E7: The Hunger Stress Sleep Feedback Loop

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Episode Summary:

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The sleep, stress and hunger feedback loop is hormonal and it has a compounding effect.

Once you mess up one of the hormones, all the other hormones become worse.

Then it becomes a self-sustaining feedback loop which is hard to get out of.

Now we will break down how the sleep, stress and hunger feedback loop works and then summarise it at the end.

Let’s get started:

Why Bad Sleep Makes You Eat More Sugar and Snacks

When you’re stressed you find it harder to fall asleep.

When you don’t get enough high quality sleep, the prefrontal cortex which is the decision making part of the brain becomes impaired and thereby you find it harder to make decisions the next day and have a lower impulse control.

Whenever you feel hungry, you will be prone to eat candy and snacks instead of getting a nutritious meal.

This is compounded by the fact that you are sleep deficient, therefore you will use the sugar and stimulants to compensate for your lack of sleep.

The result is excess body-fat, lower testosterone levels and bad sleep the following nights. (Stimulants have an antagonistic effect on melatonin and that can lead to worse sleep the next night).

Being fat also decreases your overall sleep quality.

How Bad Sleep Lowers Your Testosterone Levels and Keeps You Fat

When you become fat from eating too much sugar and too many snacks, some of the most important hormones in your body change for the worse:

1) Leptin (the starvation hormone) increases when you have excess body-fat because it is produced by fat cells.

With increased leptin levels you will get less satiety out of the food you eat and thereby you will have a tendency to overeat.

This explains why fat people tend to overeat despite having a lot of stored energy in the form of excess body-fat.

They simply don’t feel satiated from the food they eat because they messed up their leptin levels.

2) For men, Estrogen (the female hormone) increases when you have excess body-fat.

Since estrogen binds to testosterone (the master hormone for men which controls your body-composition, mental health, libido and erectile strength) your free testosterone decreases.

With decreased testosterone in your bloodstream you will have:

  • A hard time gaining muscle mass and losing body-fat.
  • Decreased focus and alertness.
  • Lower energy levels.
  • Lower sex drive and weaker erections.
  • Lower motivation and competitive drive.
  • More anxiety and depression.

In other words, you will be a much worse version of yourself in all areas of life.

The Sleep, Hunger and Stress Feedback Loop:

Here’s the sleep, hunger and stress feedback loop:

Stress >> Bad sleep >> Higher cortisol levels (stress hormone) + the prefrontal cortex (decision making part of the brain becomes impaired) >> Lower impulse control, tired and hungry >> Eat sugar and consume stimulants for fast energy and focus >> Become fatter and more stressed >> Bad sleep

Example of someone who is stuck in the stress, hunger sleep feedback loop: The fat person who goes to work with a cup of coffee and looks very stressed.

When you’re stuck in this feedback loop it’s very hard to improve yourself and make positive changes in your life.

Going to the gym is hard for relaxed, rested and lean people, but for people who are stressed, tired and fat it’s even harder.

Getting enough high quality sleep is one of the foundations of becoming the best version of yourself

Getting enough high quality sleep is one of the foundations of becoming the best version of yourself because it’s relatively easy to optimise your sleep compared to overhauling your diet or starting a new gym program… and the return-on-investment is massive.

Better sleep leads to:

  • More rational decision making.
  • More creativity. (Being able to do creative work is one of the most important future proof skills because it cannot be automated).
  • Higher energy levels.
  • Better focus.
  • Better body-composition (less body-fat and more muscle mass).
  • Better sexual health and higher sex drive.
  • More motivation.
  • Better mental health (less anxiety and depression).
  • Faster recovery between training sessions.
  • Increased satiety from the foods you eat.
  • Less cravings for stimulants (coffee, cigarettes, energy drinks) and for sugary snacks.

In other words, there’s no rational reason for trying to sleep less hours.

Sleeping less hours will perhaps make you feel like you’re getting more done (and that could be true if you’re doing repetitive low value tasks that require minimal creativity or focus) but the reality is that you’re just going half-speed all day.

Your brain and body won’t be able to work at maximum output when in a sleep deficient state.

Why sleep a few hours less each day so you can go at half-speed when you could sleep a few more hours and go on full-speed all day long?

If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, here’s a good tip for falling asleep faster: Make a detailed and realistic to do list for the next day before going to sleep.

The to do list must include 2 things:

  1. The most important tasks that you’ve been putting off or that stress you out. If there are too many, you choose the top 1-3 tasks that you can complete that day.
  2. It must have realistic time-slots for each task. If you think the task takes 2-5 hours to complete, schedule 6-7 hours for it just to be on the safe side.

Writing this to do list will make you feel calm and relaxed because you will feel in control of your life and thereby you will be able to fall asleep much faster.

All of us at Future Skills Podcast use this tip so we suggest you do it too.

Final note: If you don’t get enough high quality sleep for over 3 days in a row, your sleep deficient state becomes your new homeostasis.

In other words, your sleep deficient state becomes your new natural balance or steady state that your body and brain want to maintain.

Watch out for this and take action when it happens.

To learn more about breaking out of homeostatis, check out Ludvig’s best-selling book Breaking out of Homeostasis.

– Oskar Faarkrog


We are right now creating the Future Skills Program which will be an online video course covering decision making, building the 4 Capitals, and other actionable tips for improving your life and career. It will include weekly homework and evaluations.

The course will be presented by Mikael Syding, the European Hedge Fund Manager of the Decade 2000-2009.

* Why decision making? Because better decisions and risk management equal better finances, better relationships and an overall better life.
 
* Why the 4 Capitals? Because most people are deficient in at least one of them, but can easily build the others if already high in another.

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2 comments

  1. I think it’s a bit unclear about the leptin levels. It sounds like a fat person gets higher leptin levels because it is made by fat cells, and that higher leptin levels leads to more hunger. Rationally, higher leptin levels leads to us NOT wanting to eat more, but in some cases, people that are overweight develop a resistance against leptin, which leads to the body not reacting to leptin. And if the brain do not recognize the leptin, it might signal that we are starving. The brain than compensates for this and makes us more hungry. Just a reflection so people do not confuse higher leptin levels with increased hunger.

    1. Hey Linus!
      Fair enough – thanks for the correction.
      The bottom line, we think, is that the body gets into the these bad hormonal states and then homeostasis sustains it.
      And when that has happened, it will be uncomfortable and require willpower to reverse the feedback loop, even though it is *rationally* a healthy thing.

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