If you want to make some lifestyle changes to improve your health in 2016, getting more sleep should be at the top of your list. Sleep impacts every aspect of our lives from our weight, health and well-being to productivity and safety.
The world’s most common New Year’s resolution is losing weight, according to the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology. What’s the secret to getting control of your weight? Making sleep a priority.
Getting sleep helps trim waistlines and flatten abs due to multiple physiological factors, from regulating metabolism and hormones to boosting energy levels.
How big is the sleep-fat relationship?
A 2014 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans get fewer than six hours of sleep a night. That kind of insufficient sleep is associated with obesity, which affects one-third (or 78 million) of American adults and 17 percent (or 12 million) of American children. Furthermore, one-fifth of Americans suffer excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) which is directly associated with obesity; and overcoming EDS, they found, aids weight loss, according to a Jan. 12, 2015 article by Fernandez-Mendoza et al. in the journal, Sleep.
The evidence linking insufficient sleep with obesity is vast. For instance, 27-year-old adults who slept less than six hours per night over a 13-year follow-up period were seven and a half times more likely to be plumper than their peers who got proper sleep, according to one major study published in 2004 in the journal Sleep by Hasler et al. Indeed, there’s been a roughly concurrent rise in the rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic sleep deprivation (Spiegel et al. J Appl Physiol 2005 Nov).
Research also links sleep to children’s weight. A December 2014 Harvard study by Cespedes et al. found that kids whose sleep duration consistently fell below established healthy thresholds throughout infancy and toddlerhood were two and a half times more likely to be obese by age seven. Similar numbers were found in sleep and obesity studies out of Japan, Portugal, Germany, and France.
How does insufficient sleep fatten us up?
In order to incorporate sleep into a diet strategy, you should know why lost sleep often leads to gained pounds. Too little sleep alters the hormones responsible for making you feel hungry or full. Studies show that insufficient sleep turns on hormones that make you feel hungry, called ghrelin, and turns off hormones that make you feel full, called leptin (Taheri et al. PLoS Med. Dec 2004). Being sleepy essentially makes your hunger more constant and harder to satisfy. Additionally, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that after a rough night’s sleep, the hormone that controls appetite is impaired, emotional stress is higher, and people crave calories in order to compensate for a lack of energy. We tend to choose more unhealthy kinds of foods. Studies have found people’s cravings for treats like cookies, ice cream, and chips increased 30 percent after just two nights of sleep restriction, while their ghrelin-leptin ratio deviated from normal by over 70 percent.
Increasing evidence links chronic sleep deprivation to your cells’ resistance to insulin, the vital hormone that regulates your blood sugar by letting sugar into your cells. Insulin resistance creates cravings for sugary, high-carb foods because your cells are starved for carbs and don’t know that they still won’t get them no matter how much candy you eat. Insulin resistance also messes with your energy levels and impedes your muscles, which can’t access the sugars necessary for healthy muscle function (Spiegel et al. J Appl Physiol 2005 Nov).
So, sleeping better will take the edge off your cravings and help you choose healthier foods in more sensible portions.
Damaged Fuel Gage
Your sleep-deprived brain mistakenly thinks it needs more fuel to function. It also has heightened activity in the reward centers. In the absence of exercise, drugs, or sex, your brain’s pleasure centers cry out for sugary and high-fat foods to stimulate serotonin for similar feelings of contentment. You’re also more likely to opt for bigger portions if you’re sleepy, according to Swedish research (Hogenkamp et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2013 Sep).
Damaged Biological Clock and Metabolism
The sleep-deprived body eats more and metabolizes less, partly because you’ve fried your biological sleep clock, or circadian rhythms. You might find yourself eating when your body wants to store calories, not burn them up. We evolved to sleep and store calories at night so as to fuel vital daily activities, like school or work.
Sleep deprivation ties you even tighter to the couch as your energy levels dip. By not exercising, you will not burn calories or satisfy your brain’s pleasure centers with exercise-induced brain chemicals such as endocannabinoids, serotonin, and dopamine, leading to more cravings for calorie-dense foods and alcohol. Thus, you develop a cycle of sleeping less and eating more.
If your goal this year is to finally lose weight, make sure your weight loss program includes a healthy diet, lots of exercise, drinking water, AND getting all the sleep you need. Here are some tips to help you develop the kind of healthy sleep habits you need to support weight loss and a healthy lifestyle:
1. Set a Schedule
While few of us like to do this, it is one of the best ways to safeguard your sleep. Pick a bedtime and a wake-up time that suits your lifestyle and allows you to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night and then stick to it every day, even on weekends.
2. Don’t Get Into Debt
This is good financial advice but it also matters when we are talking about sleep. Sleep debt accumulates when you routinely don’t get the sleep you need. For example, if you generally need 7 hours of sleep each night but you are only getting 5, you are racking up 2 hours in sleep debt every night. That debt accumulates and counts as chronic sleep deprivation which causes significant health problems.
3. Use Naps to Manage Sleep Anomalies
No matter how hard we try to stick to a sleep schedule, there will always be times when we just can’t get the sleep we need on a given night. When this happens, try to plan for it in advance. For example, if you have plans on Saturday night with friends that will keep you up late, take an afternoon nap before you go to make up for the sleep you will lose that night.
4. Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep
Make sure your bedroom is a sleep haven with a comfortable bed, a soft pillow, and cozy blankets. Check that things like light levels, noise levels, and temperature are not going to keep you from getting the sleep you need.
Forest Gump, in the movie of the same name, offered sage advice about exercise, sleep, and serenity: “When I was hungry, I ate. When I was tired, I slept.” Choose carefully what you eat and make sleep a priority and you may find it easier to lose the weight. If you find you’re in a constant battle with sleep, there’s a chance your sleep troubles may run a little deeper than you might think and may even be a medical issue. If you or a loved one is having a sleep issue, our team at Comprehensive Sleep Care Center will be happy to consult with you. Please give us a call or schedule a consult online at www.comprehensivesleepcare.com and seek help with treatment for what may be a sleep disorder and weight loss your combined New Year’s Resolution.