When you think about losing weight, getting more sleep probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But mounting evidence suggests that adequate sleep might be just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to managing your weight.
One study from 2006, which included 68,183 participants, found that women who slept for 5 hours per night were 32% more likely to experience major weight gain (defined as an increase of 33 pounds or more) and 15% more likely to become obese compared with women who slept 7 hours.
Another smaller study from 2013 found that healthy adults who only slept for 5 hours per night for 5 nights gained an average of 1.8 pounds.
Here are 3 reasons why getting enough sleep may help you lose weight:
1. Sleep moderates your appetite
The two hormones most closely associated with appetite and satiety are ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin increases your appetite while leptin suppresses it.
Research shows that poor sleep drives up the production of ghrelin while simultaneously reducing the production of leptin.
It’s a double-whammy. Not only does poor sleep increase your appetite but it also inhibits your ability to feel full and stop eating.
Research has even shown that restricted sleep leads to people eating larger food portions the following day.
When weight loss is the goal, controlling your calorie intake is crucial but poor sleep makes that much more challenging.
2. Sleep moderates your blood sugar
Stable blood sugar helps keep your hunger and cravings under control, which is crucial for weight loss.
But studies show that poor sleep is associated with increased blood sugar.
When levels of sugar in the blood are high, the body produces more insulin. Like all hormones, insulin has important functions and an optimal level. But the continual elevation of insulin leads to large amounts of fat gain and risk for cardiovascular disease.
Not only will a poor night’s sleep hike up your insulin levels, but it can also increase your cravings for processed carbohydrates which reduce your body’s ability to feel satisfied by the foods you eat. This commonly leads to overeating and in turn, weight gain.
3. Poor sleep makes you stressed
Poor sleep drives up the level of stress hormones circulating the body.
Cortisol has been shown to play a big role in appetite with prolonged increases being linked to increased hunger.
Accumulation of fat within the body, particularly around the waistline is brought about by the combination of raised cortisol and insulin levels.
Interestingly, there are also links between increased stress and consumption of ‘comfort foods’. Foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt have been shown to trigger reward sensors in the brain and dampen our perception of stress. Unfortunately these highly palatable foods also drastically increase overall calorie intake which is a recipe for weight gain.
How to improve sleep quality
Establishing healthy sleep habits can help improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Reduce caffeine intake
Research suggests the majority of us can only tolerate around 400mg of caffeine each day, which equates to around 2 coffees. Anything above this will have a negative impact on your ability to nod off in the evening.
Also, consider that caffeine has a half-life of around 5-hours, which means 50% of the caffeine you consume will still be circulating around your body 5-hours after drinking it.
Try to stop drinking coffee and tea mid-afternoon.
Reduce blue light exposure
Our daily exposure to digital screens and the blue light they emit offsets our body’s natural sleep cycle which makes it much harder to get quality sleep at night.
Try installing an app such as F.lux on your computer, laptop, and smartphone to naturally dim the light of your screen when the sun starts to set outside.
Set a bedtime routine
Getting caught up in work emails or social media before going to bed won’t do your stress levels any good, and we know what that means for your weight loss progress too.
Follow a nightly routine that includes time for relaxing activities like taking a bath, listening to music, or reading.