Sleep: The Missing Ingredient to Weight Loss
You've heard it said for decades now: "eat right & get regular exercise, and the pounds will start to come off." But recent research shows that once again, the complexity of the human body has caught science off guard. Health (and more specifically weight management) it seems, is not just a matter of consuming the nutritional cocktail you need and keeping your body moving. There is another critical factor that is all too often overlooked - getting enough sleep.
The Effects of Poor Sleep Hygiene
When you get inadequate amounts of sleep, the effects on your body are profound. Over the past two decades - during which residents of First World countries have gotten less and less sleep each year - various studies have collectively shown that insufficient sleep will:
- Inhibit your body's ability to process sugar
- Increase your inflammation levels, resulting in universally-increased pain response
- Dysregulate your endocrine system; resulting in, among several other effects, increased appetite and decreased executive function (a.k.a. "willpower")
In other words, poor sleep hygiene means you exercise less, think less clearly, eat more, hurt more, and can't handle sugar. That's a recipe for dieting failure, and not one you want to be cooking up on any weight loss endeavor.
Studies within only the past decade have examined the sugar processing ability of 9 healthy adults after a single night of 3 hours of sleep. (Each was given 3 such nights, separated by a few weeks, for statistical averaging). The results were astounding. After just one night of sharply-reduced sleep:
- Their bodies produced 22% more glucose than normal, however…
- Their bodies only eliminated 80% as much glucose as normal, and…
- Evidence showed that the sugar handling issues were a result of temporary insulin resistance brought on by lack of sleep.
A review of several studies published within the decade revealed that acute sleep deprivation caused the inflammatory system to react as though the body had suffered an acute injury (like getting stabbed) or an acute infection (like a sudden flu). But because sleep deprivation occurs body-wide, it is like getting stabbed or infected everywhere at once. That kind of systemic inflammation makes you feel stiff, achy, and in continual pain.
The hormones dysregulated by sleep deprivation include leptin (the "I'm hungry" hormone), ghrelin (the "I'm full" hormone), cortisol (the "I'm stressed" hormone), dopamine (the "I feel good" hormone), and norepinephrine (the "I'm in danger" hormone). Leptin, cortisol, and norepinephrine spike, while dopamine and ghrelin plummet. In other words, you can't think straight because your body is telling you it's stressed out, and you eat compulsively (compounded by the fact that you can't think straight).
Bottom line: if you want to be successful with your weight loss goals, get a good night's sleep as often as possible. If you have to change your schedule, forgo some activities, or take some melatonin supplements to do so, then do it. Good sleep hygiene is just as much a part of weight management as eating well and exercise, and it must be treated with the same level of importance. When you are unable to consistently get a good night’s sleep, any efforts you make in these other areas are limited and could end up being a waste of time.
So, now that you know what sleep deprivation does and how it could be sabotaging your weight loss, here are some ways to get more sleep (many suggested by the American Cancer Society):
- Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning*
- Avoid naps after 3PM*
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day*
- Avoid nicotine*
- Get regular exercise, but try to avoid doing so within 2-3 hours of bedtime*
- Make your bedroom a comfortable environment that's conducive to sleep (e.g., dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold)*
- Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep (e.g., reading a book or listening to soft music or white noise; but try try stay away from looking at the harsh lighting of electronic screens)*
- Enable "night shift" or "night mode" on your phones, tablets, and other handheld devices
- Don't lie in bed awake. If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes, then do something calming such as an activity above*
- Talk to your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement in the evening to assist with better sleep quality
- Write any lingering thoughts, worries, and to-dos in a journal to leave them alone for the night and allow you to focus more on sleep
- Speak to your MRC Weight Loss Specialist about your sleeping habits and weight loss
*Source: American Cancer Society
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