dark outside and waking when it's light could be the real key to naturally maintaining a healthy, ideal body weight. How is this possible, you ask? Isn't it all about calories in and calories out? Don't I just need to eat right, exercise and drink enough water and I'll be healthy and in shape? Well, it's not that complicated, actually. The mechanism that triggers us to crave sweets and carbs could actually be short-circuited if we slept more!  And if we didn't crave those things, how many people do you think would be struggling to kick their unhealthy eating habits?

According to Wiley and Formby:

“We have always ‘feasted' to endure the ‘famine' that always followed – until now. Unfortunately, the truth in our time is that we eat carbohydrates now and die sooner. Your body translates long hours of artificial light into summertime. Because it instinctively knows that summer comes before winter, and that winter means no available food, you begin to crave carbohydrates so you can store fat for a time when food is scarce and you should be hibernating.

This is the formula:

A. Long hours of artificial light = summer in your head.

B. Winter signifies famine to your internal controls.

C. Famine on the horizon signifies instinctive carbohydrate craving to store fat for hibernation and scarcity.

This storage is accomplished by: 

1. Increasing carbohydrate consumption until your body responds to all the insulin by becoming insulin-resistant in muscle tissue.

2. Ensuring that the carbohydrates taken in end up as fat pad;

3. Prompting the liver to dump the extra sugar into cholesterol production, which will keep cell membranes from freezing at low temperatures.”

I created this diagram based on the above information to help clarify that formula a bit for the visual people out there like myself.


I know what you're thinking, there's no way you can get yourself to bed when the sun goes down. Well, it doesn't have to be quite that extreme. Here are some quick tips for ways to get your body to be more aligned with natural light and dark cycles and to work on getting to bed earlier:
  1. When the sun gets lower outside, keep lights a bit lower inside. 
Use small lamps and turn off the overhead lights, especially the fluorescent varieties. Gradually reduce the amount of light you're using as the evening gets later and avoid TV or bright computer screens for an hour or more before bed.
  2. Set a time and stick to it. 
If you have an earlier bed time in mind, you're more likely to focus on that as your stopping-point for work, chores, television, etc. Set a time that's just 30 minutes earlier than your usual time each week until you can get into bed and asleep by around 10pm. I find that it helps to focus on getting into bed about 30 minutes before I want to be asleep, this allows time for reading or just some relaxed time before sleeping.
  3. Build your plan for the evening around your planned bed time. 
If you have a lot of chores to tackle, do the most critical few first, then leave some for the morning. It's more important to your circadian health to get yourself to sleep and wake when it's daylight. Do chores that require less light in the evening and more light in the morning. I know it may sound crazy to some of you who consider yourselves “night owls,” but human beings are not “night owls” by nature. Clearly if we were, we'd also have night vision.

I don't know about you, but this is compelling enough to remind me to keep the lights low in the evenings, try to avoid tv or my computer screen too late at night, and for the sake of my waistline… GO TO SLEEP! For help figuring out how to create sound sleep habits for yourself, contact me today.

Enjoy & be well!
Diane Sanfilippo
BS, Certified Nutrition Educator, C.H.E.K. Holistic Lifestyle Coach
San Francisco Nutritionist serving the Bay Area and beyond via phone & Skype consultations.

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Comments 15

  1. Hi Diane,

    I knew sleep was important yet in keeping up with the Jones or trying to be the latest superstar in whatever venture I was seeking to conquer, I let sleep be a long lost friend. Now I am going to bed by a decent time compared to the wee hours of the night. Plus, the bonus is that this is prime repairing time for the body if one had a workout session.

    By the way, how does protein consumption before bedtime play into weight loss equation? I have read research that 100 grams at night can be beneficial. Thoughts?

  2. @Griffin- As for eating before bed, it will certainly vary with the individual's needs. I haven't personally read something regarding protein consumption to aid in sleep. I have, however, read about using a natural magnesium supplement to help with sleep- or an amino acid (L-tryptophan) to assist as well. If you're looking for specifics on what and how much to take, consulting with a nutrition coach is a good idea.

    Sweet dreams! 🙂

  3. Great Article Diane, you are like a gamut of information for people on the go. Love all your hard work! Thanks


  4. That’s like saying summer makes you hungrier. It actually doesn’t though; I generally lose both my appetite and weight in the summer and gain them back DURING winter.

  5. That’s like saying summer makes you hungrier. It actually doesn’t though; I generally lose both my appetite and weight in the summer and gain them back DURING winter.

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