Learn about the connection of Sleep and weight loss
Failing to get enough sleep could be the biggest barrier holding you back from your weight loss goals. But how could sleep impact weight loss so much? When you are over tired your brain’s reward center becomes overactive and you find yourself looking something tasty that will make you feel good. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition observed that when people are deprived of sleep their late-night snacking increased, and participants were more likely to choose high-carb snacks.
Not only does starving yourself of sleep affect how your brain works, it also affects your hormone levels. Leptin and ghrelin are our two primary hunger hormones. Ghrelin is the signal for your brain that it’s time to eat. When you are sleep deprived, your body has specialized cells that line your stomach and pancreas which produces more ghrelin, causing you to want to eat more. Leptin, on the contrary signals your brain that you have had enough to eat and appetite is reduced. In a review of 18 studies researches observed that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high carbohydrate foods, due to the fluctuations in leptin and ghrelin. When you don’t get proper amounts of sleep, leptin levels drop giving your brain the signal to eat more food. In a sleep deprived state leptin and ghrelin work together creating a perfect storm of hormones that are working directly against you and your weight loss goals.
If leptin and ghrelin aren’t enough, cortisol and insulin also join forces against your best efforts to burn fat when in a sleep deprived state. The University of Chicago researchers observed that with only 4 days of insufficient sleep reduced participants ability to produce insulin, and also decrease insulin sensitivity by more than 30%. Insulin is in charge of many things in our body, bringing blood sugar levels down to a safe normal range is one the its most important functions. When your body doesn’t respond accordingly to insulin, nutrition partitioning is affected and your body has trouble processing fats form the bloodstream resulting in fat storage rather than utilizing that fat for energy immediately. Cortisol, our primary stress hormone, spikes when we don’t get enough sleep, this spike in cortisol signals your body to hang on to fat rather than oxidize it and utilize it for fuel.
The million-dollar question is how much sleep is enough, this number seems to be highly variable from person to person. Most people need 7-9 hours each night on average, some needing only 6 hours, and others needing as much as 10 hours. It’s not as important how much sleep you get each individual night, it is more about how many hours your get throughout the week. You can think of sleep like a gas tank, if your sleep gas tank is on empty you aren’t going anywhere. On the contrast if your tank is full, adding more sleep won’t be beneficial and would be the equivalent of overfilling a gas tank until it spills over. The good news is that someone who needs 8 hours of sleep each night, could get 7 hours during the week and sleep in on the weekend and actually make up for the lost sleep during the week if the total hours of sleep throughout the week are sufficient. On the weekend try going to bed with the sun and sleeping in naturally with no alarm, your body will autoregulate and wake you up when you are rested and have experienced enough quality sleep to thrive.
If you want to get down to the nitty gritty it’s not about how much sleep you get each night, or even how much sleep you get each week. What is most important is how many sleep cycles per week, each ~ 90-minute sleep cycle consists of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. We need on average about 35 sleep cycles per week. This is where quality of sleep comes into play, even if you are getting enough sleep, if your sleep is being disrupted you may not be getting enough sleep cycles per week. Some individuals may take 110 minutes per sleep cycle and others may only need 75 minutes per sleep cycle, this can account for the variability in how much sleep each individual requires. If you are exercising vigorously you may need extra sleep to recover from the added stress form the intense exercise.
Now that we know why we need adequate sleep and about how much to get, let’s talk about things we can do to fall asleep easier and get better quality sleep. Caffeine has an 8-hour half-life, meaning if you have a 6 oz cup of coffee at 4 pm (300mg of caffeine) when midnight rolls around you still have 150mg of caffeine running through your veins. For people who are more caffeine sensitive, caffeine will loop around longer in their system and this may result in even more caffeine in there system late at night. However, people who are not as caffeine sensitive have an ability to process the caffeine faster and remove it from the bloodstream much faster, explaining why some people seem to be able to drink caffeine at night and still fall asleep. Beware though, just because you fall asleep doesn’t mean you don’t have caffeine in your system and it could be affecting your quality of sleep. Avoiding caffeine after noon is a good rule of thumb when trying to improve sleep, remember chocolate contains caffeine also.
Have you ever tried to wear out your kids by taking them to the park or the pool to play, hoping that it will send them into a slumber? Believe it or not the same theory works on adults, exercise increases melatonin a hormone produced by your pineal gland, which helps regulate sleep and wakefulness. Try building a brisk walk into your evening routine to improve sleep quality.
Some other strategies for improving sleep include avoiding bright lights close to bed, our bodies sleep wake cycle is regulated by our circadian rhythms and artificial light can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycles cause disruption in sleeping patterns. Keeping the lights dim a few hours before bedtime and avoiding screen time before bed can help your body naturally signal that its time to sleep. Chamomile tea can have a calming and relaxing effect that can promote sleep, I like the habit of drinking chamomile tea before bed, I think of it as a cue for my body that its time to relax and fall asleep.
People who are overweight have an increased risk of sleep apnea and utilizing a CPAP machine can drastically improve sleep quality for these individuals. Regular exercise, avoiding too much caffeine and light before bed are great ways to improve sleep, also sleeping in on days off work and taking naps can be strategic ways of getting more sleep and losing more weight.
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