Understanding the Effects Of Sleep and Weight Loss
If you’ve been trying to lose weight, you already know that the best way to shed pounds is with a balanced, nutritious diet of whole foods and adequate exercise. In short, the healthiest way to shed pounds and inches is to consume fewer calories than you expend. However, one very critical component to weight loss is often overlooked: sleep. The amount and quality of sleep you get can – and will – affect how successful you are in weight loss. There are quite a few reasons for this phenomenon, and all are scientifically backed. In this guide, we’ll look at how the quality and quantity of your slumber can impact your weight loss, your fitness and your overall well-being.
How Sleep and Exercise are Healthy
Let’s begin with the basics. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that the average adult get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Generally speaking, a healthy adult should get between 7 to 9 hours. Of course, every person is unique, and you may need slightly more or a little bit less. However, this is a good baseline to begin with; variation from this is something you and your doctor can discuss.
The Health Benefits of Sleep
Why is sleep so important? For many reasons!
First of all, sleep is critical for healthy brain function. Your concentration, cognition and even your memory can be impacted by the quality of your sleep. If you’re short on sleep, you’re more likely to make mistakes at work, to make poor judgments when driving and to be less productive. Secondly, sleep helps prevent disease. While you’re resting, your brain uses that time to rid itself of certain substances, including a protein called tau that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Sufficient deep sleep is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as type 2 diabetes and improper glucose metabolism.
Good sleep is also shown to decrease the instance of depression and mood disorders, boost your immune system and reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. In fact, sleep deprivation has been linked to Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases. To put it simply, better sleep means better health.
The Health Benefits of Exercise
Now, as you know, exercise is important as well. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just lead a healthier lifestyle, physical activity is critical to your well-being. Aside from making you look great and fit more comfortably into your clothes, exercise carries important benefits to your overall health. Like sleep, exercise has been proven to improve your brain function. It assists in regulating hormones like serotonin, endorphins and norepinephrine, which will make you feel happier. Exercise helps to improve your memory and thinking skills. It can even help you learn better.
Exercise, as you’d expect, will improve your bone density, muscle health and your respiratory health. Your skin will be healthier, you’ll be less likely to suffer chronic pain and exercise can even prevent common signs of aging.
Exercise Has An Overall Impact on Health
Exercise will impact your long-term health as well. When you exercise for the recommended 150 minutes each week, you’ll be less likely to be diagnosed with:
Type 2 diabetes
Certain types of cancer (colon, uterus, breast and lung)
Depression and anxiety
Incidentally, when you exercise regularly you’ll sleep better, too! This only further serves to improve your health and boost your weight loss efforts.
Weight Loss and Sleep Disorders
Sleep is a mysterious thing. Scientists and doctors still don’t fully understand exactly why sleep helps our bodies perform better, but multiple research studies have shown that it does. With respect to weight loss, there are multiple studies that prove a correlation between sleep disorders and obesity. Take, for instance, sleep apnea. This breathing disorder causes people to stop breathing during sleep, profoundly impacting both the quality of sleep (and their partner’s) and overall health. Those with sleep apnea are more likely to experience congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke than those who do not have the disorder.
Additionally, those who suffer sleep apnea are more likely to be overweight or obese. Interestingly, losing weight has been shown to lessen the symptoms associated with sleep apnea, while treating sleep apnea has been shown to help patients lose weight. This is just one example of how proper sleep has a direct impact on your weight. Sleep apnea isn’t the only sleep disorder that can lead to being overweight or obesity. Studies have shown that restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome and even insomnia can lead to weight gain, or an inability to lose weight.
These roadblocks to weight loss are medically diagnosed conditions. They affect only a percentage of the population, and may or may not affect you, personally. What about if you simply don’t get enough sleep? If you’re getting fewer than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of slumber each night?
How Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Weight Loss
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a medically recognized sleep disorder, your sleep may still be impacting your ability to lose weight. You might even be gaining weight because of it. There are quite a few reasons for this – some are obvious while others are less so. First of all, and most obviously, a lack of sleep will make you tired! You’re less likely to get up and exercise when you suffer from too little sleep. As the day progresses, you’re even less likely to do so. You know how important exercise is to your weight loss; this makes sleep all the more crucial to your success.
Secondly, think about the last time you burned the candle at both ends. How did you feel in the morning? If you’re like many people, you were exhausted… and drove to the coffee shop for a triple mocha latte with extra cream. This is another obvious impact of sleep on your plans to drop a few pounds. Thirdly, when you’re up late studying, working or hanging out with friends you’re more likely to snack or even drink alcohol. This, of course, will affect your weight loss and caloric intake.
Sleep has a Direct Impact on Weight Loss
More than that, though, sleep has a direct impact on your weight loss in less obvious ways. For instance, did you know that lack of sleep causes an increase in the hormone ghrelin and a decrease in the hormone leptin? Not sure what that means? Well, ghrelin is the hunger hormone, and leptin is the hormone that signals that you’re full or satisfied. People who don’t sleep well eat more calories, as well. Scientists don’t fully understand why, but know that it’s in part to pay the energy cost of being awake longer. Your resting body needs fewer calories to function than your wakeful body. Even with this in mind, however, it’s been shown that people who are sleep-deprived consume 300 more calories a day, on average, than people who are well-rested.
Finally, there’s a section in the frontal lobe of your brain which, when you’re deprived of sleep, is impaired. This section of your brain is the one that controls your impulses, and when it’s affected you’re less likely to make good decisions regarding food. In other words, you’re more likely to reach for the nearby cookies than walk to the fridge for carrots.
Sleep and Metabolism
All of the above effects of sleep on your weight loss are significant. You can’t properly lose weight if you’re unable to exercise, you’re snacking excessively and your brain isn’t allowing for good decisions. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that. A lack of sleep has a direct impact on your metabolism. To put it in a simple way, when you feel sluggish your metabolism and digestive processes do, too. Good sleep and a healthy metabolism go hand in hand for a number of reasons.
First, lack of sleep impacts the way your body perceives insulin. Insulin is necessary to metabolize your food, turning it into energy. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, you’ll be unable to properly use food for fuel, no matter how healthy those foods are. Secondly, the hormones leptin and ghrelin that we mentioned before are a large component of your metabolic processes. A failure to signal to your brain that you’re full will mean an increase in the calories you consume. When your body is already improperly metabolizing, this can mean disaster to a weight loss plan.
Finally, your sleep habits help determine your resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) refers to the number of calories your body needs just to function – your breathing, heartbeat, digestion and other body functions. This does not include exercise or activity. Studies showed that staying awake for 24 hours will reduce your RMR by as much as 5%. While you may not be staying awake all night, this just goes to show that a lack of sleep can certainly contribute to weight gain and a lower instance of weight loss.
Sleep Diet – Does This Really Work?
Let’s assume there are two subjects, Subject A and Subject B. Both individuals weigh the same, exercise in similar ways for the recommended 150 minutes and consume the same foods for a year. However, Subject A gets 8 hours of quality rest each night, while Subject B only gets 6. Studies show that Subject A is much more likely to shed pounds than Subject B – sleep is just that important to weight loss. So, what about a sleep diet? Will this work?
You’re no doubt familiar with current trends (and fads) in dieting. There’s the keto diet, Weight Watchers, the Paleo diet and low-carb diets, just to name a few. Should a sleep diet be added to the list of diets in the forefront of health news? In short: maybe! If you’re already exercising properly, eating whole, healthy foods and have an otherwise healthy lifestyle, then getting good, quality sleep may mean the difference between success and failure in your weight loss! To date, there is no “Sleep Diet,“ per se. That is, there’s no set plan that you must follow to take advantage of sleep as a weight loss aid. With scientific studies having had their say on the matter it can be assumed that a sleep diet really could work, when done in conjunction with an otherwise healthy plan.
