Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Mar

Poor Sleep May Make You (and Your Liver) Fat

Ah, sleep. Nothing like a good dose of the stuff, right? Losing even a single wink of your usual forty (or an hour, as the case may be) is enough to throw off an entire day.

But do you know who might love sleep more than anyone or anything? Our livers.

Yes, livers. Those fleshy multivitamins with an apparent propensity for fat accumulation function best on a good night’s sleep. New research is revealing exactly why shift workers and other chronically sleep deprived members of mankind tend to have problems with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and all the other popular features of metabolic syndrome: their livers aren’t processing fat efficiently, instead allowing fat to accumulate.

Normally, teams of molecules are dispatched to the liver during the day to reduce (the totally normal) fat accumulation that occurred during the night. The teams primarily comprise two molecules, rev-erb and HDAC3, which work together to break down the liver fat. These are the day shift workers; they follow the circadian rhythm. When we don’t sleep, our circadian rhythms are disrupted. The day workers don’t show up to work at the hepatic lipid processing plant, and all the fat that accumulated during the night just sits and sits and piles up. When the workers finally return, far too much fat has built up for the teams to handle. They’re up to their neurons in it. Personally, I blame rev-erb. He’s the one with the car. He’s the one who’s supposed to drive the rest to work. HDAC3 is probably waiting on the curb, thermos and lunch pail in hand, ready to start clearing out fat, while rev-erb’s just sleeping in. Ah well – can’t really blame the workers. You have to look at the system.

Some suggest enacting a bill that removes collective bargaining rights from and reduces health benefits for hepatic lipid processing workers’ unions. I think a more prudent (and effective) approach would be to just get to bed at a reasonable time, maybe by minimizing light exposure a couple hours before sleep. For shift workers with metabolic issues who have no choice (which is, sadly, most of them) but to work those hours, the lab group is looking into whether timing the administration of drugs according to normal circadian liver metabolism would help.

All in all, this is further evidence that many (if not most) of our metabolic issues stem from liver dysfunction.

And now for something completely different. This is a totally unrelated paper but an interesting one. It presents a link between genius (IQs of 130 or greater) and prenatal exposure to higher levels of testosterone. Just as the preponderance or lack of various hormones and chemicals in utero can lead to defects or deficiencies, these researchers are proposing that the opposite can happen. Seems reasonable. But wait – before you budding parents start cycling anabolics, use a little caution. There are also links between high testosterone in the womb and autism or autism-like symptoms, and some researchers are deeming these links quite robust. I wonder if there are safe ways to fiddle with prenatal hormone exposure. Probably not.

How does a poor night’s sleep affect your metabolic health? Do you feel the acute effects right away, or do you need to get poor sleep for an extended period of time before it starts to hit you? Also, would you consider playing around with hormone levels in the womb if it meant your kid might turn out to be a genius? Let me know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have Asperger’s, my IQ is around 170 – but, y’know what…? There isn’t a nanosecond that doesn’t go by when I don’t wish I’d been born neuro-typical.

    I HATE IT!! I hate the isolation, the loneliness, the fear the sheer terror of being alive in this world..

    Hey, Mark, you psychic…? How the hell did you know that I’d been up all night…?! <grin!

    This isn't the first time on of your entries has proven rather pertinent…

    Sarah wrote on March 15th, 2011
    • Ah, Sarah, that makes me sad to hear. My 8-year-old daughter is on the spectrum (Asperger’s like, but not enough traits to clearly classify, so she got the PDD-NOS label). She does currently have friends, but I worry about the future.

      I would also posit that having a high IQ makes it harder to generally socialize. I have an IQ of 135-140 (and while we all have issues, I am neurotypical), and often feel alone and isolated, and like people don’t really want me to be myself, because sometimes being myself means being smarter than the average bear. I see my daughter (who is untested but is high IQ) tuning out when bored or acting out when bored and I think, “Yeah, I know *exactly* how you feel, I just had a touch more social skills and could fake being the good student a bit more.”

