Find out how sleep can slow down weight loss and how to fix it.
You’ve seen this before:
You have one friend who is in wicked shape. She exercises and eats healthy and he body shows it. Then you have another friend who also exercises and eats healthy, but no matter how hard she tries, she still struggles to lose the weight.
Maybe this even sounds familiar to you?
Maybe you’re thinking, “If I just ate less, tightened up my diet even more and exercises harder, I could lose the weight.”
But did you know that diet and exercise probably aren’t the issue?!
You can be doing EVERYTHING right with your eating and exercise, but if you’re lacking sleep and relying on coffee to get you through your day, being sleep deprived is like a giant eraser scrubbing away all of your healthy choices.
Why Sleep Is Important
There is recent debate about the best way to achieve weight loss. It has always seemed to revolve around eating and movement. If you want to look better, the most common suggestion is “eat less and move more.” But recent science shows that it’s not that simple, or even accurate.
Sometimes you want to eat less and move more, but it seems impossible to do so. And there might be a good reason: Between living your life, working, and exercising, you’re forgetting to sleep enough.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of people are sleep deprived. And when you consider that the statistic for obesity is nearly identical (and rising at a rapid rate,) it’s easy to connect the dots and discover that the connection is not a coincidence.
Sleep, Cravings, and Hormones
Studies show that sleep-deprived people eat more, especially more junk food. We are more likely to choose “comfort food” when we are tired. Sleep deprivation is a huge factor for sugar cravings and overeating high-carb junk food like cookies, chips, bowls of pasta, etc.
It works like this – if you don’t have enough energy from one source (sleep,) you body will go looking for other sources of energy. Unfortunately, the quickest and easiest source available to most of us is sugary junk food. That’s why sleep deprivation sends us directly to the candy and snack food isle.
Hunger is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is a hormone that is produced in your fat cells. The less leptin you produce, the more your stomach feels empty. The more ghrelin you produce, the more you stimulate hunger while also reducing the amount of calories you burn (your metabolism) and increasing the amount fat you store. In other words, you need to control leptin and ghrelin to successfully lose weight, but sleep deprivation makes that nearly impossible.
If that’s not enough, sleep also affects cortisol. When you don’t sleep enough, your cortisol levels rise. This is the stress hormone that is frequently associated with fat gain. Cortisol also activates reward centers in your brain that make you want food. At the same time, the loss of sleep causes your body to produce more ghrelin. A combination of high ghrelin and cortisol shut down the areas of your brain that leave you feeling satisfied after a meal, meaning you feel hungry all the time—even if you just ate a big meal.
The bottom line: Not enough sleep means you’re always hungry, reaching for bigger portions, and desiring every type of food that is bad for you—and you don’t have the proper brain functioning to tell yourself, “No!”
Sleep and Metabolism
Let’s say you’re one of those people who has a ton of willpower. You can walk through the candy isle and not be tempted. You eat all the right things and portion out your meals properly.
But, guess what? Your body still knows that you haven’t slept. So what does your body do?
- Reduces insulin sensitivity: Within just four days of sleep deprivation, your body’s ability to properly use insulin (the master storage hormone) becomes completely disrupted. When you become more insulin resistant, fats (lipids) circulate in your blood and pump out more insulin. Eventually this excess insulin ends up storing fat in all the wrong places, such as tissues like your liver. And this is exactly how you become fat and suffer from diseases like diabetes.
- Creates inflammation: Whenever you chronically skimp on sleep, the inflammatory state is unbalanced. Blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker used by medical professionals to predict the risk of heart disease and diagnose general inflammation, go up when sleep is too short for a prolonged period of time. This inflammatory state resulting from a lack of sleep has been shown to do nothing to support the immune system, only to impede it’s function, and put the body at risk for infection, chronic diseases, and cancer.
- Changes the Gut Microbiome: Scientists investigating the relationship between sleep and the microbiome are finding that this microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Sleep, in turn, may affect the health and diversity of the human microbiome.
How to Get More Sleep
Now that you know how sleep is related to weight loss, here comes the hard part; actually getting more sleep! Here are my top tips for getting more sleep:
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
Going to bed and waking at the same time each day can make you more likely to get a sufficient amount of sleep on a regular basis, and to avoid sleep deprivation and sleep debt. Many of us have no trouble keeping our sleep schedule the same during the week. But when it comes to the weekend? Well that’s a different story. We tend to stay up later and sleep in longer.
