If you’re trying to lose weight, the amount of sleep you get may be just as important as your diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, about 30% of adults are sleeping fewer than six hours most nights, according to a study of US adults.
Interestingly, mounting evidence shows that sleep may be the missing factor for many people who are struggling to lose weight.
Sleep is a crucial element for retaining energy and stamina throughout the day. In addition, sleep supports the balance of hormone levels, which significantly affects body weight and body fat. A good night’s sleep allows your body to resolve the physical and mental stresses of the day and provides your body with the vital means to function correctly.
The Link Between Sleep and Weight
People who get an adequate amount of sleep each night, considered to be 7 to 9 hours for adults, generally weigh less. It makes sense that sleep supports weight management; the amount of sleep you are able to get significantly affects two of the hormones in the human body that influence the appetite. Ghrelin enhances appetite and can lead to weight gain. Leptin represses appetite and can support weight management. A lack of sleep disturbs the hormonal balance. The result of insufficient sleep leads to an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptin levels, which may lead to weight gain.
Sleep Controls Your Diet
The debate about the best way to achieve a healthy weight always revolves around eating and movement. If you want to look better, the most common suggestion is “eat less and move more.” But 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. Or maybe, more importantly, you don’t realize that sleep is the key to being rewarded for your diet and fitness efforts.
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, it’s easy to connect the dots and discover that the connection is not a coincidence.
Not sleeping enough—less than seven hours of sleep per night—can reduce and undo the benefits of dieting, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study, dieters were put on different sleep schedules. When their bodies received adequate rest, half of the weight they lost was from fat. However, when they cut back on sleep, the amount of fat lost was cut in half—even though they were on the same diet.
What’s more, they felt significantly hungrier, were less satisfied after meals, and lacked the energy to exercise. Overall, those on a sleep-deprived diet experienced a 55 percent reduction in fat management compared to their well-rested counterparts.
Sleeping for Weight Management
Now comes the really hard part: actually getting the sleep that you need. With a few well-rested exceptions, most people in the modern world simply don’t get enough hours in the sack. So here’s a guide to figuring out what’s really holding you back from the sleep you need, and how to fix that.
Clearly, the solution is to make sleep a higher priority than whatever is keeping you up, but you have to do this by changing your behavior, not just talking about it. Try using specific, trackable tactics like…
- Set a bedtime. Count back 8-9 hours from when you have to wake up: that’s your bedtime. Write it on your calendar if you have to, and set an alarm on whatever electronic device you typically use in the evening.
- Create a bedtime routine. If you always get up to brush your teeth at 9:30, sooner or later it’ll get automatic and you’ll end up doing it even on “off days.”
- Ban electronics from the bedroom. If they’re not there, they can’t distract you.
- Schedule a “done time” for your work. Don’t tell yourself you have all evening to do whatever it is; give yourself a deadline so you can get it done and then relax and get ready for bed.
- Address any chronic procrastination issues. Procrastinating might like a non-problem to people who don’t struggle with it, but it is serious, and there are ways to address it if you can find a good counselor or therapist to help you.
The Bottom Line
Along with eating right and exercising, getting quality sleep is an important part of weight maintenance.
Poor sleep dramatically alters the way the body responds to food.
For starters, your appetite increases and you are less likely to resist temptations and control portions.
To make matters worse, it can become a vicious cycle. The less you sleep, the more weight you gain, and the more weight you gain, the harder it is to sleep.
On the flip side, establishing healthy sleep habits can help your body maintain a healthy weight.