      I have found small niches of friends that I feel really close with. I hope you can do the same, Sarah. Because I’m guessing that your isolation is coming from BOTH high IQ and Asperger’s, a double whammy.

      Elisabeth wrote on March 15th, 2011
  2. Massively interesting article – Thank you. I know when I haven’t had enough sleep simply by how I feel when my alarm forcefully wakes me up. I’d love to train my body to wake itself up (like you Mark) but this is something entirely different! Less distractions – more sleep! Simple really isn’t it?

    Why’s it so difficult then!

    Healthy Hideout wrote on March 15th, 2011
  3. I always have a hard time falling asleep. The cure (at least for me), which I noticed after spending most of my day walking, is physical activity. Now all that’s left is finding the time for said sleep and physical activity.

    Brian Kozmo wrote on March 15th, 2011
  4. This has been my ONLY hurdle in living primal. Waking up at 2am wanting a whole box of twinkies. No need to resist though. Without them I can’t go back to sleep. The not so perfect solution, Eating very low carb daily. Most days I can still keep my carb intake under 100.

    Scott wrote on March 15th, 2011
  5. Just a thought. I have a high IQ – in Dutch there’s a common name for >130 people, couldn’t find one in English that doesn’t sound arrogant to me – and I’m sure that’s mainly because my dad had one as well. Hormones may play a part, but there’s so many variables that I’d recommend not tinkering with it.

    Also socially, yeah I had soms problems growing up hanging around with other kids. I’m not diagnosed with any autism spectrum disorder, but I’ve noticed a lot of more intelligent people have traits that seem autistic. It’s just the being different from the rest that constitutes this, I think. Nowadays though, I’m 20, studying jazz, have a lot of intelligent friends that are actually social beings and enjoying myself. Just saying, if you have a smart kid, don’t fear for social outcasting (like my mum did), they’ll be fine.

    Angelo wrote on March 15th, 2011
  6. Seriously, “get sleep” has been one of my most pleasant additions since going primal back on Jan 1. There’s even a sweet IOS app for tracking patterns. Better eating and betters sleeping has helped me embrace less stress, and less weight.

    Great information once again Sensei Mark.

    It’s amazing how easy it is to NOT be lazy.

    Thanks again Mark. Serendipity is as Serendipity does.


    Michael wrote on March 15th, 2011
  7. I would never play around with hormone level – especially when pregnatn! The only thing I can think of that I would do is get more exercise while pregnant to boost those types of hormones. Nature folks, it knows best.

    Stef wrote on March 15th, 2011
  8. I am a night shift worker, and sleep is the number one priority in my life. After your last post on 2 times 4 hour sleep, I experimented last week on forcing that habit. It worked better than this week, where I have the usual 6-8 hour daily sleep.

    Jesper wrote on March 15th, 2011
  9. My husband and I decided to go Primal this week. It’s day 4, and the past two nights I have had a terrible time going to sleep due to the fact I seem to get very very hungry from 5pm until 11pm where I just can’t seem to feel satisfied, but still feel guilty about eating a ton of food before bed. So then I go to bed feeling hungry and wake up feeling even more hungry. I notice that after breakfast I am usually good till about 5pm… with maybe a snack of nuts and berries in the afternoon I am completely satisfied until dinner… then dinner never seems to be big enough or satisfying enough which leads me to want to eat bad things. My husband and I also take care of my mother who lives with us and she is not on board with the whole primal thing (yet!!) so there are bad foods in the house. Last night I just couldn’t take being hungry every 20 minutes… so I ate crackers – bad I know and I sure felt it! It felt like rocks in my stomach and I wanted to throw them up but it made me full… falsely and the wrong way I know but no fruit, veggie or meat was doing the trick. Today I am feeling less motivated to do the right thing because I am tired, I did not sleep well, and I can’t seem to eat enough to make me feel satiated… I tired going back to sleep but the hunger pain didn’t allow me to. I know the connection between sleep and every system and function in your body is so incredibly important… I am definitely struggling with that right now! Any suggestions would be so greatly appreciated!!

