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Sleep’s big impact on your weight

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Did you know that sleep is an integral part of weight loss? 

According to the CDC, poor sleep quality and reduced sleep duration are too common. There's growing evidence that sleep deprivation is a risk factor for obesity and chronic disease. Ideally, adults aged 18-60 should strive for 7 hours or more of sleep a night. In 2014, 35 percent of American adults were experiencing less than 7 hours of sleep each night. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine states that regularly sleeping less than 7 hours a night is associated with:

  • Weight gain and obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease and Stroke

  • Depression

  • Increased risk of death

So why does sleep impact our weight? Studies have shown that poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation actually cause people to overeat, choose unhealthy food options, and gain weight. Poor sleep or sleep loss can impact our hormones, which in turn impacts our appetite, hunger levels, food choices, and how we store fat. We may even overeat when we're tired just because it feels good. 

Sleep deprivation changes the response of ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate appetite. 

  • Ghrelin increases appetite and signals hunger 

  • Leptin decreases appetite and signals fullness

Poor sleep causes our bodies to produce more ghrelin, making us want to eat. Our bodies want us to turn to food for the lack of energy we experience when we're overly tired. However, the balance of our hormones is off, leading to weight gain from overeating. 

In addition, when we're sleep deprived, our bodies experience decreased insulin sensitivity and increased cortisol levels in the evenings. You may be familiar with how insulin helps us use sugar for energy. Insulin also plays a role in how we store fat. Because sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, people who are sleep deprived have less responsive fat cells, leading to fat storage instead of a release. 

Moreover, increased cortisol levels can also lead to weight gain. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, influences our food intake and how we spend our energy. When we are sleep-deprived, we experience high levels of cortisol, causing us to eat more high-fat and sugary foods. 

Being sleep deprived can also lead to more late-night snacking and an increased calorie intake from high-calorie foods, according to research. Most calories consumed when we're sleep-deprived come from foods high in carbohydrates, protein, and fat. When we are overly tired, it's harder to resist the foods that give us pleasure because our amygdala (the part in your brain responsible for emotions) is overresponsive. Willpower also decreases when sleep-deprived (or, in other words, we experience decision fatigue faster), further impacting our food choices. Being awake for longer than usual also provides for more opportunities to eat. And let's not forget how exercising is harder when we're tired!

How to improve sleep

It's clear: Quality sleep is just as important as diet and physical activity on your weight loss journey. Improving sleep can help you prevent hormonal changes that influence your appetite, food choices, and how your body uses energy. The good news is that research shows even a little education can make a difference in sleep habits. Here are some things you can do to improve your sleep: 

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on the weekends).

  • Only use your bed for sleeping and sex. Try for no TV or phone in bed!

  • Try not to just lay in bed—an hour worth of laying in bed doing nothing is about equivalent to 15 minutes of actual sleep. Get up and move around so your body associates the bed with sleeping.

  • Take a break from electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bed.

  • Incorporate a relaxing wind-down ritual every night before bed, such as light reading, stretching, or listening to relaxing music.

  • Consider taking a warm shower or bath. 

  • Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2 PM. If this habit is hard to break, try to slowly taper off rather than quit cold turkey.

  • If you drink alcohol, try to limit yourself to one drink a night, no later than three hours before bed. 

  • Consider doing a meditation or mindfulness exercise before bed. To start, you can try focusing on your breathing or just noticing how comfortable your bed feels from head to toe.

  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy.

  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, first listen to your body's needs. Beyond that, get up, then relax and slow your heart rate down by breathing in for a count of 4, holding for 7, and exhaling for 8.

  • Consider using a fan to stay cool and to provide white noise. Try to keep your room between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Don't focus on the clock. 

  • Try not to eat a big meal two to three hours before bed.

  • Limit fluids two hours before bedtime (unless you need to take a medication).

  • Make your room completely dark. Try an eye mask and/or blackout curtains if light bothers you.

  • Exercising can improve sleep, but it's recommended to not do vigorous activities right before bedtime.

  • If sound bothers you, try white noise or earplugs.

  • Try to limit naps during the day to 20 minutes, and take them no less than eight hours before your bedtime. 

  • Try to avoid doing anything stressful before bed! 

Sleep inducing foods

A natural way to induce sleep is through food. These foods have been shown to improve sleep and help you fall asleep faster due to the sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals they contain. The best time to consume these sleep-inducing foods is two to three hours before bedtime. 

  • Walnuts

  • Almonds

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Warm milk

  • Cottage cheese

  • Yogurt

  • Tart cherries

  • Bananas

  • Kiwis

  • Goji berries

  • Oatmeal

  • Chamomile tea

  • Fatty fish

  • Turkey

  • Lettuce

 

If you're still unable to sleep well after following these steps, talk to your doctor. 

Moreover, if you snore loudly or often feel sleepy during the day, it may indicate sleep apnea. Visit your primary care doctor or healthcare provider to get tested. (Sleep apnea can cause problems with weight care and heart health.) Other sleep apnea symptoms include waking up gasping for air or choking, pauses in your breathing during sleep, falling asleep during the day (even during activities), morning headaches, not feeling refreshed after sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. 

Now let's get sleepy!

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