If you are trying to slim down, the amount of sleep you get may be just as significant as your diet and exercise. It is true that by being short on sleep, your body is cooking up a good recipe for weight gain. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not getting enough shut-eye. In fact, approximately 30% of adults in the US are only sleeping less than 6 hours most nights (1).
When not fully rested, you’ll probably count on a large cup of latte to keep yourself moving. You are tempted to skip a workout and grab takeout for dinner because you are feeling tired. You might also turn in late because you’ll feel uncomfortably full. If this cascade of events happens on a regular basis, you are in serious trouble.
But do not worry! There are easy steps you can follow to change your sleeping habits. Interestingly, a lot of studies show that sleep has several health benefits including weight loss. Find out more by reading the article below.
How Can Sleep Help You Lose Weight?
Experts believe that sleep could be the missing factor for many overweight or obese people. Here are 7 reasons why getting a good night sleep can help you slim down:
1. Poor Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain and Obesity
Poor sleep has always been associated with a higher body mass index and weight gain (2). While sleep requirements for each individual may vary, evidence shows that changes in weight are commonly observed among people who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Shorter sleep can increase one’s risk for obesity by 89% in kids and 55% in adults (3).
Another study checked on approximately 60,000 nurses for 16 years. Those who have slept 5 hours or less per night were 15% more likely to be obese (4). Results were consistent on both observational and experimental studies. Adults who were limited to just 5 hours of sleep per night for 5 nights gained an average of 1.8 pounds (5).
Also, sleep disorders like apnea are worsened by weight gain. This is a cycle that is quite hard to break. Poor sleep can cause weight gain, which may further decrease sleep quality (6).
2. Sleep Can Help Decrease Your Cravings
Lack of sleep changes the way your brain works. It affects your frontal lobe, which is in charge of self-control and decision-making. This makes it more difficult to resist cravings and make healthy food choices (7, 8). It also shows that the reward centers of the brain are more stimulated by food when you lack sleep (8). So, after a night of poor sleep, not only is that big slice of cake more rewarding, but you will likely have a harder time resisting.
Other studies show that lack of sleep can increase your affinity to high-carb, high-fat, and high caloric foods (9, 10). Men who were only allowed 4 hours of sleep increased their calorie consumption by 22% and doubled their fat intake (11).
3. Lack of Sleep Boosts Your Appetite
Studies have proved that people who lack sleep have an increased appetite (12, 13). This can be due to the impact of sleep on leptin and ghrelin, which are 2 important hunger hormones. Leptin is released from fat cells. It controls hunger and signals a feeling of fullness in the brain. Ghrelin is released in the stomach to signal a feeling of hunger in the brain. Levels are up before a meal when the stomach is empty, and low after eating (12).
People who lack sleep had 14.9% higher ghrelin levels and 15.5% lower leptin levels. This makes you feel hungrier and boosts your appetite. Cortisol also increases when you lack sleep. It is a stress hormone that may also increase your appetite (2). Also, if you are a short sleeper, expect to have a higher BMI (12).
4. Poor Sleep Makes You Eat More Calories
Lack of sleep can cause you to crave for more calories. One study found that people who slept for only 4 hours consumed an average of 559 more calories the next day (11). This can be due to increased appetite and bad food choices. But, this can also be due to being awake for an extended period of time, being inactive, and readily available to eat (14).
More so, studies on sleep deprivation say that excess calories are commonly being consumed as snacks after dinner (5). Poor sleep can also affect your ability to control your portion sizes. One study revealed that people who were kept awake all night chose to take bigger portion sizes when asked to do a computer-based task. They had higher levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone (15).
5. Poor Sleep Decreases Your Metabolism At Rest
The count of calories you burn when at rest is known as resting metabolic rate (RMR). While it is naturally affected by age, sex, height, weight, and muscle mass, some research shows that lack of sleep can decrease your RMR (16). Men who were awake for 24 hours had a decrease in their RMR by 5%. Their metabolism after eating was also decreased by 20% (17).
Poor sleep is also being linked to muscle loss. Muscles burn more calories at rest than fat does. So when there is muscle wasting, RMR decreases. On a 14-day diet of moderate calorie restriction, participants who were only allowed to sleep for 5.5 hours lost less weight from fat and more from muscles (18). A 22-pound loss of muscle mass can decrease your RMR by 100 calories per day (19).
6. Sleep Prevents Insulin Resistance
Lack of sleep can cause cells to become insulin resistant (20, 21). When this happens, more sugar will remain in your bloodstream and your body will produce more insulin to compensate. An increase in insulin level will make you feel hungrier and signals your body to keep more calories as fat. Resistance to insulin is a well-known risk factor for weight gain and type 2 DM.
