A Hidden Cause of Muscle Loss and Diet Failure

by Chris Shugart

Sleep, Fat Loss, and the Anxiety Connection

The exact same diet plan can lead to more fat loss or more muscle loss. It all depends on one overlooked factor.

Just eat less and move more, they say. They’re mostly right, but it’s more nuanced than that. For example, if you eat less and move more as instructed, but you lose a substantial amount of muscle along with the fat – leading to a limp metabolism and rebound fat gain – did your diet plan really “work?”

Usually, losing muscle while dieting is caused by dropping your calories way too low, not getting enough protein, and not weight training. You, of course, know that. But there’s something else that can mimic those same nasty effects: losing sleep.

The Sleep Study

Researchers took a group of overweight men and women, put them on the same low-calorie diet, and had them hit the sack in a sleep lab for two weeks.

There, half the participants were allowed to sleep up to 8.5 hours every night while the other half was only allowed to sleep up to 5.5 hours per night. The researchers measured their fat loss, fat-free body mass, changes in substrate utilization, energy expenditure, and 24-hour metabolic hormone concentrations.

Here’s What Happened

Both groups lost about the same amount of total scale weight. Both groups lost some fat and some muscle, probably due to the severe diet, which had them consuming almost 700 calories under maintenance per day. However…

  • The group that slept only 5.5 hours per night lost more muscle mass, lost less body fat, and reported more hunger.
  • The group that slept 8.5 hours per night lost a greater percentage of fat and retained more muscle without experiencing as much hunger.

The researchers concluded that sleep loss can compromise the effects of a reduced-calorie diet. They noted that sleep deprivation itself can have considerable catabolic effects that resemble malnutrition.

What This Means to You

The participants in this study would’ve obviously fared better if they had been lifting weights and eating enough protein. (Only 18% of their daily calories came from protein.) That’s partly why both groups lost muscle. Also, 700 calories below maintenance is pretty severe.

Still, the big takeaway here is that those getting inadequate sleep lost more muscle and less fat while in the SAME caloric deficit as those who got plenty of sleep. The message? That diet plan you’re using isn’t going to work as well if you’re not sleeping enough.

So How Do I Sleep Better?

If the usual sleep tips aren’t working, then think about what’s really keeping you awake. According to the American Psychological Association, stress and anxiety are two of the leading causes of sleep problems. So, maybe you just need to calm down. To chill out naturally, consider taking chelated magnesium and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

Low magnesium levels contribute to insomnia and restless sleep, and magnesium has calming effects on the body and mind. Magnesium regulates neurotransmitters such as GABA – your brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA calms neural activity, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Magnesium also helps regulate muscle function and relaxation by blocking calcium ions from entering muscle cells. This helps prevent excessive muscle contraction (tension). It also helps regulate melatonin production.

Likewise, omega-3 fatty acids improve sleep quality by regulating neurotransmitters and reducing brain inflammation. A recent review of 19 clinical trials found that fish oil reduces anxiety if you use a hefty dose containing mostly DHA.

For magnesium, take 400 mg of the chelated form to ensure absorption. Elitepro Vital Minerals (Buy at Amazon) contains that dosage.

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For fish oil, take three capsules of Flameout (Buy at Amazon). This omega-3 supplement contains 2000 mg of DHA along with 400 mg of EPA. Remember, when it comes to stress and anxiety, DHA has the biggest impact on healthy neurotransmission.

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  1. Nedeltcheva AV et al. **Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity.**Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41. PubMed.

This is a particularly interesting topic to me, as my sleep has really gotten worse over the years. I fall asleep without much issue, but once I wake up, usually around 2-3, I’m just up. I’m still working down the variables, and haven’t figured it out, so I appreciate all articles of relevance!


Did you ever read TC’s article about “second sleep?” In a nutshell, he talked about how, in the past, it was never considered bad to wake up in the middle of the night. They called it first and second sleep. People would expect it, wake up naturally around 1AM to 3AM, read, piddle around the house, pee and get a drink of water, bonk, whatever, then go back to sleep.

Today we’re told how terrible that is, how something is wrong with us. I think that causes us to mildly panic and worry about how dead-tired we’re going to be, and then, of course, we definitely can’t get back to sleep.

It’s sorta like how we know now that people obsessed with their sleep tracking gadgets get worse sleep… because they’re obsessed with their sleep tracking gadgets.

After reading TC’s article, I learned to expect first and second sleep, and not worry about it. And usually, I fall back asleep in 20 minutes or so.

So, along with the tips in the article above, see if that mindset helps.


Thanks Chris!

I did read, and enjoy, that article. I’m very onboard with it. I tend to get sleep again more like 4 hours later… when it’s time for the day to start.

To your point about mindset, though, I don’t really stress about it anymore. I just take care of the things I can, sleep whatever I sleep, and then move on with it. It seems to work itself out over a large enough unit of time where there will be days where I sleep a full night, or my day will allow a nap, or whatever. I think Flameout and (up to this point it’s been ZMA for me) minerals help the quality of sleep I get, so I can at least maximize the benefits of whatever quantity I get that day.


I have a spoon or a spoon-and-a-half of ACV in a glass of water about 30 to 40 minutes before I hit the bed. It really seems to help, I wake up having slept for 6, 6.5 hours straight.

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I started flameout at night with all three capsules plus elite minerals and I can honestly say my quality of sleep has def improved, not sleeping any longer but def better quality.


Hi - I experienced the same thing but I did two things that helped. At least 2 hours before bed, I didn’t look at screens and read a book instead, or if I wanted to watch something, I’d wear blue light glasses (like $20 bucks on amazon). 2nd, when I woke up, I’d do breathing exercises in bed and that put me out - 50 exaggerated breaths in and out, after the 50th exhale, I hold by breath for as long as I could, then after the 1st inhalation after that, I’d hold that breath in for 15 seconds. Repeat until you fall asleep (no more than 3 rounds for me to go night night). Hope this helps.


Thanks! I’ve never tried the breathing - I’ll give it a shot. I appreciate it!

Great to hear!

Maybe up the dose!

I’ve been trying to get 800-1000mg of magnesium glycinate and 100 mg of zinc per day for the past few months and I’ve been sleeping great.

Before that I woke up in the middle of the night for years. Last month, I ran out of vitamins for a couple weeks and sleep quickly went back to terrible.

Since then I’ve been pounding the magnesium again, and after about a week sleep returned to great.

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From C.T. in Beast Building part 3.

“Adding magnesium to the stack would also prove extremely effective. 1-2g taken in the evening and at night is the best strategy (90-95% of all hard-training individuals are deficient in magnesium, and that really has a negative impact on recovery, insulin sensitivity, and Testosterone levels).”

Just watch out for gastrointestinal upset with that dose (anything over 500 mg generally). I’d stick to a lower dose of the chelated form: better bioavailability, no diarrhea!


I’ve heard other folks say too high a dose actually wakes them up, so I err low. I have no idea what the variables are for me, so I can’t say what’s what, so maybe I should just try a little more (diarrhea dependent).