CAN SLEEP HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
So, can our sleep help us lose weight? It would be nice if a solid night’s shut-eye shaved off half a pound, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There are, however, some interesting connections between sleep and weight that are worth exploring. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the question of how your sleep patterns may, in fact, play an important role in your efforts to reach a healthier weight.
So, Can Sleeping More Help You Lose Weight?
The simple answer to this question is: it’s not simple. The relationship between sleep and weight loss is, in fact, wrapped up in both our mental and physical health processes. It’s true that you do burn off a small number of calories as you sleep, due to something called your basal metabolic rate - which is the number of calories it takes for basic human processes like breathing and blood circulation. But that doesn’t burn enough fat to allow you to lose weight.
It’s also not accurate to say that getting a good night’s sleep boosts your metabolism higher, helping you to lose more calories. That’s a common myth, but it’s not true.
But what IS true, paradoxically, is that getting inadequate amounts of sleep can lead to an increased risk for obesity in many age groups. A 2020 meta-analysis published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice clearly indicated that short sleep duration was “significantly associated with the risk of future obesity.”
So what’s the deal here? Well, one big answer has to do with the fact that sleeping helps us to regulate our hormones, which control everything from how tall we’ll grow to our moods. And some of those hormones, not surprisingly, also tell us when we’re hungry or full.
How Does Sleep Impact Our Hormones?
Hormones are produced by the endocrine system, and without them, we couldn’t manage the processes of life. They control our metabolism, emotions and moods, even our blood pressure. Here are a few of the more important ones related to our sleep cycle, that also play a role in our weight.
Think of leptin as a tiny messenger sent from the fat cells to the brain to tell it when you’ve had enough to eat. Leptin, and another we’ll talk about below called ghrelin, are perhaps most closely associated with eating and sleep. “When we are sleep-deprived, our body produces less leptin, which is the hunger hormone we need for our brain to tell our bodies that we are full.
Insulin is made in your pancreas, and it controls the amount of glucose — a simple sugar and source of energy — in your bloodstream and helps to store it. Insufficient insulin leads to diabetes for millions of Americans, which is closely linked to obesity. Studies have shown that chronic sleep loss may cause insulin resistance, leading to weight gain and the greater likelihood that the sleeper will experience diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions.
Made in the adrenal glands, cortisol is called the “stress hormone” for good reason: it’s released, along with adrenaline, when you encounter a threat. Unfortunately, the body considers lack of sleep to be a threat. When our bodies are sleep deprived (and therefore stressed) our brain tells our fat cells, especially in the belly region, to store as many calories as possible.”
As we mentioned earlier, ghrelin and leptin go hand-in-hand. While leptin tells us when to stop eating because we’ve had enough, ghrelin stimulates our appetite, making us want to eat more. “When sleep deprived, our bodies secrete more Ghrelin, and we will overeat and gain weight.”
Serotonin is another hormone with links to both sleeping and weight. Too much serotonin interferes with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Too little leads to wakefulness. Just the right amount is needed to regulate your sleep/wake cycle. But there’s more: too little serotonin has been shown to be related to hyperphagia, which is the increased appetite for food, and subsequent weight gain. In other words, lowered serotonin levels can lead to both disturbed sleep and overeating.
How Can Sleep Support Weight Loss?
Okay, you get it: hormones can impact your sleeping and eating behaviours in a number of ways. But that isn’t the complete picture regarding sleep and weight loss. There are other factors at play that speak to the relationship between a good night’s sleep and good eating habits.
More Balanced Appetite
This one’s a no-brainer: if you go to bed at a consistent time every night, and fall asleep within half an hour of getting into bed, you shouldn’t be waking up at 3:00 a.m. looking for a plate of nachos. Why are those nachos so appealing? “When you are in a state of sleep deprivation, your body will actually crave foods that are bad for you - foods that are high in sugar and simple carbs to get that instant energy boost.
Enhanced Physical Activity
A good night’s sleep leaves you well-rested and ready for whatever the day has in store for you. You’re more likely to have the energy to, say, walk to work or hit up the gym afterwards, and those healthy behaviors can help you shed calories. Sleep is also essential for muscle growth and recovery, says Kyle Risley of Liftvault.com. “If you’re lifting weights in the gym and trying to build muscle, you could be wasting your time if you’re not sleeping enough.” Since muscle burns more calories than fat, you want to encourage good sleeping habits to encourage the building of muscle mass over fat mass.
Minimized Depressive Symptoms
Depression and other mental illnesses are inextricably interwoven with sleep disorders. One study, in fact, indicated that obese people are five times more likely to overeat during periods of depression. Disturbed sleep exacerbates depression by altering hormones like cortisol and melatonin which, in addition to their other duties, play a role in regulating mood. And mood, of course, plays a big role in urging us to make poor food choices. Infact, it’s a classic meme: you have a terrible day at work, your mood is dark, you come home and devour a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream in the hopes that it’ll make you feel better.
Improved Diet Choices
Let’s go back for a minute to our discussion of ghrelin and leptin. If you get a good night’s sleep, you’ve got a minimum amount of ghrelin coursing through your veins, telling you that you really, really need a ham sandwich. Instead, you’ve got a maximum of leptin, which is busy informing your body that it’s had just about enough food for one day, thank you very much. And if you do need a snack, why not try one of those nice juicy apples? Eight hours of shut-eye makes it far more likely you’ll pass on the ham sandwich and head right for the fruit.
Practicing Healthy Sleep Habits
So how do you practice healthy sleep habits? Here are a few suggestions that may help:
- Stick to your bedtime: Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Determine when you want your bedtime (and waking time) to be and then stick to it - even on weekends.
- Have the best equipment: you can’t get a good night’s sleep if you don’t have a comfortable mattress and good-quality pillows, sheets, and blankets. Make sure your bedding sets you up for a good night’s rest.
- Relax before bed: a night-time routine will let your body know that it’s time to slow down and rest, whether that means meditation, reading, or listening to quiet music.
- Avoid blue light devices: your tablet, cell phone, and computer emit blue light that can disrupt your sleep cycle. Turn devices off at least an hour before bed.
- Make your bedroom a sleeping haven: If possible, keep your bedroom free of any activities other than sleeping and sex. Put the TV in the living room and the treadmill in the basement, and keep your bedroom as a haven for sleeping and relaxation.
- Don’t exercise at night: exercise is beneficial in many ways, but it’s best avoided in the hours before bedtime. Exercise will raise your heart rate, so it’s better done in the morning rather than when you’re getting ready to sleep.