One study showed that 4 hours of sleep for 6 nights can decrease your body’s ability to lower blood sugar levels by 40% (21). This strongly suggests that only a few nights of poor sleep can already cause your cells to become insulin resistant.
7. Sleep Makes You More Active
Lack of sleep may cause fatigue, which makes you not interested in exercising. You are also more likely to get tired easily during a workout (22). The good news is that getting enough sleep can help boost your athletic performance. Evidence shows that players who were asked to sleep for 10 hours every night for 5-7 weeks show better reaction times and accuracy with less fatigue (23).
Other Reasons Why Good Sleep is Important
Aside from being a good weight loss aid, sleep has several other health benefits:
1. Good Sleep Improves Concentration and Productivity
Sleep is important for brain function, which includes cognition, concentration, performance, and productivity (24). These are negatively affected by a short sleep. One study showed that medical interns who work for more than 24 hours committed 36% more serious medical errors (25). Another evidence shows that lack of sleep can cause some brain dysfunction similar to alcohol intoxication (26).
2. Poor Sleepers Are More Prone to Heart Disease and Stroke
It has been proven that sleep duration and quality can have a major effect on several health risk factors that drive chronic diseases. Studies show that people who do not get adequate sleep are more prone to develop heart disease or stroke (30).
3. Good Sleep Boosts Your Immune System
Even a small loss of sleep has been linked to impaired immune function (31). One research checked on the development of common cold after introducing a cold virus on the participants through nasal drops. Results showed that those who slept less than 7 hours were 3 times more likely to develop a cold (32).
4. Poor Sleep May Cause Depression
Mental health problems like depression are strongly related to poor sleep and sleeping disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (33). Almost 90% of people diagnosed with depression complain about sleep quality (34). Poor sleep is even linked to an increased risk of suicide (35).
5. Lack of Sleep May Cause Inflammation
Sleep loss can activate inflammatory markers and induce cell damage. There is evidence linking poor sleep and inflammatory bowel disease (36, 37). Relapse of Crohn’s disease is more common in sleep-deprived patients (38).
6. Sleep Deprivation May Cause Type 2 DM
An experiment shows that sleep restriction can decrease insulin sensitivity and affect blood sugar level (39, 40). Even healthy young men, after restriction to 4 hours of sleep per night for 6 consecutive times, have shown symptoms of prediabetes, which were resolved easily after a week of increased sleep duration (41). Sleeping less than 6 hours per night have a greater risk of developing type 2 DM (42, 43).
7. Sleep Affects Social Health
Lack of sleep decreases your ability to interact socially. This has been proven several times using tests that recognize facial expressions (44, 45). Those who lack sleep had a hard time identifying expressions of joy and anger (46). Poor sleep makes it difficult for you to spot important social signs and process emotional information.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Sleeping needs and habits change as we age. Certain factors may play a role in determining how much sleep you’ll need. Genes can influence how well you’ll respond to sleep deprivation. But generally, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that people ages 18 and above should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Kids and adolescents ages 6-17 years old should aim for 8-11 hours (47).
How Can You Get More Sleep?
If you are one of the many people who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night, it’s about time to start changing your sleeping habits. You can adopt some of the practices listed below to help you sleep longer and better:
Create A Schedule
Make an effort to sleep and wake up at the same time daily, including weekends. Doing this will help establish a regular cycle.
Make Your Room More Conducive to Sleep
Several new, more comfortable mattresses are available on the market to help poor sleepers get a good rest. Some even have a cooling effect to keep people warm while they sleep. Memory foam beds can conform to your body, providing extra support and shape. You can use earplugs, room-darkening shades, or other materials to make your room cozy.
Staying active during the day can help you fall asleep faster at night. Do not exercise before bedtime, since this can make you feel too energized to sleep.
Do Not Take Stimulants
Caffeine, nicotine, and chocolate can keep you wide even if it is already time to hit the hay. Alcohol can make you sleepy initially, but its long-term effect may interrupt your rest later in the night. Do not drink stimulants at least 4 hours before sleep.
Do some stress-reducing techniques before bedtime. You can keep a journal on your bedside to write down the things that bother you. Do yoga, get a massage, take long walks, or meditate to make you feel better.
Use Sleeping Apps
With the advancements in technology, you can now get help for sleep online! Apps can help track your sleep cycles and they feature a simple twist on a standard alarm clock to help prevent sudden waking that may cause tiredness. Some apps can even play music to encourage restful sleep.
Studies show that consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night is healthy for adults. Any more or less can increase one’s risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, DM, and even death.
Getting more sleep is key to a healthy lifestyle. Restful sleep can help boost your immune function, retain your memory, and lose weight. Whether it is setting an alarm or making your room cozy, you can take some easy steps to improve your sleeping habits. It’s never too late!