    Kimberly wrote on March 16th, 2011
    • Greetings Kimberly, and welcome to the primal lifestyle.

      One thing I’ve found that satisfies my hunger well during the evening after dinner/before bed if the hunger pangs do strike is a big tablespoon of Almond Butter.

      Scoop and lick. Works for me.

      I’m sure that others soon will have more/improved input, but this was my tasty trick. Make sure you eat enough at dinner too!

      Michael wrote on March 16th, 2011
  10. Hi Michael!

    Thank you so much, it’s funny you mention that because I actually did that, and while it worked… it only worked for about 45 minutes before I felt those hunger pangs back!

    I think I simply may just not be eating enough… since I am rarely hungry after breakfast I am only consuming about 750 calories by after dinner time… I haven’t been keeping track of the calorie intake or worrying about it, but perhaps I just need more of the good stuff?

    Kimberly wrote on March 16th, 2011
  11. I should also mention my husband and I are trying to lose weight as well. The past year we had an enormous amount of stress, we bought a house ( which we realized was not exactly for us), got married, took in my mother, went through 3 cars, turned our house into a rental/income property, moved, and started the adoption process for a child. So stress and time certainly added up the pounds on both of us. Prior to all of this I generally ate Paleo with the 6 small meals a day… which was instilled into my head that was the way to lose weight… and worked out 6 days a week…until life hit =) then everything seemed to come to a screeching halt. Prior to moving we also ate quick clean up meals in a bag which my body revolted but I suffered through since we were not at a place with a working kitchen… a hotel! So while I am trying very hard to keep my carbs under 50 I just can not feel satisfied. An apple or banana really does the trick… but that is just about 50 carbs right there!! Perhaps I am rushing it and just need to adjust to eating the right way again… I am a tad bit frustrated today as you can tell! Sorry for my life story and rant!!

    Kimberly wrote on March 16th, 2011
  12. One natural way to increase testosterone is to have more sex.

    Do it for the children :-)

    JNSF wrote on March 17th, 2011
  13. When I don’t get enough sleep I get bad looking skin, end up over-compensating for sleep and feeling like crap. Trying not to break the routine is key if you are trying to cut a bit of body fat, or put on muscle, as you definitely need the quality sleep for that.

    Johnny Palmer wrote on March 17th, 2011
  14. What are the effects of oversleeping? I noticed that when I get 7-8 hours of sleep my mind is sharp and clear.

    Armando Rocha wrote on March 17th, 2011
  15. Sleep is So important. Your body & brain chemistry get “cleaned” out. W/o this “housekeeping”, you can’t lose weight, either.

    Caitlyn Johnston wrote on March 18th, 2011
  16. Not surprising then, the strong overlap of genius-level IQ and autism. How well I remember that from my Math team days.

    What about myself? High IQ (all this actually means is killing it on standardized tests, btw), autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s), and transgenderism. All potentially resulting from abnormal maternal endocrine function?

    another halocene human wrote on March 19th, 2011
  17. Very interesting article and comments alike. I would like to know what is to be done when after a bad night’s sleep I wake up absolutely ravenous and feel like eating a horse. Should I then follow my body’s cues and eat until satisfied, knowing full well that it’s going to be way more than I should be taking in in any one go??

    Foxygee wrote on April 4th, 2012
  18. I’ve always been a big believer that my lack of sleep is the key to most things wrong in my life. When I get a good nights sleep I’m more productive, neater, eat healthier, exercise more, and am a much better all around person. However if my sleep pattern is off by even an hour it takes me about a week to get back on track. Day light savings time tends to take about a month for me to get used to. Sleep has been a life long struggle for me I’m really hoping going primal will help.

    cgatto wrote on July 12th, 2012

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