Is Sleep Loss Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?

We all know that eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity are key determinants of maintaining a healthy weight. But, did you know that getting a good night’s sleep can be an equally important piece of the weight loss puzzle?
Most adults require 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep for optimum health. However, it is estimated that nearly one-third of working adults in the U.S. sleep six or fewer hours a night. We even sometimes speak of getting by on minimal sleep as a badge of honor; a testament to our work ethic and willful resilience.

But in fact, sleep is vital for the body’s repair and restoration processes. Sleep deprivation is associated with several serious health risks, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, mood disorders, and cognitive impairment. Lack of sleep also increases the likelihood of obesity, which in turn impacts virtually every organ system in the body. Insufficient sleep can increase hunger and decrease metabolism, making it more difficult to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Sleep deprivation affects numerous hormones that are involved in regulation of body weight. Insufficient sleep increases Cortisol, a hormone typically released in response to stress, which serves to stimulate appetite and increase cravings for high-calorie foods. Lack of sleep decreases levels of Growth Hormone, which helps regulate the appropriate proportion of fat and muscle in the body. Inadequate sleep also increases Ghrelin and decreases Leptin. The former is a hormone secreted by the stomach, and sends hunger signals to the brain to stimulate appetite. The latter hormone is secreted by adipose tissue (fat cells) and sends signals to the brain which serve to suppress appetite. Lack of sleep also decreases the effectiveness of Insulin, which is critical for processing carbohydrates. Over time, the cells of the body can become more resistant to the effects of Insulin, and blood sugar starts to creep up, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. In short, insufficient sleep results in issues much more serious than dark under eye circles!

So, what can we do to improve our sleep, and ultimately our health? First, commit to budgeting a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly. We often try to cram so much into our day, that it is tempting to think that skipping out on a little sleep will allow us to get a few extra things checked off on our “to-do” list. However, getting adequate restorative sleep actually increases our productivity, and allows us to function more efficiently. If you’re already budgeting adequate time for sleep, but having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, there are several easy tips that may be helpful to establishing a good sleep regimen. First, eliminate distractions. Take the TV out of the bedroom, make sure the temperature and darkness of the room are comfortable for you, minimize caffeine and alcohol, eat a healthy diet, and try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week (preferably not too close to bedtime, as it may make some folks feel “revved up” when they are trying to wind down). You can also try a relaxing ritual, such as having a cup of herbal tea or taking a warm bath before bedtime. If you are unable to fall asleep after half an hour, go to a different room, do something relaxing, then return to be when you feel sleepy again.

If these basic tips don’t seem to be helping, or if you are getting an adequate quantity of sleep, but not feeling refreshed in the morning, or if you’re waking several times during the night, talk to your doctor. There may be medical reasons, such as sleep apnea, chronic pain, diabetes, and other conditions that are impairing the quality of your sleep.

Remember, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Although you can’t just “snooze the pounds away”, establishing a good sleep regimen enhances your diet and exercise efforts, and is vital to effective weight management and overall health.

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