The Cycle of Sleep Deprivation
Lack of sleep is cyclical. Imagine you’re kept at work late one night, maybe until two or three in the morning. The next morning you wake up exhausted and reach for your energy drink or that triple latte. You begin to feel drowsy and “snacky” by mid-morning, so you grab a few extra calories and a bit more caffeine. By the time a reasonable bedtime rolls around, you’re too wired from the caffeine to fall asleep. Additionally, those extra cups of coffee or cans of soda in combination with the foods you’ve chosen may give you heartburn, digestive trouble or reflux, making it all the more difficult to get some shut eye.
Breaking that cycle may be the best thing you can do for your weight loss plan. Begin tonight – go to bed at a reasonable time and set your alarm to go off in 8 hours. Track your sleep, if you must, and keep note of how you’re feeling and what you’re eating each day. Don’t forget to exercise; once you begin to get more sleep you’ll be more inclined to do so. However, even if you’re drowsy it’s a good idea to take a walk or do some light activity. Use caution, though, as sleepiness makes you more prone to mistakes and injury.
Your Personal Sleep Diet
As with any diet, it’s always best to speak with a physician before you begin. Every person has different needs, and while your neighbor may need 7 hours of sleep, your body may require 9. Talk to your doctor and review your goals and lifestyle. Then, together work out a plan to get the right amount of sleep. Some people may find it necessary to visit other health care or service providers in addition to a primary care physician. For instance, you may choose to speak with a nutritionist to develop an eating plan that works with your medical conditions or lifestyle. Some people may simply choose to meet with a personal trainer to learn the proper technique for exercise.
If you find yourself losing sleep because of a high stress lifestyle, a counselor or therapist may be a good option for you, so that you can rest well at night. Alternatively, consider massage therapy to help relieve stress, or even just talking to a friend. No matter how you design your Sleep Diet, do so under the care of a physician, and remember that no diet is failsafe. You didn’t gain weight overnight, nor will you lose it by tomorrow.
Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
Some people just naturally have trouble falling asleep. If you find yourself staring at the ceiling into the early hours of the morning, don’t worry. There are things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Establish a bedtime routine. This can mean anything from reading a book or taking a bath to doing gentle yoga, but be sure it’s sustainable – something you can do every night. This bedtime routine will signal to your brain that it’s time to start winding down for the day.
Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Move the television to another room and certainly don’t use your bedroom as a home office. Simply entering your bedroom will begin to send those “sleep signals” to your brain in the evening.
Evaluate your mattress. Be sure you’re sleeping on a mattress that’s supportive enough for your sleep style, cool enough for your body heat and hypoallergenic if you have respiratory concerns. An old, sagging mattress isn’t doing you any favors. Be sure to evaluate your pillows, too!
Don’t drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol does make you sleepy, yes. However, metabolizing alcohol will disrupt your sleep so avoid it for several hours before bed.
Make your bedroom a sleep oasis. Keep the temperature between around 60 to 67 degrees. Install room darkening curtains if you must. Choose gentle colors that relax you rather than bright ones. Consider using aromatherapy to help you rest – lavender and cedar wood are the most popular.
If you’ve established good sleep hygiene and still have difficulty falling asleep, don’t be afraid to mention it to your doctor. Together you can figure out a plan to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep every night.
Proper Sleep Can Help Boost Your Weight Loss Efforts
You already know that diet and exercise are the best ways to lose weight, but there’s a third factor that many people overlook: sleep! Proper sleep in the right amounts can significantly boost your weight loss efforts, as sleep impacts your hormones, your metabolism and so much more. If you’re trying to lose weight, consider evaluating your sleep habits and patterns. That weight loss plateau you’ve reached could be broken by something as simple as getting the right amount of sleep.
Karen A Mulvey is a personal social blogger and mom with 14 years of experience in the every day world of motherhood and sustainable product research. Karen is on a mission to help everyday families select sustainable, non-toxic organic products, stop stressing about uncertainties on sustainable home goods and apparel, and start living the life they’ve always wanted.