A sleep schedule that varies significantly between weekdays and weekends sends mixed messages to your body and mind, including to those very important sleep systems. Slight changes to your sleep-wake schedule aren’t likely to pose problems. But in order to maintain the consistency that is so beneficial to sleep, I recommend not allowing your bedtime or wake time to shift by more than an hour.
Reduce caffeine intake
Caffeine is found in many beverages such as coffee, tea, sports drinks and soda; it can also be found in foods such as chocolate and it is even added to certain medications. Caffeine acts as a central nervous stimulant. Caffeine reaches its peak level in the blood within one hour and can stay in your system for up to to six hours! So if you’re reaching for that 4 pm pick-me-up, you may be affecting your sleep.
Since caffeine blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increases adrenaline production, it is best to avoid it for several hours before bedtime.
Turn off the cell phone, computer, and tablets
Study after study after study has shown that light given off by electronics affects our sleep health. The consensus is that the blue light that LED screens give off can slow or halt the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals our brain that it’s time for bed.
This is probably the one that affects me the most! If I’m on my phone or computer after 7 pm, I have a hard time falling asleep.
Bright light in our environment can signal our brains to stay alert and we get a direct dose of it by looking at a phone or computer. Do yourself a favor and put down your tablet or phone at least 1 hour before bed — it could help you get a more restful night of sleep.
If you’re one of those people that just can’t put down their phone at night, then consider turning on the “night shift” setting on your iOS device, installing Flux or Twilight on your computer, or investing in a pair of blue-blocker glasses to wear in the evening.
Engage in exercise
Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration. Exercise may also bolster sleep in other ways, because it reduces stress and tires you out. Early morning and afternoon exercise may also help reset the sleep wake cycle by raising body temperature slightly, then allowing it to drop and trigger sleepiness a few hours later.
For the best night’s sleep, most people should avoid strenuous workouts in the late evening or right before bed (that means no 9:00pm CrossFit!). The boost in body temperature that comes with cardio workouts, along with their stimulating nature, might interfere with falling asleep.
If you prefer to get in some pre-bedtime movement, try yoga or simple stretching, both of which can help you unwind and relax for a restful night.
Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool
Noise: Make sure that your room is quiet. Running a fan or a “white noise maker” can help drown out sounds from the outdoors. I personally wear earplugs and run a white noise machine at night.
Light: A dark bedroom is best. It may be worth investing in room-darkening shades or blinds if your bedroom is too light.
Temperature: About 65-68 degrees (18-20 celcius) is ideal temperature. A cool bedroom is better for sleep than a warm one. Generally, temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24C) and below 54 degrees (12C) will awaken people. It’s also important to use sheets and blankets that are not going to make you hot. We use cooling sheets on our bed and it makes a huge difference.
Limit alcohol intake
Think a nightcap may help you get a better night’s sleep? Think again.
A new review of 27 studies shows that alcohol does not improve sleep quality. According to the findings, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. And the more you drink before bed, the more pronounced these effects.
When our REM sleep is interrupted, our memory and health can suffer. If you want quality sleep, wrap up the drinks at least 3 hours before bed. To help nullify the effects of alcohol faster, drink more water to help flush out the metabolic waste products left behind. A good rule is to drink one, 8 oz glass of water with every alcoholic drink you consume.
I bet you didn’t expect this one, did you?! But did you know that having an orgasm before bed actually helps you sleep better? This is mostly because of the hormones that are released during the act. Sex boosts oxytocin (a hormone that makes you feel connected to your partner) and lowers cortisol (a stress-related hormone).
Plus, having an orgasm releases a hormone called prolactin, which makes you feel relaxed and sleepy.
There’s an added bonus for women, which is that sex boosts estrogen levels, enhancing your REM stage and giving you deeper slumber. Don’t feel left out, men. You sleep deeply after intercourse, too.
Get more sunlight during the day
Light exposure at the wrong time can interfere with sleep, keeping you alert and preventing your body from engaging in its natural progression toward sleep. On the other hand, exposure to light at the right time of day can actually help your sleep.
Giving yourself exposure to light— particularly sunlight—in the morning and the early part of the day is one way to improve your alertness and energy during the day, and may help you to fall asleep at night.
Our exposure to light during the day is one critical way that we affect our sleep-wake cycles. That’s because light exerts a controlling influence over the body’s circadian rhythms. Exposure to light and to darkness drives the circadian system, which in turn helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles over the 24-hour day and night.
To sum it all up….
Successful, long-term weight loss means getting enough good quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can seriously throw off your behaviour patterns and your body’s response to food, sabotaging your weight-loss efforts in several different ways. The solution to sleep deprivation depends on the cause, but you owe it to yourself to figure out what it is for you and how to address it.